‘After Earth’ Writer Talks Unproduced ‘Akira’ Script Set in Japanese-Owned Manhattan

Published 2 years ago by

A still from Katsuhiro Otomos Akira After Earth Writer Talks Unproduced Akira Script Set in Japanese Owned Manhattan

Warner Bros’ live-action US adaptation of Akira, the highly-lauded cult manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, has already been declared dead and subsequently resurrected at least once, and has changed hands so many times that it’s difficult to tell whose fingerprints are currently on it. Ruairi Robinson, the Hughes Brothers, and Jaume Collet-Serra have all been tapped to direct by turns, each hanging around for a while before finally leaving, and that’s to speak nothing of the many rewrites that the script has undergone.

Now, Akira seems to be just another unproduced script languishing in the bottomless depths of development hell. But that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss what might’ve been.

One thing that remained consistent through every iteration of the new Akira was the fact that the story of psychic bikers would be taken out of its original setting of New Tokyo and retold in New Manhattan, with American actors in the roles of formerly Japanese characters. The revolving door of casting has seen the likes of James Franco, Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Paul Dano, Garrett Hedlund, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham-Carter, Richard Madden, Kristen Stewart and Zac Efron all attached to the project in various roles (there was even talk at one point of casting Ken Watanabe – an actual Japanese person – as The Colonel).

Akira movie Shuts Down Production After Earth Writer Talks Unproduced Akira Script Set in Japanese Owned Manhattan

One of the toughest things about writing the script for Akira was taming the mature content of the story into something that would get away with a PG-13 rating. That was just one of the challenges mentioned by Gary Whitta (the screenwriter behind M. Night Shyamalan’s new film, After Earth), who worked on the script for a long time in one of its early incarnations when Ruairi Robinson was attached to direct. As stated in an interview with Collider, Whitta’s main focus when adapting Akira was to convince Warner Bros to keep its Japanese origins more or less intact:

“We always dealt with the problem of, [and] I think what a lot of the fans felt was problematic, was the westernization of it; [it’s like] ‘they’re never going to make the $100 million movie with an all-Japanese cast. You need to westernize it.’ And that almost became kind of a joke—like, the idea of Shia LaBeouf as Tetsuo or whatever. People are going to have a hard time with that, and certainly the fans.

“We came up with an idea that I actually thought was really cool; I don’t know if it survived into future versions. It’s not New Manhattan—because that was the [initial] idea, right? They moved it in to New Manhattan. I said, ‘it’s not New Manhattan, it’s still New Tokyo but—this is going to sound weird—it’s actually in Manhattan.’ What we did was, the idea is that there’d been a massive economic crash in the United States and in our desperation, we sold Manhattan Island to the Japanese, who were becoming a very powerful economic force, and they were having an overpopulation problem, because Japan is a series of islands, it can only accommodate so many people. So they just bought Manhattan Island, and it became the fifth island of Japan, and they populated it. It became New Tokyo, and it was just off the coast of the United States.

“So it was Japanese territory, it wasn’t New Tokyo, but there were Americans who kind of lived in little Americanized quarters of it. I felt it was a way to do a kind of cool Western-Eastern fusion of the two ideas; not fully Japanese, not fully westernized. Whether or not you’ll ever see that version, I don’t know, but I thought that was kind of a cool solution to that problem of westernization of a Japanese concept.”

akira tetsuo shortlist After Earth Writer Talks Unproduced Akira Script Set in Japanese Owned Manhattan

At this point, there’s no evidence that Whitta’s script, or any version of Akira, is heading into theaters any time soon. The project has gone completely dark ever since Warner Bros shut down development last year, on the basis that the required budget was too big for such a gamble. For some fans of the comic book, this might actually be more of a blessing than a curse, since there was a lot of disquiet over such a well-loved manga being yanked out of its original setting and repackaged to appeal to a broader audience.

