Why the age change?
The cardinal sin in this remake isn't even the whitewashing, it's the age change. Look at that cast list again: None of those people can play convincing teenagers, some of them even when they were actual teenagers. That's probably why Pattinson was chosen for Twilight, actually: The fact that there's something fundamentally off about the way he thinks human beings behave makes him a suitable choice for a vampire, or somebody with mild autism, and maybe even for my screenplay about a vampire with mild autism, but not for a teenager whose hormones and uncertainty cause him to regularly and sometimes literally explode with emotion.
He doesn't understand humanity... he just eats them.
Tetsuo and Kaneda are both fifteen years old in Akira, and they're already members of a brutal motorcycle gang. That was, and to some extent still is, a real concern in Japan: They're called Bosozoku gangs, and don't let their hilarious cartoon vehicles fool you: In the late '80s, violent teenage motorcycle gangs were right at the top of the media scare list in Japan, kind of like Muslims and terrorism are in the US today. The age of the characters is key in Akira, both in tying the main characters to the phobias of that culture, and also in dealing with all of the teenage emotional mainstays: Sex, hormones, and puberty. And Akira is very much about puberty. The finale of the movie has one of Tetsuo's limbs engorging, growing out of control, and engulfing his girlfriend; it's not exactly shooting for subtlety. But you can't explore any of these issues with that live-action cast, because they are all, at the very least, fully grown men who have had more than enough time to get comfortable with boners.
Some more than others.
So what it could it possibly be about now?
With all of these factors considered -- the change in race, age, and location -- there's only one thing this live action version of Akira can be about. The same thing every other "meaningful" Hollywood movie has been about since the day it happened: 9/11.
Think about it: There's a city, emblematic of its nation, that undergoes a great hardship, but after many years of struggle, they finally rebuild. Then a group of friends, their gang analogous to a controversial real life group, ostracized and hunted by the government, somehow causes the destruction of said city. It was an important moment in our history, and of course it deserves coverage. But why choose Akira to talk about it? Well, because Hollywood believes that the only disaster Americans can relate to is 9/11, but sometimes work is hard and it takes a lot of time, and that sucks. So instead of setting to work on an original script, they're just going to up and steal a movie that perfectly captured what it was to be Japanese in a tumultuous period of history, and make it all about white people problems instead.
Oh, but don't go off thinking somebody has greenlit a movie that will only defile a classic and shove it's dick into the ear of cinematic history. That's all wrong.
There are actually two movies. Yep: It's a two-parter. Somebody thought this project was such a great idea that it couldn't possibly be confined to one film.
And there won't be any dicks going anywhere, because unlike the original, most notable for its shocking brutality and unflinching focus on often uncomfortably adult themes, this version is going to be PG-13.
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook. All proceeds from purchasing the book go directly to funding his remake of My Neighbor Totoro, starring Taylor Lautner as the sexy but dangerous Tyler Totoro.