It’s a James Franco world and we’re all living in it – at least, that’s the impression around the Hollywood water cooler lately. The latest bit of news concerning the former Freaks and Geeks lad pegs him as possibly starring in Warner Bros.’ big-budget, live-action adaptation of the 1980s Japanese comic book series, Akira.
This story comes just a week after Franco was rumored to be the most recent prospective star of Oz, the Great and Powerful, which would reunite him with his Spider-Man trilogy director, Sam Raimi. That’s not to mention Franco’s plans to shoot As I Lay Dying this summer, which he announced back at the end of January.
Filmmakers Albert and Allen Hughes (The Book of Eli) are collaborating with Iron Man/Cowboys & Aliens co-screenwriters Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby on the live-action version of Akira, which shifts the setting from futuristic Tokyo to Manhattan. According to Just Jared, Franco would star as the leader of a biker gang (a character named Shotaro Kaneda in the original manga/anime), whose comrade is kidnapped by the government and subjugated to scientific experiments that cause him to develop dangerous psychic powers.
While Franco is arguably a more convincing choice to play the head of an anarchistic gang than Zac Efron, the 32-year-old actor seems a bit much on the mature side to star as an adolescent rebel. The Hughes Brothers movie might feature a significantly re-worked version of the Kaneda character, so that he’s more of a fully grown, Mad Max breed of ruffian than a futuristic James Dean type – if so, Franco being cast makes more sense.
A number of Akira fans are already less than enthused by the prospects of an Americanized take on the story – especially since it looks to be Rated PG-13. The violently surreal visuals and often disturbing subject matter of the source material don’t readily lend themselves to the more consumer-friendly rating, but it’s not entirely unworkable. The Dark Knight is generally cited as a good example of a pic that pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, but even more recent pics like The Green Hornet or The Eagle have demonstrated that so long as the violence is largely bloodless or the gruesome payoff is kept off-screen, it’s possible to avoid getting branded with an R rating.
The Hughes Brother are very stylish filmmakers, with their own unique artistic sensibilities, which will serve them well in realizing Akira for a new generation. If there’s one particular concern about the look and design of the live-action version’s setting at this point, it’s that the similarities to the post-nuclear war environment and technology of a movie like Terminator Salvation or this summer’s Korean comic book adaptation, Priest (see below), might be a bit too much. On the other hand, neither of those pics are set primarily within the confines of a neon-lit metropolitan world like Akira, so that will help matters.
Franco is of course co-hosting the 2011 Oscars in two weeks time, and is in the running to snag a trophy for his efforts as the wilderness loving Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. The concern at this point is that Franco could be over-exposing himself, since he will have potentially appeared in five different movies before the year is out (including his Green Hornet cameo), and has been rumored as a candidate to play fellows ranging from the fictional Wizard of Oz to real-life adult filmmaker Chuck Traynor as well.
That said – would you like to see Franco star in Akira?