Many a film buff is still fuming over Hollywood’s decision to offer its own spin on a cult piece of Asian cinema – namely, Oldboy. However, the Americanized remake that really seems to have angered the masses is Warner Bros.’ proposed live-action take on director Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 manga (re: Japanese comic book) adaptation, Akira.
We haven’t heard anything about the project since Jaume Collet-Serra signed on as the new director, this past summer. However, according to the latest report, the film could (or may not) be greenlit within a week from the time of writing this.
Variety says that the Akira production team have presented a thematically and financially restructured version of the project to Warner Bros. – and that “sources say most people are confident [Warner] execs will be happy with the new budget… but you never know in this town.”
It also ought to be mentioned that even if Warner Bros. doesn’t greenlight Akira in the immediate future, that does not mean the project should be considered truly “dead.” Case in point: the remake was thought to have been all but permanently dead back in Summer 2009 – only for news of its continued survival to pop up a few months later.
For those not familiar with Akira, here is an official description of Otomo’s film adaptation:
Neo-Tokyo has risen from the ashes of World War III to become a dark and dangerous megalopolis infested with gangs and terrorists. The government seethes with corruption and only maintains a token control over the powerful military that prevents total chaos and hides the secrets of the past. Childhood friends Tetsuo and Kaneda plunge into Neo-Tokyo’s darkest secret when their motorcycle gang encounters a military operation to retrieve an escaped experimental subject. Tetsuo, captured by the military, is subjected to experiments that make him a powerful psychic, but, unfortunately for Neo-Tokyo, Tetsuo’s powers rage out of control and he lashes out at the world that has oppressed him!
It’s not entirely clear whether the Akira live-action remake will be drawing its inspiration solely from Otomo’s film or also from the original 2,182-page manga (which Otomo wrote) – seeing how their respective storylines ultimately go in very different directions. However, Warner Bros.’ Akira will for sure not retain the Tokyo setting of Otomo’s source material… and instead, shifts the action to another dystopian backdrop: that of “Neo-Manhattan.”
The list of stars either rumored for – or said to have passed on – Akira includes Keanu Reeves, Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class), Chris Pine (Star Trek), and Ryan Gosling (Drive), among several others. However, all of these actors are far older than the Kaneda and Tetsuo characters in both Otomo’s original movie and comic book. That’s yet another reason to suspect that the live-action Akira film will indeed feel quite different than its predecessor.
One of the arguably more legitimate complaints (from an artistic perspective) that’s been made about the idea of an Americanized take on Akira is that its storyline is very much a culture-specific allegory rooted firmly in Japanese history – specifically, the aftermath of World War II. Hence why this could be viewed as one of those situations where the cultural/racial background of the story and characters is very much not an extraneous detail (see: our “Changing Face” piece for a deeper discussion of this topic).
With all that said: some truly noteworthy talent has been hired on to rework and refine the Akira remake – not to mention, the high-pedigree of actors being pursued – so it’s certainly possible this project will ultimately be able to stand on its own and not merely feel like a (pardon the term) bastardization of its inspiration. We shall see…
We will continue to keep you posted on the status of the Akira remake as the story develops.