Fullmetal Alchemist Anime Director Criticises The Live-Action Movie's All-Japanese Cast 

The live-action Fullmetal Alchemist movie cast is all-Japanese, even if the characters are not. The anime's director says this was "a bad idea".

While speaking at a recent stage show in Tokyo, Fullmetal Alchemist anime director Seiji Mizushima is quoted by ANN as saying, "It was a bad idea to only use Japanese actors."

Continuing, Mizushima added, "If you asked me whether I think the cast could pull it off, I'd say that no, they can't." He also said, "It's hard for actors to capture the look and feel of the original manga."

He didn't have kind words for the recent live-action Gintama adaptation, saying that it "just looked stupid".

That doesn't mean Mizushima hopes the live-action Fullmetal Alchemist movie will fail. On the contrary, while he mentioned the merits of anime adaptations, he did say he was "rooting" for the Fullmetal Alchemist movie. Bad ideas and all, I guess.

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Comments

    So...would this be 'yellow-washing'?

      I don't think theres any way to label it without sounding racist. Which is ironic when the whole idea of -washing is the opposite of that - increase diversity, not decrease it.

      I went with 'ricewashing' myself, which is just as bad a term as 'yellow-washing', if not worse. And I fully expect to get downvoted for that.

        It doesn't sound racist, it is racist. Why even say it at all?

          I was pointing out that no matter how you label it, its going to be seen as racist. It doesn't matter if you use a color, or a localised term, its racist or discriminatory for one reason or another. And someones going to be upset.

          For what its worth, I didn't need to say it, and shouldn't have. That's on my, I apologise. But it does highlight that people can be way too quick to feel offended, when there was no offence intended.

          Whitewashing is also a racist term for the same reason, but seems to be OK to use. Why is that? This is the same thing, how would you reference it?

          FYI, not all that long ago, using rice as a reference to an Asian was an ethnic slur or merely an identifier, not racist. It doesn't make it right, but it was no different to calling someone a skippy because they're from Australia, a dago because they're Italian, or a seppo for an American. Society is filled with examples like that, Asia included.

          And while they were only at worst considered derogatory in the past, they seem to have morphed into being racist now.

            Yeah I'm not offended, I just don't like that sort of language. Didn't mean to give off that impression though, my bad.

            I guess it's because white is only really used as a descriptor, not a pejorative. Making something more white or yellow or whatever isn't inherently racist (depending on the motivations), but yellow is racist because of it's historical usage as a pejorative (google "yellow peril" and you'll see what I mean). The racist equivalent of whitewashing would be crackerwashing or similar I guess.

            Ethnic slurs and racist slurs aren't distinct concepts, they overlap. I would draw a distinction with Skippy too given that it's referring to a characteristic of Australia itself, not a characteristic of Australian people. Every Australian person is the same in that their country has a lot of kangaroos. However not every Asian person necessarily likes rice, not every Italian person is called Diego, and not all Americans are septic tanks (well, with one very noticeable exception.....).

            If something is 1) derogatory, and 2) directed at a particular race/ethnic group, it is racist/an ethnic slur by definition. But you make a good point, in the past they weren't considered nearly as offensive as they are now. What's changing over time though isn't the intrinsic offensiveness of the words, but the understanding of how offensive those words are to the people on the receiving end. They were always racist, people just didn't know at the time. Now we know better.

    Mizushima's concerns that live-action adaptions may not be capable of capturing the elements of manga, or even anime, that makes them so appealing is spot on.

    However, anyone looking to use those quotes to draw comparisons to whitewashing in Hollywood without acknowledging the glaringly obvious differences should expect an abrupt conversation.

      What are the glaringly obvious differences?

        Um... all the actors are Asian?

          I don't think that's what they mean. But we'll find out if they reply.

            I'd assume the difficulties in casting white fluent Japanese speakers in Japan's much smaller, less developed, local focused film industry.

        This is a good place to start: https://www.kotaku.com.au/2017/09/fullmetal-alchemist-anime-director-criticises-the-live-action-movies-all-japanese-cast/#comment-3851014

        Then you can peruse the rest of the thread and see the myriad posts outright stating how these two things are different.

          WTF? That is not an answer man.

          Maybe you should post about stuff when you actually have a thought out opinion of your own on it?

            I'm not going to write out a list of differences for you when they have already been provided. Nor will I indulge this any further, not at least until it is relevant.

