Fans of Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 animated adaptation of his own 2,000 + page manga (re: Japanese comic book) Akira once again started gnashing their teeth earlier this week when news got out that Warner Bros. was on the verge of either greenlighting a live-action Americanized remake of the former... or sending the project back to development hell.
Reports are in that the studio will in fact press ahead with the Akira project - and that currently-attached Spanish helmer Jaume Collet-Serra already has a potential leading man in mind.
Variety says the decision to move ahead with the Akira remake was actually "sealed" this past weekend. When Collet-Serra was hired on as director (to replace Albert Hughes) this past summer, the film's estimated budget had reportedly been brought down to $90 million - a significant drop from before, when it was pegged as being upwards of $140 million. While the current budget has yet to be disclosed, it presumably remains at least under $100 million.
The current front-runner to headline the live-action Akira as a biker gang leader (named Kaneda, in Otomo's comic book/movie) is TRON: Legacy star Garrett Hedlund - who, you might recall, was on the Warner Bros.' shortlist of wanted actors released in Spring 2011. No official offer has been made yet, but both Collet-Serra and his fellow producers are said to be "keen on the thesp."
Hedlund was also previously rumored as a possible contender to star in David Slade's Daredevil reboot. However, for the time being, his joining the Akira remake seems the more likely scenario.
Iron Man co-scribers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby's early screenplay draft for the new Akira revealed the live-action adaptation will be set in "New Manhattan" - a futuristic dystopian locale raised in the aftermath of a nuclear bomb explosion that was said to be the work of terrorists. The plot is set in motion when a member of Kaneda's gang (Travis, a.k.a. Tetsuo, in Otomo's original work) is captured by the totalitarian government and subjected to medical experiments that seek to enhance his psychic abilities. However, Travis soon develops destructive powers that even he cannot fully control - a situation that, it turns out, actually happened once before...
Screenwriters Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli), Albert Torres (Henry Poole is Here), and Steve Kloves have all worked on the Akira script since then, but the indication so far has been that they've primarily focused on restructuring the screenplay as a cheaper sci-fi/action tale. So the basic storyline and names from Fergus and Ostby's draft should still be largely intact.
In other words: Warner Bros.' Akira looks to essentially retain the same plot points as Otomo's animated film adaptation, while also "Americanizing" the setting/characters and "updating" the narrative setup so that it has more of a contemporary feel. But is that a proper way to adapt this tale... or is it just artistic blasphemy?
We've discussed before how Akira is arguably a case - unlike another upcoming controversial Americanized remake of an Asian cinematic cult classic, Oldboy - where the story is simply too much of a culture-specific allegory for Japan's history (specifically, the aftermath of the atomic bombings during W.W. II) for it to have the same meaning and significance when transported to a U.S. setting.
On the other hand, Collet-Serra has delivered some enjoyable and intriguing action/thriller titles before (see: this year's Unknown) and Hedlund is a decent choice to play a rebellious biker type - like he did in the TRON sequel. Plus, it sounds like the Akira remake will involve some interesting social/political subtext that could resonate with modern U.S. moviegoers.
It all comes down to this: like it or not, the Akira remake is now officially happening. So let's just wait and see how it comes together before making any final decisions about the quality of this film.
Warner Bros. is aiming for principal photography on Akira to begin by late February/early March 2012. We will keep you posted on the status of the project in the meantime.