Why no credit given to Studio Ghibli?

Kubo And The Two Strings director Travis Knight talked about how his team at Laika was inspired by Japanese art - both classical and modern.

But there is another source of inspiration he has not mentioned: Any work of animation that refers to a fantasy version of ancient Japan owes a debt to Studio Ghibli.

More than any other creator of filmed art, the house that made The Tale Of Princess Kaguya (2013) and Spirited Away (2001) popularised stories and images of old Japan around the world, especially in the West.

The label has been nominated for the Academy Awards five times, so it is not exactly unknown in Hollywood. Mr John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation Studios, credits the work of legendary Ghibli film-maker Hayao Miyazaki for opening his eyes to the potential of animation to tell stories that can move people of all ages, and made a public show of crediting the now- retired writer-director's influence in Disney's Big Hero 6 (2014).

In Kubo, we see lantern-lit houses; there are pale, luminous dragons writhing in the air; there are creepy characters in masks that float by, slowly. If you have seen Spirited Away, the images will be familiar.

Knight's omission is puzzling. Perhaps he thinks giving credit might be obvious and gauche, or maybe it has something to do with the charges that he has whitewashed a film set in Asia.

Whitewashing is the term activists use to charge film-makers with a form of racism. Rather than use Asian actors to play Asian characters, Western film-makers use white actors and sometimes change the race of historically Asian characters so white actors can play the parts.

Asian-American activists have targeted Kubo for criticism and other targets of their ire include the upcoming anime-turned-live- action movie, Ghost In The Shell (2017), where a sentient cyborg named Kusanagi is played by Scarlett Johansson. Another target of online ire is The Great Wall (2016), coming up soon. Directed by Chinese film-maker Zhang Yimou (Raise The Red Lantern, 1991; House Of Flying Daggers, 2004), the fantasy film features Matt Damon as a hero helping soldiers in ancient China fend off monsters.

My theory is that Knight just wanted to avoid more controversy.

Giving credit to Ghibli would just open the door to more criticism for casting white voice actors when there are plenty of Asian-American actors hungry for work.

But he might have just missed an opportunity to defend his artistic choices by not mentioning the venerated Japanese studio.

Because Ghibli, too, made racially inappropriate voice casting choices. Many of its films are set in Europe and, as far as I know, the studio used Japanese actors to voice white characters in Howl's Moving Castle (2004) and Porco Rosso (1992).

Yes, the comparison is a little trite - Japanese-speaking white actors are probably rare in Japan - but the point is that Ghibli used actors who the movie-makers felt made the characters speak the way they heard them in their heads.

Laika should be afforded the same leeway.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2016, with the headline 'Why no credit given to Studio Ghibli?'. Print Edition | Subscribe