The original was an anime classic...
A seminal piece of anime filmmaking, Katsuhiro Otomo’s adaptation of his own manga source material is a landmark title in Japanese cinema. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth digging out, its heady mix of dystopian paranoia and heart-pounding action setting the template for many a sci-fi epic to come. Liked The Matrix ? Chances are you’ll love Akira .
Set in Neo-Tokyo in a world in which a third global conflict has ravaged Japan as we know it, Akira tells the story of a pair of disaffected youths, Kaneda and Tetsuo, as they struggle to make their way in a city terrorised by violent gangs and stalked by shady government suits. When the latter becomes embroiled in a secret government programme known as Akira, Kaneda finds himself forced to battle through all manner of violent confrontations in order to aid his wayward friend.
Mingling body-shock horror with psychic spookiness, all played out against the violent backdrop of a city in turmoil, Otomo’s epic was a genuinely groundbreaking piece of animated storytelling. Having initially struggled at the US box office (both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg dismissed the project as “unmarketable”), the film found an audience on VHS, and would become something of a cult classic, gradually paving the way for anime filmmakers to reach a non-Japanese audience.
Quite a significant film then, and one that any remake would have its work cut out doing justice to. Although try telling Warner Brothers that…
Warner have long had their eye on a remake...
Back in 2008 Warner Brothers announced a deal was in place with manga publisher Kodansha to produce a new big-screen version of Otomo’s book…the crucial detail being that this time around, it would be a live-action production. Initial exclamations of fanboy dismay were somewhat tempered by the reported presence of Otomo himself in an executive-producer capacity, although the naming of first-time director Ruari Robinson didn’t exactly set pulses races.
So with such an untried director in place, and the relatively uninspiring box-office performance of the original, why were Warner so keen to give Akira the reboot treatment? Well according to producer Andrew Lazar, the studio believes that Akira has garnered a cult following significant enough to make the film a hit second time around.
“ Akira happens to be something that Warner Brothers management loves,” Lazar told Collider last year. “They see the value in the title, they see the value in the franchise and what the underlying property means. It’s a pretty seminal piece…it’s not like pushing a boulder up a hill (trying to get the movie made) because the studio is really enthusiastic about it.”
There’s that word “franchise” again, although hopefully that’s just producer-speak, and not necessarily the mark of a cynical cash-in…
Albert Hughes will step behind the camera...
Sadly for Ruari Robinson, the project took considerably longer to get off the ground than Warner had originally anticipated, and by the time things started moving again, his named was conspicuous by its absence on the studio’s radar. Instead, Albert Hughes (one half of directorial double-act the Hughes brothers) was hired for the job, having already impressed Warner bigwigs with his work on Denzel Washington’s post-apocalyptic drama The Book Of Eli .
"I like challenges," said Hughes, following the announcement. "The one thing about Akira , (is that) they've been around a couple of years doing the script... and it's a hard nut to crack because there's so many heavy themes. The trick for me is to simplify everything for the audience, because you can't come in with that complexity.”
Hmm, doesn’t sound overly promising does it? Nevertheless, Andrew Lazar is convinced the studio have hired the right man for the job. “ The Book Of Eli was a really tough movie to realise content-wise,” says Lazar to Collider, “and I thought it was a stellar execution. We’re very excited about him. He’s off conceptualizing the movie with a bunch of visual artists. He’s putting his stamp on Akira .”
And a very American stamp it will be too…
It will swap Tokyo for New York...
Yep, reasoning that American audiences are most comfortable watching American films about America, Warner Brothers has decided to relocate the action from Neo-Tokyo to a place called New Manhattan. As in the original, this post-apocalyptic city will be a new metropolis constructed in the rebuilding process following the Third World War, only this time it is America that has taken a beating.
It’s quite a departure. Akira ’s setting wasn’t chosen out of a hat. The manga’s themes of isolation and paranoia originated from Otomo’s experience of Japanese culture, where residents live with the constant threat of natural disaster, and government transparency is limited at best.
So how will it work in an American setting? Our guess is that Hughes will attempt to tap into the old stand-by of post-9/11 anxiety, with this remake speculating as to what would happen if the terrorists won. We’re not saying it won’t work, but it will surely demand a fairly radical shift from the themes and messages of the original…
Robert Pattinson, Zac Efron and Justin Timberlake have been linked
That’s right, it looks as though Warner are keen to tap into the teenage market by drawing up a casting shortlist full of Hollywood hearththrobs! At present, the shortlist to play Kaneda is made up of Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine and Justin Timberlake. In the original film, Kaneda was the brave, charismatic gang leader whose continual heroism became a growing source of consternation to his friend Tetsuo.
Of the options mentioned above, we’d probably plump for Chris Pine as the closest fit to the original character. He’s got the requisite rebellious streak, and has certainly got the action chops for the role. Fassbender is probably the most actorly of the bunch, but he seems the wildcard on the list, and we’d expect Warner to go with one of the more clean-cut options.
As for Tetsuo, well he has now become “Travis”, and the reported options there are thought to be Zac Efron, Andrew Garfield, Robert Pattinson and James McAvoy. Our pick would be Garfield, but it would be interesting to see how Pattinson would cope with becoming a grotesque, amorphous monster as is the fate of his counterpart in the original.
