5 Urgent Questions About the Live Action 'Akira' Remake
If you like anime, you've probably heard of Akira. If you like anime and you haven't heard of Akira, here's the reason why you even know what the word "anime" means. But even if you don't like anime, you've likely heard somewhere that Akira is considered both a classic and a milestone in cinematic history.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 PhoenixTetsuo (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.
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.
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
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.