I have every reason to believe this script is authentic, but I do not have confirmation from the studios. If it is real, this script is the thing that pulled the movie out of Development Hell, where it had been sitting for decades. This is the script that finally got Hollywood to stand up and take notice. This is the script that made studio executives bolt out of their chairs and say "yes, we have to do this!" And it's easy to see why: Nearly every aspect of the film has been altered to fit the most tired, hackneyed, bullshit Hollywood cliches in existence. As low as your opinion of this production might have been, the script proves one thing: Even if you have to dig the damn hole yourself, there is always a downhill.
Before we start, I'd just like to say two things:
One: This script is ostensibly the version just before the infamous whitewashing, where they changed Tetsuo's name to Travis.
Two: I can't believe somebody actually sent me a script. In the big book of "People Who Matter in the Entertainment Industry," how the hell did you land on my name? Did somebody scribble it next to "for a good time call"? Hahaha, how filled with regret are you, right about now? Like on a scale from 1 to 10? Is it a 10?
I hope it's a 10.
The first major change is the location shift, from Neo-Tokyo to New Manhattan. I discussed why the move only serves to harm the film in my column last week, but I made one mistake: I neglected the depth of Hollywood's commitment to ruination. The movie is no longer about a city that has descended into chaos, their people just trying to recover from disaster the best way they can, and is now entirely about plucky young rebels fighting an evil corporation, called the Foundation. Quick question: What's the most unimaginative, cliche way you can think of to portray a company as evil? That's right! Everybody gets ID chips. In the film, it's called the SubQ ID System. It's quickly revealed (through lengthy and inappropriate monologue, of course,) that the endgame of the Foundation is to create a consumer's paradise by blowing crap up, which will make people spend money...somehow. In short, think Erin Brokovich, but on a motorcycle, male, and constantly raping a classic piece of cinema. Oh, but they're in it for more than just the money. In the words of the villainous British Director himself (because what's the easiest, most formulaic way to show villainous intent? A suit and a British accent. Think Hans Gruber in Die Hard, or more perhaps more accurately, John Travolta from Battlefield Earth.)
There are 400 million Americans, a nation of consumers, desperate to find comfort from the disarray and terror of their world by spending money in ours ... Using your subject [Tetsuo] as a threat would clearly implicate us. And no one likes to be the bad guy ... but using his power simply presents another unsolved act of terrorism. Then we come in ... Heroes, breathing life into devastation once again.
Did you catch that? That subtle-as-a-shark-conducting-neurosurgery reference to 9/11? I speculated last week that making a movie all about 9/11 would be the cheapest way to steal meaning from another culture and make it relatable to ours. And sure enough, they're doing just that: Akira is now housed beneath the "memorial bunker" commemorating the initial destruction of the city. It's described as a blank expanse of concrete with two "massive blue spot lights beam[ing] into the heavens. Millions of names etched along the walls."
The only way they could be more overt would be to pencil in a new friend for Tetsuo named Ground Zero, whose only line of dialogue is "Never Forget!" screamed over a sound loop of eagles screeching. I'm only slightly exaggerating. In the intro to the movie, right as Akira is destroying the city for the first time, a grieving mother looks down at her children, Kaneda and Tetsuo, and one of the final lines out of her mouth, as the actual disaster is happening around them, is:
Don't ever forget.
Oh, that's another point: Kaneda and Tetsuo are brothers now, and in their early thirties. That's not the only change, either. Kaneda is now a bitter, jaded blackmarket doctor, and Tetsuo is a shell-shocked, tortured junkie, alienated from the world. That's right: They've rewritten the male leads of Akira as a segmented Dr. House. The pair even share a House/Wilson dynamic, as Kaneda both enables and lectures Tetsuo about his drug dependence. I would be utterly astounded if the finale of the second movie isn't just the brothers bolting together Voltron-style to form a multi-story Hugh Laurie that destroys Akira's self esteem with a well-timed witticism. Apparently, Hollywood was concerned that we wouldn't recognize a concept as complicated as "childhood friends," so they've altered the relationship between the main characters, which allows them to absolutely fill the script with generically emoted, soap opera/90210-esque moments like this:
This isn't you... Whatever is happening to you... You have the strength to stop it.
Do I? How would you know?
Because you've always had it. You just never knew...
Kaneda struggles with a confession --
Because I never let you. Let me help you now.
Help me now? I don't need your help. I haven't for a long time.
