Now, here are three facts that simply should not be: They're making a live action version. They're changing the location from Tokyo to New York. And they're recasting it with all white people. Not just any old white people, either. No, Akira, that quintessentially Japanese classic, is being recast with the whitest white people this side of a Mint Julep. Here's the latest casting announcements for the two leads:
Kaneda: Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake or Joaquin Phoenix
Tetsuo (now, no shit, changed to "Travis"): Andrew Garfield, Robert Pattinson or James McAvoy
Coming soon to a theater near you: Akira, starring Justin Timberlake and that fucking guy from Twilight.
And this brings up a vital and urgent question: Why?
Actually, it brings up several vital and urgent questions, though to be fair, most of them are just the word "why" with varying degrees of capitalization, exclamation, and with different synonyms for "motherfucker" appending them.
Why change the location of a movie whose central theme is how fucked up it is to be Japanese?
I know that sounds disrespectful, but you have to admit that it is, indeed, a pretty fucked up thing to be Japanese. You're confined to an isolated island for the vast majority of your cultural development - an island regularly beset by massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and typhoons - and when you eventually do emerge from your isolation, you become the only society to ever have nuclear weaponry deployed against them. Consider all of those factors, and then watch one of those tsunami videos; it's easy to see why so many of their movies seem to think of cities as "those things that just go away sometimes." Akira's imagery relies heavily on this concept of civilization as an impermanent thing: Cities are fragile beings in the movie. They can, and frequently do, dissolve away into nothing right before the character's eyes.
Akira takes place in Tokyo, decades after it's been completely devastated and eventually rebuilt. The location wasn't picked at random: That specific setting has great significance to the story, which revolves around the brutal, violently changing forms of its protagonist, Tetsuo. It's a movie that explores what people are, what civilization brings with it, how progress changes us, and why that's not always for the better. But it absolutely has to take place in Tokyo, Japan's most iconic and permanent settlement, otherwise it means nothing. You can't just do a line, close your eyes, spin a globe, stop it with your dick, and expect the story to work just fine wherever it lands, jaded Hollywood producers.
Why did you think a race change was even necessary?
Humanity is basically an international culture now. Japan isn't a place so foreign to us that we can't relate to them as human beings. It's where our video games come from. It's where Mario lives. It's a plane ticket or a Skype call away. If you wanted to, you could do a quick Google search right now, and flip over to a webcam dedicated to watching them poop. That's about as intimate as you can get with another society. We're okay with Asians, Hollywood: They're no longer a mysterious and inscrutable society that fills us with fear and wonder. We don't think they feel rage with their feet, or hover when depressed or anything -- we generally assume they have human emotions and human struggles just like everybody else. Chow Yun Fat had a career over here, remember? Lucy Liu? Hell, Ong Bak even did okay in American theaters, and that was a movie about a guy who did feel rage with his feet.
So when you're needlessly remaking movies in the future, remember that you can leave the setting and ethnicity of the characters alone, just so long as you change all of the dialogue to English, lest we spot a subtitle and are forced to flee the theater, slapping at the air like bees are chasing us. (SIDE NOTE: It might also be okay to tone down the weirdness at the end of Akira a little. In general, American audiences won't really get the significance of the whole "teenager can't handle evolving into a higher form and explodes into a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man of cancerous throbbing organs" plot device. That's just not a thing, here. We prefer our ambiguous supernatural endings to be people either becoming or disappearing into amorphous light beams, thanks.)
Why the switch to live action?
Akira was so cutting edge at the time it was filmed, that it still stands up perfectly well today, even against modern animation techniques. Aside from the fact that nobody in the movie is capable of closing their mouths completely -- all standing around with bared teeth like howler monkeys -- there's just no cause to change anything about the visuals.
You know we still watch animated movies, right? We have an entire Oscar category for it. Toy Story 3 brought in over a billion dollars at the box office. There's obviously a thriving market for animated films in America today. The main draw of animation in movies is that the characters will always seamlessly integrate with their surroundings, no matter how lavish or intricate they get. You're actually losing authenticity with the integration of CGI and film. The only possible gain in updating to live action is that you won't have to pay an entire platoon of Koreans to cel-shade Robert Pattinson's pasty half-abs.