"What issue could there possibly be with casting her?" Oshii told IGN. "The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name 'Motoko Kusanagi' and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply."
"In the movies, John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, and Omar Sharif, an Arab, can play Doctor Zhivago, a Slav. It's all just cinematic conventions," the 65-year-old director continued. "If that's not allowed, then Darth Vader probably shouldn’t speak English, either. I believe having Scarlett play Motoko was the best possible casting for this movie. I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it, and I believe artistic expression must be free from politics."
This is the second time Oshii has expressed support for Johansson playing the character. "Scarlett Johansson playing Motoko from beginning to end has gone above and beyond my expectations for the role," Oshii said after a set visit in 2016.
Johansson's casting as Motoko came under fire for whitewashing as soon as DreamWorks Pictures announced the choice; many hoped to see a Japanese actress playing the role. In response to this criticism, Johansson reiterated that she believes in the importance of diversity in Hollywood and would never want to play a character she felt was offensive. In addition, some fans of the series overseas were surprised at the criticism, having already expected Hollywood to cast a white actress in the role.
Whitewashing has been the subject of much controversy recently, with several films and television series having come under fire for their casting choices. "Death Note," which also adapts a popular manga, recently dropped its first trailer, which resulted in a backlash at seeing characters who were Japanese in the original played by white actors.
The upcoming "Ghost in the Shell" film is a live-action adaptation of Masamune Shirow's popular cyberpunk manga, with Mamoru Oshii's celebrated anime adaptations of the series also being a considerable influence. "Ghost in the Shell" will follow The Major and Section 9, a counter-cyber terrorism unit as they attempt to stop a new enemy from destroying Hanka Robotics' artificial intelligence technology.
"Ghost in the Shell" will open on March 31. The movie is directed by Rupert Sanders and stars Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Beat Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Kaori Momoi, Rila Fukushima, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, Yutaka Izumihara and Tuwanda Manyimo.