What are you talking about, Tetsuo? I've done everything for you. Like I promised.
Right. The promise. You're a criminal. A thug. A gang leader. You're everything except what I needed most... A brother!
The power of love is a big recurring theme here, and really, thank God the makers of Akira had the courage to step up and finally address this hotbutton issue, otherwise we, as movie viewers, would only have every single other film Hollywood has ever produced to study this phenomena. So they've changed the angry, confused biker kids into stubble-streaked human care bears, and it's a good thing, too, because they're going to need all the sweet, sticky love-power they can muster if they're going to beat the evil Akira. Yes, in the remake, they've changed Akira -- from a victim, a mysterious force, and a childlike god figure -- into a screen villain cliche: The generic scary child with psychic powers.
Hollywood Producer: "I love the Akira character! But let's make him more psychotic, combine it with Dragonball Z, and have you guys seen The Ring?"
The new Akira is the embodiment of every creepy kid archetype that's ever been, like Drew Barrymore in Firestarter, Damien from The Omen, or Samara from The Ring. He comes complete with all the old Hollywood tropes: He sings "unsettling" nursery rhymes, he carries around a disused stuffed animal, and casually murders people with his mind powers. Notice I put "unsettling" in quotes up there; that's because this script marks the moment when Hollywood officially ran out of genuinely creepy nursery rhymes to accompany their child villain stereotypes:
It's alright, Akira. Nobody's going to hurt you, son. Just come with us. And it'll all be fine.
The Little Boy looks up, HIS HAIR STANDING ON END, EMITTING A GENTLE PULSE OF STATIC ELECTRICITY as he begins to hum a slow, haunting version of "Frere Jacques." It chills to the bone.
That's not a joke. I did not make that up. And it's not just an isolated moment of laughable Horror ineptitude either, that's Akira's official theme. Every single time he makes an appearance, even if it's just in PTSD Tetsuo's nightmares, the script calls for 'Frere Jacques' to be played.
Clearly, the boys are going to need help defeating such a terrifying - and let's pause this sentence while the snickering dies down - supernatural enemy. Help like Kay, the female lead, who in the original film was a strong young woman that slowly developed the very start of a relationship with Kaneda. By the end of the animated Akira, the two got to a point where they acknowledged that they might care about each other, but never had a chance to act on it -- because it was the fucking apocalypse, and his best friend's arm just exploded into a giant tendon-dong while she was being possessed by three tiny geriatric children; they had other shit on their mind. But not in the remake: There's plenty of time for playful banter and lots of close-ups as Ky randomly strips naked and dons sexy outfits.
Ky and Kaneda reach the bottom of the stairs. Flip open their cases and begin peeling off their business attire, revealing street clothes beneath. Ky turns away. Her bare back exposed. She feels Kaneda's eyes on her. Peers over her shoulder.
Pay attention, Kaneda. You're gonna shoot yourself in the foot.
She slips on something tight and sleek as he assembles his rifle.
Might be worth it.
Hollywood Producer: "I love the Kay character! But slut her up, throw some Jovovich in there, and do I even need to say it? Full leather bodysuit."
So they've effectively isolated everything us dumb ol' Americans can understand, and morphed every ambiguous moral decision, philosophical discussion, and inherently Japanese sentiment into the holy trinity of Fightin', Fuckin', and patriotic Fervor.
And oh God, the ending. I can't give too much away, but let's just say this: The original Akira ended a little strangely - in a violent, scarring burst of disturbing transformations. It was about overstepping our bounds as a species, about what happens when you play God, about anger, confusion, and adolescence - both the main character's adolescence and our collective adolescence as a species. Whereas the remake ends with somebody regretting all of their actions, turning good at the last minute, getting saved by the power of love, and probably combining forces with their loved ones to fight the great evil in the second movie. And it is truly a great and lasting evil; one that will rock you to your very core. Why, the closing scene alone will stay with you long leave after those credits roll:
And there, strolling in between it all... Akira, teddy bear gripped in his hand... Slowly, hauntingly humming the opening notes of "Frere Jacques."
SMASH TO BLACK.
I don't think there's a clap slow enough to properly pay tribute to that chilling final note.
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 or, if you have experience in pitching, you can help him sell his new screenplay: Taxi Driver, starring Vin Diesel.
Don't worry, there could still be some hope. Just check out 7 Terrible Early Versions of Great Movies to see why. Or get some more Brockway, in Secondhand Nightmares: 10 Horrifying Thrift Store Finds.