AKIRA’s Casting: Why Ask Why?

 

Alright, so after several prolonged discussions on both Facebook and Twitter regarding Deadline‘s news regarding the “whitewashed” casting being considered for The Hughes Bros. upcoming live-action adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic, AKIRA, it felt only right to go ahead and help clear the air. As Warner Bros. is going out of their way to make this long in development hell project become a reality, the very idea that not only has the story’s central location been moved to “New Manhattan”, but that the main cast is likely to be populated by stars as non-Japanese as can be imagined has suddenly helped spur on these discussions.

 

But the funny part of it is that this has been long in the talks to be for years now. It isn’t as if this is a terribly new wrinkle to this project.

 

But perhaps it was the list of names mentioned as possibilities to play the iconic roles of ill-fated friends Tetsuo(Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield, or James McAvoy ) & Kaneda(Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake, or Joaquin Phoenix).  And the funny part about this is that several years ago,  there might have been a time when this fell clear through the “wrongness” cracks in my mind, and seemed natural for a moment.

 

But now, as the project gathers steam, it’s important to remember just what made the original manga, let alone the classic anime so potent in the minds of so many. At least to me, it was a combination of several striking factors that allowed the popularity to thrive, regardless of the Marvel Comics treatment, and ensuing TMNT-laden dub. It was a window into a Japan that westerners were largely unfamiliar with. Even as the western consciousness at the time was painted by the hues of a moneymaking powerhouse dream of Japan, there was also a spiritual detritus that permeated the seemingly unstoppable country that felt fresh and new. Not to mention the decade’s more fringe culture curiosity for cyberpunk, and a growing movement that questioned the very stability of the Reagan era. The stars seemed aligned for the at-times merciless spectacle of AKIRA to shine as a cult beacon for those looking for the next evolution of the superhuman comic book character/dystopian vision.

So when I see this news about RPatz being considered for a role that is not only Japanese, but should clearly be younger…all I can respond with is a drawn out..

“….of course”

 

Niche property adaptations have had their time in the spotlight as of late. And studios are in the process of doing all they can do to save these huge investments as nearly every risk that has been taken with cult comic properties have been met with either apathy, or disdain by the larger numbers of the moviegoing public. Ever since Speed Racer came onto screens in 2008, it has been clear that the then flourishing new era of adapting niche titles for big budget films was going to be a tough sell. (And as one of the few who actually still enjoys that film, it was a bitter pill to swallow.) But the reality is that the numbers who have been turning up to these films are nowhere what is needed to turn a profit of any kind. Just look at Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim, Watchmen, and just about every anime-turned live action film, and its all pretty self-explanatory.

 

So where I’m coming from is that this is not so much a matter of “race-bending” as it is a desperate attempt to do two things;

 

a) Get the movie made.

The geeks aren’t in as much force as anticipated, and studios are now listening. There simply isn’t enough money to be made from an audience that can be a little too nitpicky for a “gotta please them all” type of business.

 

And of course..

 

b) Make that money back.

Movies are now a terribly expensive idea for such properties. If one would have told me that Scott Pilgrim came with an almost 80 million dollar price tag a year ago, I would have deemed you fit to be locked away…but it is. Now imagine AKIRA for a second. That’s right. Let that sink in..

So what we’re looking at is a business tired of losing money/credibility, and are ready to forget the original target audience, and prepare for a film geared for a completely new one. A practice that has been done before many times, but has rarely to never worked. Even back in the days when the rights to AKIRA were in the hands of 90s powerhouses Guber-Peters, this was pretty much the same situation. And now that we’re in a time where no studio is willing to risk anything with a property that is all about risk-taking. It stands to question making it at all.

 

And I won’t even go into detail about why the original AKIRA project means so much to me, as it completely contradicts the very reason for this film to be made. The original in its visual gut punch says so much more than any live action interpretation ever could.  So even if they changed their minds, and cast actual Japanese actors to play the parts, I’d still likely not be a fan of it. The simplicity of matters for me is this; AKIRA is not only specifically Japanese cosmetically, it is also incredibly Japanese at heart. It is a Showa Era primal scream, celebrating the lives of those unwilling to allow the Bubble to encase their existence. It is also an echo of the political turmoil of Japan in the late 60s-70s. Much like Sogo Ishii’s brilliant Bakuretsu Toshi, it is less a story so much as it is an examination of a society on the brink, and a culture eager for divine release. This is the very center of what makes the project beyond anything that can simply be ported over to our shores. It is Japan’s desperate heart crying for change, despite all the concrete and steel forming around them like a tomb.

 

And even as the real Japan struggles on to re-identify itself amidst calamity now, the wind called AKIRA is a spirit best expressed from the people this spirit emanates from.

 

Personally speaking, this is about as close to western as I’m willing to be with this..

6 thoughts on “AKIRA’s Casting: Why Ask Why?”

  1. I suppose. But the issue here is about the property itself, which isn’t as privy to being laughed at as DragonBall Z. It’s a completely different animal, and as such, the emotional response to this is much more justifiable. And besides, the very idea of taking something that already exists in a form that trumps live action filmmaking in many ways, and going live action seems terribly redundant.

  2. Perhaps adaptation isn’t the right word for this project. Something like “rendition” or “interpretation” would be more appropriate, since the producers have apparently been given a lot of creative license in localizing this for a North American audience.

    Or perhaps calling it an “American adaptation” would help frame it in a better light — in the spirit of how “The Magnificent Seven” didn’t attempt to copy Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” but remade/revamped it in a recognizably American idiom of the cowboy movie/Western.

    1. I would agree only if we on these shores had a significant historical parallel with Japan, which we do not. Those mentioned titles didn’t require it as much. As I mentioned, AKIRA is much less a story as it is a vision as metaphor.

  3. Part of me believes that the Hughes Bros. LOVE Akira to death and thought it would be cool to do a live-action adaptation as they are huge fans of the anime/manga.

    However, sometimes passion can be taken advantage of and can go in unexpected directions. I do agree that AKIRA is very, very Japanese and I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to forego the Japanese influence.

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