Leo is in charge, a Marvel showrunner is on board to direct, and Neo-Tokyo could be a post-apocalyptic LA
Akira is the legendary cyberpunk story of biker gangs and government experiments, credited with introducing the western world to god damn good anime in the 90s. Rumours of a live-action remake might finally become reality, now the California Film Commission has awarded the project an $18.5 million tax credit to go ahead in the Golden State.
Originally made by Katsuhiro Otomo for leading manga publisher Kodansha’s Young Magazine in 1982, Akira was later adapted for the iconic 1988 animated film, which Otomo also directed. Details around the remake are still swirling, but if Akira is going to take advantage of the biggest cash incentive under the state’s latest Film & TV Tax Credit Program, production must go ahead in the next six months. It’s the most major move for the film after years of rumours, developmental setbacks, and false starts.
That’s a pretty strong sign that Akira’s Neo-Tokyo backdrop is going to be transplanted into a more Americanised Neo-California. Will the cast be whitewashed? Will a Marvel alum be taking the helm?
Here are all the details you need.
IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME COMING
Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira was first published in Tokyo’s Young Magazine in 1982. The epic six-volume manga amounted to over 2,000 pages when it was finally complete. Otomo also led the 1988 animated adaptation, which amassed a cult following in the US and across the world. Acclaimed as both a technical and artistic feat, many fans don’t want to see this version remade, precious about the original material. Warner Bros’ snapped up the rights in 2002, regardless.
The film has languished in the development dungeon ever since. There have been whispers of rewrites, possible censorship, and a PG-13 rating, with too many directors and cast reshuffles to track. At one stage directors Albert and Allen Hughes (The Book Of Eli) were involved back in 2011, while Keanu Reeves was strongly linked the role of Kaneda, but he ultimately rejected it for other projects.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO IS PRODUCING
The live-action remake will go ahead under the guidance of DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way. This isn’t the first time California’s tax incentives have given a DiCaprio project this much cash. In 2017, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood co-starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie won over $18 million. We guess everybody just loves Leo.
The movie is set to be a bold production, with 2,575 crew, 812 cast members, and 29,000 extras taking part in the action over 740 shoot days in California.
Warner Bros’ executive VP of physical production and finance Ravi Mehta said: “We are thrilled with the opportunity to shoot Akira in California. The availability of top-notch crew members, plus the wide variety of location choices and predictable weather are second to none.”
TAIKA WAITITI IS DIRECTING
Warner Bros’ previously offered Akira to Jordan Peele, of satirical horror flick Get Out, Marco Ramirez, who helmed Netflix’s Daredevil series, and once had Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves on hand to help out. Though we first heard of Waititi’s involvement a few years ago, Deadline most recently confirmed he’s still attached.
Waititi has said he’s “passionate” about the project. The director of Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok told IGN in 2017 that he’s always been an Akira fan. His version, it seems, will be inspired most by the original materials. “I actually love the books,” he said. “Love the movie, but I would not do a remake of the movie. I would do an adaptation of the books.”
THE CASTING IS AS-OF-YET UNCERTAIN
There’s hardly an A-list Hollywood actor who hasn’t been linked to Akira. Zac Efron, Robert Pattinson, Justin Timberlake, Keanu Reeves, and Andrew Garfield have all been floated for the lead role of Shotaro Kaneda.
Warner Bros has also considered Ezra Miller and James McAvoy to play Tetsuo. Kristen Stewart, Keira Knightley, and Mila Kunis were put forward to star as anti-government activist Kei. But after the whitewashing controversy surrounding 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, it seems the show’s creators may thankfully be looking to cast Asian actors in the Japanese culture-entrenched movie.
Atlanta director Hiro Murai, who at one stage courted rumours he was attached to a remake, told Indiewire of his wish for the movie to forgo whitewashing, citing the likes of Ghost in the Shell and Death Note. “Not just because of the backlash lately, but that story is so tied to post-war Japan and ideology,” he said. “I think it’d be a shame, it’d be a missed opportunity (to cast non-Asians).”
Waititi has supported this view, adding that he would prefer to find new talent to take on these iconic characters. “Yeah, actually Asian teenagers would be the way to do it for me,” he told IGN. “Probably no, not, like no name, I mean sort of unfound, untapped talent.”
THE CALIFORNIA LOCATION IS CONTROVERSIAL
Akira is set in 2060, in a post-war version of Tokyo. The story takes place 37 years after a nuclear explosion kick-starts World War III, and the city is ridden with gang violence and anti-establishment terrorism. Kaneda goes up against corrupt politicians, irresponsible scientists, and a powerful military commander to protect his best friend Tetsuo from a government experiment.
It’s a dark, dystopian tale of violence, drugs, and psychic powers clearly influenced by post-war mentality in Japan. In an interview with Forbes, writer Katsuhiro Otomo said: “The grand plot for Akira is about an ultimate weapon developed during wartime and found during a more peaceful era. So the accidents and story develop around that ultimate weapon.”
Transporting a story inspired by the after-effects of nuclear warfare from Tokyo to California is a controversial move. It remains to be seen whether producers will simply use LA soundstages to create a futuristic CGI Tokyo, or adapt the plot to fit an American setting.
But fans needn’t be too worried. Otomo told Forbes that he still has final say on anything that goes ahead. “I accepted the offer for a live-action Akira to be made, so I am generally okay with whatever they want to do with it,” he said. “However, I did give one major condition to a live-action version and that is that I had to check and approve the scenario.”