              Well you did promise an abrupt conversation!

              But I was just curious as to what However, anyone looking to use those quotes to draw comparisons to whitewashing in Hollywood without acknowledging the glaringly obvious differences should expect an abrupt conversation. actually means.

              But it's cool if you don't want to explain yourself. Does make me wonder why you posted at all though, if you don't want to be understood. Maybe you just want us randoms to know that you have an opinion about stuff? Cos in that case, mission success my good man!

    Fucked if the do, Fucked if they don't. All our movies should just be cats, maybe then everyone would just shut the fuck up.

      What if the cat needs to be Persian or Siamese? Or a Mexican hairless? Not sure there are many method acting cats out that that would be happy to be shaved for a movie role.

      Grumpy cat certainly wouldn't.

        Purely domestic shorthairs (ie moggies).

        And all grey.

      It seems the issue here is more that despite their animation and designs most of the characters in FMA are actually supposedly white. Technically they're some kind of alternate reality pseudo-germany, though there are a couple of asian characters who show up.

      Similarly in Attack on Titan Mikasa is labelled as special not only for being Japanese but for literally being "the last asian."

      What's happening is that the Japanese movie industry is casting all Japanese roles because frankly that gives them the greatest possible pool of local talent. How many white actors are living in Japan who can also speak flawless Japanese?

      This is echoing Hollywood's problem where at one stage this may have actually been the case, however America has become much more diverse and is much more diverse than Japan. Additionally since Hollywood is an international movie making mecca actors from all over the world move there and hone their skills, so finding good actors to fit almost any description is much easier.

      tl;dr It's not really the same issue but it's close enough to cause some confusion and consternation.

        I think the concern is because the cast of FMA is extremely diverse. There is your predominance of typical "white" anime characters whose race isn't clearly defined but many main characters backgrounds are clearly not of the same race as the majority of the cast and is an important part of their character arcs. Which will be totally lost in a film consisting of every cast member being the same race

    They speak Japanese, right, in the movie? It's for a Japanese audience? This isn't like English or America where everything's in abundance, it's a small set of islands with an exclusive language, outside of maybe a small set of people who hit the venn diagram of non-Japanese/Can talk in Japanese/Can act, there's not much they can do.

      Are you saying they can't hire a casting director to find appropriately ethnic groups to play the characters accurately because they're on an island or are you saying they don't have to because this movie is only meant for the Japanese(audience) and not the audience that made it massively popular(everywhere else but Japan)?

        I went into some details of this earlier, but in short it's likely that the casting directors have much smaller pools to work from in Japan.

        In short, if you were an actor of Caucasian descent trying to make a name for yourself would you stay where you were born? Would you move somewhere with a bigger industry? If so where? Even if you spoke perfect Japanese why would you move to Tokyo for your career and not Hollywood or London?

        Even if you looked further afield and brought in actors who didn't live locally you'd still be limited to those who speak perfect Japanese which I believe was Nick's point.

        tl;dr Casting director is a hard job for limited markets.

      There are constraints (if more complex and nuanced) in Western markets as well, especially when talking about blockbusters. Take for example Ghost in the Shell: Do you think that Scarlett Johansson was chosen /because/ she was white? Or just in order to appeal white viewers? No, she was chosen because she is insanely famous and with a tried and proven career in acting /very/ similar roles. There are some Asian actresses with a decent level of popularity/fandom, but nowhere near close Johansson. (And really, none of them resemble the main character much better than Johansson).

      Couldn't the producers have done the "right" thing and cast a famous Asian actress anyway, to avoid the criticism of whitewashing and help pave the way to a future where there are more super famous and proven ethnic actors? Sure. However, remember, we were talking here about something that for the majority of Western viewers is a completely new IP. If you are going to spend hundreds of millions on a new IP blockbuster, you help your chances as much as you can and choosing an actor so famous that their very name and/or face brings audiences to the theatre is one of the main ways to do so. Diminishing your chances of returns for doing the right thing, (especially when you know that the great majority of potential viewers don't even know the foreign source story and are unaware of whitewashing) is not how you keep your career in Hollywood. Again, we're talking about potential losses of millions if not tens of millions.

        Also with a name actor like Scarlet attached the movie is more likely to get funding and go ahead.

