Keeping track of the trajectory on Warner Brothers’ announced live-action remake of Akira – Katsuhiro Otomo’s highly influential 1988 anime film (adapted from his 1980 manga of the same name) – has proven challenging at best. Since receiving a green-light several years ago, the production has been put on hold not once, but twice, and endlessly cycled through directors and cast members (from Kristen Stewart to Ken Watanabe); most recently, Jaume Collet-Serra, the man behind the Liam Neeson action vehicle Unknown, walked away from the film after failing to get WB’s blessing to move forward with a $90 million dollar budget.
But despite countless ups and downs, WB still really wants to get Akira made; the studio breathed new life into the project last summer, and today, it looks like Collet-Serra might be their helmsman of choice after all. Despite having jumped ship on Akira over monetary issues, the Spanish filmmaker is still fervently pursuing the director’s chair for the film, though at present there hasn’t been any official word from the studio as regards his present involvement on the new adaptation.
Collet-Serra’s latest comments on Akira cropped up during the press junket for his upcoming film, Non-Stop (also starring Neeson); speaking with the folks at Coming Soon and Collider, the topic of conversation inevitably wound around from his second collaboration with Neeson to Akira. Based on one specific statement he made to the latter outlet, though, that may make a degree of sense. It sounds like Collet-Serra has managed to impress WB with the endeavors he’s undertaken in the intervening stretch of time since first associating himself with the film.
Here’s Collet-Serra’s direct quote from the Collider interview:
“I’ve done two movies since I put this little pause on that project … but now powers that be are interested.”
There’s a question as to which two movies he’s referring to. While simple logic indicates that he’s talking about Unknown and Non-Stop, he also served as producer on Spanish-American thriller Mindscape, which has received positive response on the festival circuit and is currently in the process of being given a US release. It’s possible that the driving factor here is Unknown, which turned out to be an impressive box office performer and whose budget fell in-line with what WB wants to spend on Akira (between $60 and $70 million); maybe seeing the returns Collet-Serra could earn with limited resources has made them reconsider his participation here.
But two macho action movies and a mind-bending psychological detective picture don’t necessarily suggest that Collet-Serra has what it takes to do justice to Otomo’s narrative. It took Otomo’s own hand to siphon the vast complexity of his original comic into a two hour movie, after all, and there’s still a huge disparity in terms of what he chose to pull from the page to the screen. Fans, then, might have a question or two about whether Collet-Serra is the best choice to direct WB’s Akira, but while chatting with Coming Soon, he offered up the following quote about his approach of properly adapting Otomo’s landmark work:
It’s great that they’re waiting for me. It’s different, because you have to be respectful of the source material. Otomo adapted his own work from a manga into an anime and both things are completely different and genius. The only way to do a live version of “Akira” is to take the spirit and adapt it. It will be as different as the anime was from the manga.
That’s a fine sentiment, and one that could dissuade fears Akira‘s core audience might have over Collet-Serra’s involvement. He’s not wrong; it’s often best to honor the source material when handling adaptations, particularly one with such dedicated admirers as Akira. Figure out what makes the story tick and build off of that, keeping the essence intact. At the same time, though, Collet-Serra has a surprising perspective on Akira‘s characters (and on characters in Japanese narratives in general) that might spark some outrage among that same viewer base:
Nobody’s interesting. Tetsuo’s interesting because weird sh*t happens to him, and Kaneda is so two-dimensional. That’s part of the Japanese culture, they never have strong characters. They’re used as a way to move the other philosophy forward.
While a response to this remark could take up an entire article on its own, it’s sure to prove unpopular among Otomo fans; it might be a comfort, then, that Collet-Serra’s involvement here isn’t set in stone based on his interpretation of the film’s two primary protagonists. Is this the person who should be handling directorial duties for Akira? Or should someone more capable of speaking to fan interests be at the wheel here?
We’ll keep you up to date on any new information about Akira as it becomes available.
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