Taika Waititi has spoken about his involvement with the live action version of Akira – and how he would go about adapting the story. The Akira anime was adapted from a cyberpunk manga series of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo - who also wrote and directed the movie. The anime is rightly considered a groundbreaking piece of work and helped popularize anime in the West.
Since 2002, Warner Bros. has mounted several attempts at making a live action Akira, with various actors, directors and writers being attached. Filmmakers such as George Miller, Stephen Norrington, Jaume Collet-Serra and – most recently – Jordan Peele have been approached or worked on different versions, which have ranged from an epic, two-part adaptation, to a more cost-effective version that Collet-Serra developed. Actors ranging from Brad Pitt, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart and Gary Oldman have been offered roles over the years too.
Taika Waititi is the latest director to be approached and he offered some thoughts on how he would adapt it, during his interview with Screen Rant for Thor: Ragnarok. Specifically, he’d adapt the Akira books instead of remaking the anime, which had to greatly condense the story to fit into a two-hour runtime:
SR: Talking about future things, rumor has it that you could be interested in doing Akira.
Taika Waititi: Yeah yeah yeah. We’ve been talking to them a little bit. I don’t know, it’s sort of early days really I’m just kind of entertaining that conversation because I’ve been a huge fan of that property for a long time.
SR: Me too.
Taika Waititi: I always felt like it was something that could do with a unique take. But, I don’t believe the world needs a remake of the anime, I think for me it would be, if there’s any real possibility for doing it, I would really just want to look at an adaptation of the books in a new way.
It appears a big issue with the development of the live-action Akira is concern over accusations of whitewashing since the manga and anime are fundamentally Japanese. Various scripts have tried to transplant the story to a setting that would allow a mix of Asian and Western actors, including a version from Rogue One writer Gary Whitta that was set in a Japanese owned version of New York dubbed Neo-Manhattan. For Waititi, there’s only one way to approach the issue of casting. As he told IGN:
"Yeah. Actually Asian teenagers would be the way to do it for me and probably no, not, like no name, I mean sort of unfound, untapped talent. Yeah, I'd probably want to take it a bit back more towards the books."
For now, the director seems to be keeping his options open regarding the movie, and since Thor: Ragnarok looks set to be a huge hit, he’ll have no shortage of career options. Live action anime is also a tricky genre to tackle, and it hasn’t fared well in recent times. Both Death Note and Ghost in the Shell received mixed reviews from fans and critics, with the latter movie proving to be a box-office bomb despite the star power of Scarlett Johansson. That’s saying nothing about past attempts like The Fist Of The North Star, The Last Airbender and Dragonball: Evolution either.
The Akira remake is a project that seems permanently trapped in development hell, but if any filmmaker could tackle it –and do a great job – then it would be Taika Waititi. Time will tell if the project moves forward this time, but given the fate of previous attempts at Akira, it's best not to get any hopes up just yet.