Sunday, May 28, 2023

Bullet Train [Media Notes 92] – Whitewashing

Bullet Train is a 2022 action comedy starring Brad Pitt and a supporting ensemble. Pitt plays a hitman who takes a job to steal a briefcase full of cash that is being transported on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Several other hitmen are on the same train, each on their own mission. As the film unfolds in turns out that their life lines have crossed in various says so that that apparently independent missions collide on the train. There’s a lot of action, lots of blood and violence, the train crashes and somehow Pitt manages to make it out alive. FWIW, I couldn’t quite follow what was going on, but I’m not sure that matters very much.

This note is about the fact that Pitt is a white actor playing a character who was Japanese in the novel on which the film is based. That fact, as you can imagine, occasioned some criticism, which is mentionbed in the film’s Wikipedia entry. This sort of thing is not something that’s high on my list of things to observe – no doubt a reflection of my white privilege – but I’m inclined to take such matters on a case-by-case basis rather than lay down a blanket principle. FWIW, about two years ago I had a post about an op-ed from the NYTimes in which I agreed that casting Mickey Rooney as Japanese in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was absurd, but that there’s no reason to object to casting Olivier as Othello, a role written, after all, for a white actor.

In this case, however, I was a little bothered with Brad Pitt as a hitman living in Japan. For whatever reason, that struck me as a bit incongruous. I was slightly less annoyed that one of the other hitmen, The Prince, was played by a white woman disguised as a schoolgirl. These casting decisions disturbed some kind of balance in the film.

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