        You can use a no name japanese actor but without a really strong producer and director attached, it's going to have a much smaller budget if it gets made at all.

        But a lot of people seem to feel pretty strongly about characters ethnicities vs the actors that get cast.

        I kind of hate this argument, though I understand why you're making it and have no judgements on you personally.

        The main problem where it falls down is that in general since most casting isn't colour blind actors like Johansson will get many more opportunities in movies in order to make it big, where as ethnic actors tend not to get cast unless a role specifically states a certain ethnicity.

        That's a tough enough hurdle to overcome, but when you also start taking away the few potential big roles available to ethnic actors because they aren't bankable you're kind of completing a loop that prevents anyone who isn't white from having more than moderate success.

          Ok, this is pretty much exactly what I was trying to say but more eloquent. Also I need to type faster :\

          Fair enough, your argument is correct as well. I'm certainly not arguing that that is how things /should/ happen in an ideal world, just how they inevitably go in the for-profit entertainment industry. The good news is that the paradigm is changing, people are becoming more aware of these issues (especially the younger generations) and. eventually. being politically and ethically correct will also be profitable.

        But do you acknowledge that the casting of Scarlett Johansson using the "fame factor" argument reinforces the problem? I understand that Johansson was a safer business move that carried less risk and promised higher returns, but you have to question why that is the case.

        You can argue that they had to cast someone like Johansson due to the fact that there aren't any audience-drawing A-list Japanese actors, but maybe that's just be because Japanese actors are not afforded the same opportunities in the Western film industry? You can't claim there's no recognisable Japanese actors who would hold the film, while simultaneously denying these actors the opportunity to have their chance.

          Sure, I do agree. See my other answer above.

    It's the same story where if any western(white) studio does it it's very bad but if another studio does it they're fine, I think any white-washing, yellow, whatever ruins the movies. Avatar last air bender was simply atrocious from a casting director because they had a native American playing a Tibetian, two Americans playing Inuits, and an Indian playing a Japanese role. I really believe that every studio regardless of location or race/creed should be berated for not accurately casting the characters as their proper ethnic group.

      You know it's a movie right? It's not real. The people making it are putting their own interpretation on the story.

      They can use any ethnicity that they like. They've bought the story, they owe the writer nothing.

      I don't know why people feel so entitled to control the movies that are made. It's not a personal insult if you don't agree with the decisions the creative team have made. It's just business.

        You've misinterpreted my overarching point, either everyone can white-wash or no one can, exceptions break the rule. I mean no wanted a Greedo style alien to play Luke Skywalker, and no one wants a white casted actor to suddenly play Nick Fury or for the same character as Steve Rogers to be suddenly cast as Asian.

        You're right they can do anything they want as it's their right, that doesn't make it a good idea though particularly for continuity of story lines.

          It's a little different when comparing to Hollywood's issue. Being a Japanese production for a Japanese audience your options for fluent blonde kids, i assume, is quite limited. Where as for example there are a lot more options for a chinese actress who speaks english when casting Emma Stone in Aloha.

            But that's the thing is this going to be a region locked exclusively sold product only in Japan like some video games which never get translations or -- is it going to be sold worldwide for all audiences to enjoy. We both know it will be sold around the world so the same implications and standards applied to Hollywood which makes international products should apply to any other company marketing and/or selling their product internationally.

            We can't or I should say we should NOT have favourites if someone does a stupid thing and they not our friend we call them out on it and if they are our friend we should still call them out on it.

              Just a quick point, Japanese movies are in fact made nearly exclusively for Japanese audiences even if they aren't locked. There isn't a huge demand for them and the business side for exporting them is pretty undeveloped.

              Even Anime which has massive demand in the western world is only very recently starting to make proper business deals to export it to the rest of the world as more than a niche product.

              I think I've already replied to you elsewhere so I hate to split this discussion but the truth is it's really not as easy for a Japanese studio to do this as it would be for a Hollywood one, and the reason why this creator is decrying it isn't actually about racism at all...

              To go one step further, if Hollywood was utterly incapable of finding any local, talented ethnic actors who spoke flawless English I would agree that whitewashing there films would be perfectly reasonable. It'd be like putting on a play in an all boys school and needing to cast men as women, since there's no women available it's reasonable.

              The reason Hollywood keeps getting called out is because they do have access to that talent and that diversity but the state of the business tends to lock them out of major roles.

