A live-action U.S. movie adaptation of Akira – the touchstone Japanese comic book-turned animated feature created by Katsuhiro Otomo – is a project that has stalled, died, and been resurrected more times than a comic book superhero. The film has long been surrounded by controversy, with the principle objection raised by most fans being that the Hollywood-ization of the Asian source material is both ill-advised and culturally-insensitive; for Warner Bros., though, the big issue that keeps causing Akira to be put on hold (over and over) is the prospective budget.
When Akira sunk back into development limbo early last year, insiders at the time warned everyone that “It’s a very resilient movie. Warner Bros. just won’t let it die.” Sure enough, today we can announce that the project is lurching forward once more, with WB backing alongside Katsuhiro Otomo as an executive producer, in addition to Mad Chance’s Andrew Lazar (Jonah Hex) and Appian Way’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson Killoran.
The Akira live-action movie script is reported to take place in “New Manhattan,” a futuristic version of Manhattan Island – where biker gangs and military factions wreak havoc in the streets, while the government conducts dangerous experiments – involving patients with incredible psychic abilities – behind closed doors. In the script draft written by Gary Whitta (After Earth), Manhattan had been purchased by the Japanese government, as a way for the economically-powerful country to deal with overpopulation problems – not to mention, a means to justify the casting of both American stars and Japanese actors in the film.
Whitta’s Western-Eastern fusion approach reads as an intriguing solution to the dilemma that is presented by a U.S. take on Akira featuring Hollywood stars – namely, how to avoid completely white-washing the original story’s characters and post-WWII-influenced themes. Unfortunately, at this stage, there is no guarantee that the idea will be carried over in the final script draft, given the sheer number of rewrites the project has undergone since Whitta put together his screenplay - for Albert Hughes (Book of Eli), before he dropped out as director.
Variety is reporting that Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) is currently set to direct Akira, with a Spring 2014 production start date being planned. The filmmaker was previously attached to direct back in 2011, but left the project after WB declined to give the go-ahead because of the proposed $90 million budget; that is, despite claims from insiders about the project being officially green-lit at the time.
Interestingly, the price tag for Akira – at the time when Serra originally signed on – had dropped considerably, following on the heels of Hughes’ iteration – which has been estimated to cost $140 million to make. WB wanted the budget to fall closer to $60 million – and the studio is probably still wary of going over that number, when you consider the questionable commercial value of the East/West pop culture hybrid genre (see: the lukewarm U.S. box office for Pacific Rim - a movie that had much better pre-release buzz than Akira currently does).
WB apparently considered going extremely low-buget (relatively-speaking) with Akira following Serra’s departure, as the studio approached Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Paranormal Activity 3 & 4) about directing at one point. However, Serra’s vision for the film – possibly based on the script draft written by Steve Kloves (who penned seven of the eight Harry Potter films) – is reported to have always been the studio’s favorite. That explains why the studio was willing to hold-off on moving in a different direction with Akira, while it waited for Serra to have another opening in his directing schedule.
So, now the question is: who, exactly, is going to headline Akira? Garrett Hedlund was previously attached to one of the lead roles, but it’s possible he may be preoccupied with shooting TRON 3 by the time Akira begins filming (assuming he hasn’t already dropped the project completely). Meanwhile, people like Kristen Stewart and Ken Watanabe (the Japanese Unforgiven remake) were offered roles back in the day, but that does not mean they will, for certain, be involved – even though Serra’s back at the helm again.
Tell us your thoughts and feelings about how the live-action U.S. version of Akira is shaping up – and who you would like to see headline the film – in the comments section.
Akira is tentatively slated to begin principal photography by Spring 2014, which could pave the way for the film to hit theaters by Spring/Summer 2015. Screen Rant will be sure to keep you updated on the situation.