Ghost in the Shell’s Chin Han on anime, whitewashing, and being a franchise man
Chin Han is a face that you’ve probably seen everywhere. He’s been in your favorite movie and television show. He’s been involved in the industry for years working in Asia and Hollywood in some of the biggest blockbuster films. This weekend, he’ll be seen in one of the biggest anime live-action movie Ghost in the Shell. He plays Togusa, the only natural human and family man in the series/film. We got to chat with the actor about the film, anime, working in Hollywood, and the many franchises he has been a part of over the years.
Nerd Reactor: So, first question, were you a big fan of the anime prior to being cast?
Chin Han: Yes. I was a big fan of graphic novels on either side of the Pacific. I was first brought to graphic novels by my brother and the first few ones that really stuck with me were the graphic novels of Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Subsequently, I got hooked on the manga that was coming out from Japan at the time. I was in my teens when Ghost in the Shell came out. It was just the perfect time for me to consume that kind of illustration and stories. I was a big fan of the original manga and, subsequently, the anime movies and then the TV show.
Since you know the manga and anime, Togusa is the only natural and family man of the team. Will they showcase any of the character’s family life and his quirks?
It’s pretty obvious with the way the story unfolds that he’s all human. Whenever we can, there are little hints of him being a family man. Obviously, with filmmaking, the final cut will determine if you will see all of it. There was a discussion with Rupert [Sanders] before we even shot a frame of the movie about who he was and what he represents to the group as the only human. I think he brings a different kind of intuition into the detective work in the movie. Also, because he’s the only human and has a family to think about, he has to operate in slightly a different way than the others who are cybernetically-enhanced because those guys can just storm into a location and take out terrorists. He just has to be smarter in terms of how he functions within the group. All of that was discussed. I hope that people will get a feeling of that with this film and hopefully, people will love it, and we can do some more and explore with that.
How close will this film be to the Ghost in the Shell anime or manga? Which storyline? Or will it do its own thing?
The thing is, with all the iterations with Ghost in the Shell, the manga is the jumping off point for a lot of these movies and TV shows. They are all independent from each other as well like Mamoru Oshii’s work is different from Kenji Kamiyama in Stand Alone Complex. I think our iteration of this Ghost in the Shell is obviously based off Masamune Shirow’s original work. It’s also inspired by stuff from Oshii’s movies and elements of Kamiyama’s Complex as well. I think it’s up to the fans to know which parts are from which iteration of the cannon. There will be very iconic moments that I think the fans of the movies will love, but designed with such attention to detail that newcomers to the movie will come to appreciate. When I finally saw it on IMAX 3D, it was breathtaking. It’s a very immersive experience.
Where is Togusa’s infamous mullet?
I think it’s in the trailer or motion poster, it’s actually there. I think from the angles, you can’t really see it. It’s there. I want the fans be reassured of that. The Mateba [6 Unica revolver] is there as well. The mateba is such a intregal part of Togusa’s identity. I think it represents his departure from the rest of the group. It’s a revolver. He has to load it. It’s like Batou’s cannon and Saito’s sniper riffle. His revolver is kind of old school and that is featured in the film as well.
The film has gotten some backlash regarding the casting issue of ‘whitewashing’. I wanted to get your take on this whole ordeal.
The thing about art is that it’s a living thing. I think good literature or great movies sometimes have such universal themes and are effectively and compellingly told, that they just lend themselves to adaptations. With adaptations, obviously, there will be come changes and I think with a property that is as popular as Ghost in the Shell. The fans are so passionate about it and they feel ownership of it. Every one of them has an idea of what it should look like and who it should be. I think it’s a natural evolution of any piece of literature or art. If you want to consider, for example, the Shakespearean work that has been adapted by [Akira] Kurosawa like Throne of Blood, which was MacBeth, or Ran which was King Lear. Even the Coen Brothers, which have been adapted by Zhang Yimou or the numerous adaptations of Dangerous Liaisons – the Chinese one, the Korean one. I think it’s just part of the evolution of the classic art or literature. I think Rupert and the team, the producers, and even the actors have spent many hours pouring into the manga and having long discussions while in New Zealand over dinners and meals about honoring the source material as much as we’re presenting a new version of it. We also want to honor the source material. We hope that what we have fans will enjoy and newcomers will be encouraged to look at all the other iterations of the manga.
What do you hope fans will take from Ghost in the Shell?
Personally, it’s a spectacular, big action movie. It also addresses some contemporary themes of how cyber technology is so integral with our lives. In certain ways, we see it dominate a lot of aspect of our lives. So often, you go to a restaurant and see families and couples sitting at tables on their phones and not really talking to each other. I think come for the action, stay for the question they raise of how cyber technology is impacting our lives – for better or for worse. So I think there is that. There is also the element of identity. All of us are searching for, especially in the multicultural world that we live in, identity on a personal level or the level of the group or the level of the country. I think that stuff will resonate with the audience as well. I think everyone is kind of experiencing that at this moment.
You are a franchise man. That is what we’re noticing that you’re in Ghost in the Shell, DC’s Arrow and The Dark Knight, Marvel’s Captain America: Winter Soldier, Marco Polo, Independence Day: Insurgence, and now you’re going to show up in CBS’ Lethal Weapon. Is there any other franchise you’d like to be part of?
You know what I’d like to be in. I’d like to be in a Bond movie. I have always wanted to be in a Bond movie. I’d love to be 008 or 006. I think it would be very fun to be in.
Since Ghost in the Shell is a huge anime franchise, is there another manga/anime franchise you’d like to be in if they decided to do a live-action version?
Wow. I would have to say Akira. When I was younger, you envision yourself as the leads. As I’ve gotten older now, I’d still like to be in the hero role.
What do you think are the qualities, as an actor, to be chosen for a role in science fiction or action movies?
I don’t know. I started out in the theater. I think my first two productions were classical plays. I think I did Maurier, which was my first play and then I did my second play, which was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I don’t know. I think that whatever you do, you just try to personalize it. You try to bring your own point of view. I think that just as life, whether in movies like in Moonlight or whether you’re in The Dark Knight, the attempt to be authentic is ultimately the goal.
This is a fan question: What challenges have you faced to get through the Hollywood obstacle course?
The Hollywood obstacle course is challenging for everybody. I think whatever age you are, race you are, whatever attributes you have – it’s that thing. Do you remember in Tootsie, when Dustin Hoffman was going through the audition process – too tall, too short, you know, too old, too young. I think the challenges faced are at many different levels. The challenges obviously is to go into a room of producers and casting directors and convince them that you’re the person for it. Or present a take on what you read that is singularly is yours. That is what I do when I enter into the room. Whether you get it or not, it’s a question of taste.