            I just googled search the Aloha film and that's a poor example. I am 1 quarter Chinese, 1 quarters PNG and then English/Australian and to most white people I do completely pass as white but to people of PNG/Chinese backgrounds they know I'm mixed race, it's entirely possible with genetics to look completely white particularly when portraying a person who is of that mix like the character Captain Allison Ng (1 quarter Chinese and 1 quarter Hawaiian descent).

            I don't feel that's really a case of whitewashing when I look at my brothers and sisters who look completely white despite our 1st cousins being black as night, it can happen.

              My point isn't on how she looks, it's the casting choice. When given opportunities to cast racially diverse actors, many Hollywood agencies fall back to casting the whitey. I picked it because it was a recent film and a well known, accepted example of white washing roles. Have a google, there's some very interesting articles on the topic, the Indian character from Short Circuit being among my favorites (for some reason it's ok to tan someone up and put on an offensive accent).

              But i digress. My point is this is not "rice washing" or whatever you want to call it because there isn't a host of Japanese fluent caucasian actors.

          You know Nick Fury was white in the comic books right?

          They cast Samuel Jackson in the role. It's totally okay.

            Yeah, I am aware I also aware they were inspired by Samual L Jackson when doing his redesign and currently his most popular incarnation is him as a black Nick Fury. Based on the current medium and popular character making him white would be a switch and you also dodge the other example I provided for that exact reason. I simply chose two prominent characters whose looks and race a very ingrained in today media if you want to be facetious then so be it.

              Not being facetious man. I brought up your example because it didn't make sense. I'm not a lecturer, I'm not going to mark every point of your post.

              And I disagree. If you're a filmmaker or a creative of any kind and you have the rights to the IP, then you can change anything you want. I don't know why you feel so strongly that since something's always (or in Nick Fury's case, just for the last few years) been a certain way, it has to remain that way.

              It doesn't. Change happens and the people in charge get to make those decisions. C'mon dude. If your nick is your birthday, then you're 29 years old. Stop raging about silly things that don't matter and just enjoy that people are working hard trying to make art that you appreciate. They can't personalise it just to your desires, they have a lot of people who they need to keep happy.

                Because I've been replying so much in this section I feel I should add my 2 cents here too.

                I agree that creators have the right to change anything, but there's a couple of caveats.

                First is that if you're adapting something it's probably because people love it, adaptation is by definition change but every time you change something it's a risk of removing something people loved. For example in Avatar the distinct cultural styling that each race was giving by cribbing on our connotations of those races in a cartoon for quick easy world building.

                Second, the whitewashing issue in Hollywood (Not really here, see other replies if you care) is kind of separate from creative freedom in the fact it's more an institutionalised piece of racism and discrimination rather than being a "choice" as such.

      I mostly agree with you, in principle. However, to make an example, where are you going to find two talented Inuit children actors? Who also speak English fluently? I think that in some cases, the best you can do is try to approach the ethnicity (at least the skin colour, ffs, Avatar was SO bad in that regard) but it is otherwise impossible.

      For the case in question I do wonder if there's a talented white actor in Japan of Edward's minuscule build with a fluent Japanese and a face that will bring the fangirls to the theatres. Then ask the same question about every single of the other characters (except Alphonse, I guess).

        in principle. However, to make an example, where are you going to find two talented Inuit children actors? Who also speak English fluently?

        I'd say just dub the kids, but what would I know.

    So there's two lines of thought here.
    1. A characters race is changed because of block buster appeal (Roland from the dark tower) which screws with the integrity of the narrative.
    2. Race is changed due to appealing to racial majorities. Japanese cast Japanese people because most of the population is the same race, same for Bollywood.

    The second is understandable although it not always socially accepted in our society (multi cultural compared to a mono culture such as Japan), the first is not.

      I'd sort of disagree with both points...

      1. This is the reason generally given in Hollywood white washing and tends to be self fulfilling in preventing ethnic casting. Changing ethnicities for creative reasons in an adaptation can work really well, Spider-man Homecoming did this really well for example.

      2. You kind of hit around why this one is off later, certain markets are much more monocultured and less diverse which make finding a diverse cast harder. Factors such as language can increase this. So majority casting is less appropriate somewhere like the US which still has a white majority of around 60%.

    Why bother. The best anime adaptation Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is legendary. There is no need for half baked imitations.

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