Get the drums ready as Warner Bros. Pictures attempts to remount its adaptation of Akira.
According to Deadline, Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi is in talks to direct the long-in-development project. Based on the manga series by Katsushiro Otomo, it tells the tale of a motorcycle gang caught up in the high-stakes world of psychic mutants, government cover-ups and shouting names at one another. Controversially, the proposed film will move the story’s setting from Neo-Tokyo to New Manhattan; a take which looks less and less appealing as people become more aware of Hollywood’s tendency to whitewash Asian characters and stories.
The project has been one of the studio’s hotter hot potatoes with directors like scribe Ruairi Robinson, The Hughes Brothers (both together and later with Albert Hughes separately) and Jaume Collet-Serra. In one of its earliest forms, it was set to star Keanu Reeves and Leonardo Di Caprio as bikers Tetsuo and Kanada. Though, some reported versions of the script Anglicized those names as well as the setting. The Hughes version nearly went into production with either Dane DeHaan or Michael Pitt assuming the role of Tetsuo, and a cast rumored to include Garrett Hedlund and Kristin Stewart.
I suppose courting Waititi is an attempt to curtail the criticism the project faced since the beginning. He’s a non-white face and a compelling filmmaker who could do something interesting with the material. He might even attempt a faithful live-action recreation.
As I’ve always maintained, Akira is an intensely Japanese story and any attempt to Americanize it is to completely miss the point of it. But, just like Sony’s The Dark Tower, Warner Bros. has put a lot of money into developing this project and it wants to see a return on that investment whether or not it respects the themes of Otomo’s work. And like The Dark Tower, it could emerge from the development process as something lesser than everyone’s wishes.
Like that Robotech feature film, I really don’t expect to ever sit down and watch Warner Bros’ Akira. But it’s worth charting the history of the project as it could serve useful to filmmakers in some far off distant day.
Akira is definitely not on any release schedule.