The idea of a live-action adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira has tantalized fans for years and the recent report that Thor: Ragnarok's Taika Waititi is in talks with Warner Bros. to direct has fans hopeful yet again.
However, that hope comes hand in hand with some serious concerns that that the beloved Japanese dystopian cyberpunk story would be whitewashed and the rough synopsis of the film does nothing to challenge that. Deadline, which reported Waititi's potential involvement, also noted that the working synopsis of the film moves Akira from the original Neo-Tokyo to dystopian 'New Manhattan.'
While stories can successfully be translated from one culture to another -- John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven, adapted from Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai comes to mind -- there are some stories that are so deeply rooted in their origin culture that Americanizing them would not only lose something in translation, but would lose audience as well. Akira is one of those stories.
Read on for reasons why Hollywood should reconsider Americanizing the live-action adaptation of Akira.
While most western post-apocalyptic stories are built on imagined apocalypses, the Japanese people have experienced the real deal in the form of atomic bombings in World War II and Akira is a direct reflection of nation's experience not just with nuclear devastation, but with the military occupation and rebuilding that came after. Akira, set in 2019, deals directly with Tokyo being destroyed by nuclear explosion and the starting of World War III. Deeper themes, such as government corruption and military culture in the story, are uniquely Japanese. Moving the setting to 'New Manhattan' erases the authenticity of those themes and would result in a film that more a hollow shell than a true adaptation.
Casting white actors in Asian roles may be the standard Hollywood pattern, but in recent years the practice has received backlash from fans. Most recently the Hellboy reboot was under fire for casting Ed Skrein as an Asian-American character and while Skrein stepped down and Daniel Dae Kim took the role instead, other films haven't course corrected and have suffered for it. Most recently, Netflix's Death Note adaptation was criticized for moving the story from Japan to Seattle and casting Nat Wolff as Light Turner -- the very American version of Light Yagami. The adaptation received mixed to negative reviews
The Hollywood take on Ghost in the Shell similarly drew ire for casting Scarlett Johansson as the lead character Major who is Japanese. And Ghost in the Shell didn't just result in negative critical response. The film flopped at the box office with Paramount ultimately blaming the film's failure on the whitewashing controversy.
As Hollywood and anime don't go together particularly well, Akira's creator Katsuhiro Otomo may have accepted the offer for the live-action adaptation, but he has his own reservations and, as he recently told Forbes, he gave one major condition when it comes to bringing his manga to the big screen. That condition? He has to approve the scenario.
“If someone wants to do something new with Akira then I am mostly okay with that," Otomo said. "As I accepted the offer for a live-action Akira to be made, so I am generally okay with whatever they want to do with it. However, I did give one major condition to a live-action version and that is that I had to check and approve the scenario."