When fans first learned that Scarlett Johansson would play the role of Japanese anti-terrorism investigator Major Motoko Kusanagi in the live-action film version of Ghost in the Shell, many objected to the “whitewashing” of an Asian story. In this case, the originally Japanese character was played by a white, American-born actress.
But film writer David Opie has pointed out that the film’s original trailer included a lesbian kiss that never appeared in the film. Was Ghost in the Shell “straightwashed,” too?
Before we explore that, let’s watch the trailer, making note of the same-sex kiss at 1:03:
The Major is bisexual or queer in the manga and animated TV series.
As geek film reviewer and Unicorn Booty contributor Johnny Gayzmonic points out, the film “isn’t a direct adaptation of either Mamoru Oshii’s classic anime film or the manga by Masamune Shirow that inspired it.” Nor is the film an adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell animated TV series, video games or novel adaptations.
This is important because the original anime film had almost no sexual content in it apart from a few occasional scenes of the Major’s naked robotic body. At one point in the TV series, the Major wakes up in bed next to two women and at another point she seduces a teenage boy and talks about “the first boy she ever loved.” But apart from that, the animated series and film focus more on the Major’s investigations and larger themes of consciousness and identity rather than romantic or sexual entanglements.
It turns out that the manga comic book did depict the Major having sex with men and participating in some hardcore lesbian sex scenes, Opie notes, “as part of a lucrative but extremely illegal side business known as ‘E-Sex'” in the series’ futuristic dystopia. But he also notes that many believe the manga artist included these scenes simply as a way to entice straight male fans rather than for any key plot point.
The Major isn’t very sexual in the live-action film.
While the trailer’s same-sex kiss didn’t make it into the film, the film did keep the scene from whence it came. In the scene, the Major and another woman — who seems to be some sort of sex worker of the future — explore the cybernetic attachments on one another’s bodies. Their interaction is short-lived and based more on curiosity than desire.
Apart from a hint at possible chemistry with the film’s villain, the Major’s other relationships in the live-action adaptation all come off as platonic.
Considering how often Hollywood action films pair up their female stars with male love interests, it’s refreshing to see Ghost in the Shell not follow suit. In fact, Star Wars: Rogue One avoids doing it as well, hinting at a sci-fi future where women can finally succeed in a film without a man — how forward-thinking!
But we agree with Opie when he says that Ghost in the Shell missed an opportunity here to give viewers one of the first-ever lesbian or bisexual action heroes. (Charlize Theron’s upcoming project Atomic Blonde — in which she plays a bisexual MI6 agent, hits theaters July 28.) In a blockbuster of this size, that would have been truly groundbreaking.
So why did the kiss not make it into the film?
The film’s creators have not yet explained why the kiss disappeared. Perhaps they thought the kiss would make the Major seem too human, or maybe they thought the Major would never kiss another person seeing as she’s usually a serious, no-nonsense investigator with no romantic entanglements. Maybe the kiss will get restored in a future director’s cut or as a DVD extra. We can’t really know.
That being said, Ghost in the Shell only made $20 million domestically, a fraction of its $110 million production budget, and commentators have blamed the film’s whitewashing. A lesbian kiss might have given it a small boost amongst LGBTQ fans, but it also surely would have sparked questions of pandering, as it has been in the manga and as TV networks used to do back in the ’90s.