Whether or not Timberlake and Pattinson are your cup of tea, they will certainly precipitate a significant amount of tweaking to the original characters, not least because they might struggle to pass for teenagers…
The teen leads of the original will be recast as older
In the original Akira , the two protagonists were just fifteen years of age, and the attendant teenage confusion was a key component of Otomo’s story. As well as living in a country in collapse, Kaneda and Testsuo must struggle with the usual angst and alienation of puberty.
Indeed, as we learned from Carrie , when you mingle raging hormones with heightened psychic abilities, the results are rarely pretty. So it is that Tetsuo’s hideous alter-ego suffers horribly at the film’s conclusion, one of his limbs swelling to such a size that it engulfs his girlfriend. No prizes for guessing what that’s alluding to…
The point is that Kaneda and Tetsuo were written as teenagers for a reason…it wasn’t just to sell trading cards to hordes of adolescent moppets. By recasting their characters as twentysomethings, many of the original themes will surely fall by the wayside? Pattinson and Efron might have made their names as teenage stars, but could we really expect either heartthrob to convincingly portray a fifteen-year-old boy struggling with changes “downstairs”? It seems unlikely.
It will be PG-13 certified...
Yes, we’re aware that this is beginning to sound increasingly desperate, but don’t shoot the messenger! We’re just reporting the facts. However, this has to be the most disappointing news concerning the remake, as surely any Akira film has to contain a certain level of adult content?
“You would think,” agrees Hughes wryly, “(but) the first thing they said to me is that it’s got to be PG-13. I said, ‘okay well I'll look at that as a challenge or a hindrance’.” We would err towards the side of “hindrance” to be honest, particularly given the amount of terrorist violence, severed limbs and body-shock horror present in the original film.
However, a PG-13 certificate shouldn’t necessarily spell curtains for the project, provided Hughes can get the tone right. The Dark Knight is a prime example of a director working within a PG-13 framework to create a brooding, menacing film with a distinctly adult feel. Indeed, it’s the only film we can think of where the bizarre certification term “sustained threat” appears fully justified!
We’re not comparing Albert Hughes to Christopher Nolan of course, but nevertheless, it is possible to create an adult film within the constraints of being marketed as “family friendly”. That said, Hughes will certainly have his work cut out if he wants to preserve anything of the original whilst meeting the studio’s demands.
The script is being polished by Harry Potters Steve Kloves
Initial reports from the Latino Review website suggested that the first script by The Book Of Eli’ s Gary Whitta was surprisingly faithful to the original, commenting that, “it retains the darkness, the violence, the epic qualities and even some of the themes, though they’ve been tweaked, Americanized, and updated to apply to current events.”
That’ll be the old 9/11-factor we’d imagine. In any case, this version of the script sounded fairly promising, with Katsuhiro Otomo lending a hand to generate a sense of authenticity. However, studio delays would mean that Whitta only really provided a first draft, as Warner dithered over the direction they wanted the film to take. “I haven't worked on it for about a year,” Whitta told Coming Soon back in 2009. “The version I worked on was about going back to the source and doing the manga version. We were going to adapt the whole six-episode graphic novel.”
That is reportedly still the plan, with Harry Potter scribe Steve Kloves the latest writer to put his stamp on proceedings. Kloves has worked on every Potter film bar The Order Of The Phoenix , and whether or not the boy wizard floats your boat, the writer has at least got previous on boiling down swollen source material into a manageable movie script.
With the original manga series clocking in at a whopping 2182 pages, that experience could be vital in trimming away the excess detail to carve out the core of a movie plot. However, even with some creative editing, it looks as though it will take more than one movie to do Akira justice…
It will be filmed in two parts...
According to Andrew Lazar, the plan is to split the source material in two, to be filmed as a pair of separate films. “It’s a really challenging project,” the producer told Collider. “We’re doing mangas one through three as the first movie, and then mangas four through six hopefully, if we’re lucky enough to do a second one.”
Presumably they’re planning with a second movie in mind, as it wouldn’t be so much of a sequel as the second half of the first movie’s story. Although perhaps Lazar is just exercising a little caution, in case Warner Brothers find themselves with another Golden Compass on their hands. Meanwhile, Albert Hughes seems similarly reticent over the idea of a second film.
“The first movie is going to be a two-part movie anyway,” said the director, “(but) I’m not into sequels, so I don't even know if I'm going to be around for the sequel. I'm going to focus on the first movie and get that right and they can talk about (that) later... I don't know if I would do (it) though.”
It seems a strange way of approaching things to us, but perhaps Hughes knows something we don’t, and has been told the second one will only happen if the first one is a hit. Still, it makes a change from the usual director spiel about how they can’t wait to build a franchise…if Hughes is genuinely focusing on getting the first one right, that can only be a good thing.
Filming is set to start in August...
At present, Warner’s schedule has Akira set to begin filming this summer, with casting reported to be imminent. The aforementioned shortlist of actors have reportedly all been sent scripts, and we should know who will play Kaneda and er, “Travis”, in the coming weeks.
Call us pessimists, but we still find ourselves waiting for something to go wrong with this one. Most of the interviews conducted with those involved have been cagey at best, with Albert Hughes sounding particularly non-committal, despite having been attached to the project for some time now.
We’re hoping this is just because he’s got his nose to the grindstone, and in fairness, the hype machine will probably crank back into gear once casting decisions are made and the cameras actually start rolling. If done right this could be an intriguing proposition, given the strength of the source material, and an inventive adaptation could yet propel Hughes onto the A-list. Fingers crossed for him though…it certainly won’t be easy.