Back in May, shortly after "Heroes" and "Hawaii Five-O" star Masi Oka was announced as a producer for the Hollywood live-action movie adaptation of the hit manga series "Death Note," he began speaking to the media about his intentions for the project.
In interviews, Masi said that he would “push for Japanese actors” and that he “wanted to cast Japanese actors” to “give them a chance in Hollywood.”
As the production went on, the main cast of "Death Note" was announced, revealing that this would be an interracial interpretation of the Japanese story. Stars include Nat Wolff ("Paper Towns") as Light, Keith Stanfield ("Straight Outta Compton") as L, Margaret Qualley ("The Nice Guys") as Mia, and Paul Nakauchi ("Star Wars: The Clone Wars"), who’s billed as an American actor, playing the role of Watari.
Having seen this before, fans in Japan shrugged their shoulders but kept in mind that their man Oka was battling the Hollywood machine for them behind the scenes.
Then on Nov 30, the first officially declared Japanese-born cast member of the Netflix "Death Note" production was announced to be ... Masi Oka!
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly regarding his departure from "Hawaii Five-O," Oka mentioned that he also “had a part” in "Death Note." This news reignited the continuing debate of whitewashing Asian characters in American films over at the forums of the Anime News Network site.
“My guess is that he’ll be playing Matsuda. Oka definitely has that dorkiness about him.” “Omg, I loved this guy since Heroes!” “If they’re gonna keep L as a minority why not keep him Asian? Asians are the true minorities in Hollywood.” “L is, according to Ohba, only a quarter Japanese and otherwise European. At least they didn’t whitewash L. And at least TRY to like the film for completely different reasons – Doctor Strange had whitewashing and it was fantastic.” “It’s absurd to tell people ‘TRY to like the film for completely different reasons.’ Maybe YOU aren’t personally bothered by it enough you can ignore it, but that doesn’t mean other people aren’t.”
Meanwhile, in Japan, people had this to say about the American "Death Note" cast, including its newest member.
“Haha, good move Oka. I like it.” “Masi Oka isn’t Japanese-American but a Japanese citizen who was educated in America. I hear the dude’s got a 190 IQ.” “I don’t hold it against them. It’s normal for American movies to try and push diversity.” “I think a black L is pretty cool. He looks too healthy though.”
So, it seems that people on both sides of the Pacific are at least mildly happy that Oka has joined the cast, but people in western countries seem a whole lot more argumentative about it overall.
In the same interview, Oka also said that he is working with Japanese companies and the government frequently, so he is likely to still deliver on his promise of importing quality Japanese talent to Hollywood in one way or another.
Sources: GetNews, Yurukuyaru Entertainment Weekly, Anime News Network
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