Having said that, using a Japanese-owned Manhattan as the setting is actually quite a clever and subversive way of bridging the gap between the Japanese source material and the westernization that would occur in a US adaptation. There are still a number of drawbacks to it – for example, it sounds like Tetsuo Shima and the other central characters would mostly have been recast as Americans living in the smaller quarters of Manhattan island, in order for Warner Bros to have some recognizable faces for the posters – but it would at least have allowed for a Japanese supporting cast and a retainment of the original cultural background.

Katsuhiro Otomos Akira After Earth Writer Talks Unproduced Akira Script Set in Japanese Owned Manhattan

Given how long the project was in development for, and how many times it looked like it was definitely going to happen before being cancelled, at this point we won’t believe Akira is actually going to happen unless they start showing trailers for it in theaters. It’s almost a shame that the material is considered to be so unpalatable without well-known Hollywood actors attached – after all, who doesn’t want to see a movie about bikers with superpowers?


We’ll let you know if Akira ever gets put back into development, but you probably shouldn’t hold your breath in anticipation.

Source: Collider

Follow H. Shaw-Williams on Twitter @HSW3K
TAGS: Akira
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  1. I really just want them to leave AKIRA alone. It’s bad enough we can’t get a proper blu-ray release, now they wanna whitewash and “westernize” a live-action telling of the story? smfh

    • Look i really don’t care what might have been or what could be; just leave the damn movie alone. It doesnt need to be made because the anime was more that just fine, it was superb and them just trying to make it is a travesty

  2. Seeing as they seem intent on doing it anyway, how the hell can they justify making it New Tokyo and then recasting non asian Americans for all the roles??!! Dammit, why have we gotta be sold a movie on a famous face. And why the hell isn’t there more A list Asian American stars anyway?? (And Asian Brits too)

    • Did you not read the article? He gave an explanation for “New Tokyo” having American citizens.

      • Yes I know, but it seems like a copout to whitewash the main cast. I want to asian actors playing Kaneda, Tetsuo and the rest of the Capsules.

        • It is a copout to do it.

  3. You know, I am not a violent man by any means.

    But whomever came up with that plot..should be taken out and beat over the head with sack contain 100 hardcover prints of Akira.

    • That’s cruel and unusual punishment of 100 innocent Akira prints!

      Just drag him out back behind the shed and brain him with a pickaxe.

  4. It’s just as well that the movie didn’t get made. The story opens a particular door into a part of the Japanese mindset. I think WB is currently the wrong studio to bring this to fruition because the interest in opening that door isn’t strong enough within the organization…

    • Yep, best not do it. Japan has lived through such huge events in their history that informs the whole narrative of Akira. So much would be lost I fear in a western adaptation. While I love the anime, it pales in comparison to the manga. They are virtually completely different stories, the anime suffering somewhat, being disjointed and vague in places.

  5. Let it go Hollywood. Please, please just leave Akira alone.

  6. I want that bike so bad I love it

  7. Well, I’m glad they didn’t go ahead with it and cast Shia LeBeouf or James Franco because usually, if they’re cast in a movie, I give it a wide berth. Hate them and their lack of acting ability.

    That was a cool concept though, Japan buying Manhattan.

  8. I don’t get what the big deal is with only casting Asian-looking people in movies based on anime/manga. Then again, I didn’t really get the hullabaloo over Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor or the (noticeably smaller?) uproar over Laurence Fishburne as Perry White in Man of Steel.

    It’d probably be better if it was an entirely Japanese film with subtitles rather than hamfisting the plot and characters to fit into Western niches. I realise that there’s probably a ton of people that haven’t watched Akira because ‘it’s a cartoon’ or ‘it’s weird Asian stuff’ but there has to be a certain amount of care involved with bringing the story to a live-action, Western-produced film.

    No one wants another Dragonball Evolution, right? Though if Emmy Rossum was cast, my eyes would not mind too much…

    • The “big deal” is, the original movie/manga was set in New Tokyo. Has nothing to do with manga = Asian but everything to do with the correct locale and actors to populate it.

      • It makes sense now! Though I don’t get why people would want a Western version full of Asian actors speaking in English. Surely, that would defeat the point of hiring Asian actors and setting it in Japan…

        • It’s not so much that as, if they are going to do it anyway why not cast asian Americans. For one thing you wouldn’t have to change the character names. America is a multicultural society with a large asian community. I see simply no reason to change the ethnic group of main characters. Not when asians are vastly under exposed in western media.

          But I digress, best leave it alone.

  9. Akira is not wersternizable because the story is, at it’s core, an allegory for the atomic bomb deployed over Japan and its effects on the collective japanese mind. The story of Akira is an aspect of the story of Japan and deeply rooted in it’s culture.

    If you take this spirit out in an american version (as you will have to) it’s not Akira anymore, it’s just some random sci fi story set in a dystopian future.

    • And what’s wrong with all asian cast anyway? If people can identify with animals (just like in the Lion King etc.) I’m sure they won’t have a problem with an all asian cast…

      • Get off your high horses. The studio didn’t want an all Asian cast be because simply it wouldn’t sell quite as well, And no westerners have a hard time to identify to Asians. Jow great do japanese movies fare in us? What about brother, plenty of us character and a single japanese guy, the lead ? What about memories of a geisha? Us production but all Asian cast ? 85 millions budget 57 million domestic gross…with marketing and advertising budget it’s worldwide gross make it barely profitable. What about last samurai? American lead 140 millions budget 457 millions gross… Cartoon Animals are cute, don’t belong to any ethny and they’re strictly identified by their characters. They are more relatable.
        Ok for the fact that the live action movie of akira needs to be dropped. But if you want one you gotta stop with the fanboy mindset. Making movie is a business and making blockbuster is a high risk business every time they make something like akira they are under the risk of losing hundreds of millions (see the recent world war z). You would be less bold if it was your money and your job on the line.

        • Well, my money is on the line. Actually I’m a filmmaker and I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time now…

  10. Ha how ridiculous of an excuse to use the whole “Japan buying Manhattan as one of their own” as an excuse to westernize or mostly “white wash” the cast of Japanese characters. What a bunch of BS. Just cast Asian Americans to play the roles. There are plenty out there. I’m tired of people saying how they won’t draw numbers because of unknowns or non american actors gracing the screen. It’s all about how you market the film that’ll get people coming. Great example would be Slumdog Millionaire except it isn’t a big budget film like Akira would be.

    • Except the box office proves you flat wrong. People who wants to change the entertainment industry have the intellectual honesty of communist : promotes generous ideas, talks loud and strong but not a good grasp on reality and when things go wrong, maitains the idea is fine, blame it all on the other/the execution, here the marketing
      the scapegoat of every fan failure. Marketing can’t make miracle when the audience isn’t there. Sorry for the fanboy but all your anime are anime because they cater to a specific niche of the population. You want a mainstream, widespread theatrical release ? You got to adapt.

      • And why isn’t the audience there when you don’t cast americans? Why don’t an all american cast sell as well?

        • Sorry *all asian*.

    • ^ This.

  11. Next they’ll be remaking Oldboy and doing an American version of Seven Samurai… (sic) How can a live action version of Akira do justice to it anyway? Having it set in America and having it live action surely just dilutes the concept further…

    • Actually there is an american version of The Seven Samourai. It’s called The Magnificent Seven (1960) and it stars Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson…

      • I guess it really depends on how well the story works outside of its original setting. The Magnificent Seven is pretty damn awesome, for example, but Avatar wouldn’t work if it was set in Croydon rather than Pandora.

        The original having the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings as an underlying theme could possibly be translated to the terrorist attacks on New York. It would be sodomising the manga/anime, but it might help to really get the subtext across to the contemporary Western world.

        A really iffy idea could be to have a devastated Manhattan and a ‘New Manhattan’ next to it, crafted using some of the technology used by the Japanese in Osaka Bay to create more land in the ocean – a tenuous link/nod-and-wink to the original setting.

      • Also, “A Bugs Life” was basically “The Seven Samurai”.

        US Oldboy remake is already being filmed.

  12. Hey!! What happen to all the people complaining about changing white people to another race?……………..*crickets criping* 😉