Way back in 2002, Warner Bros. acquired the rights to Katushiro Otomo’s classic manga/anime Akira. The film promptly sank into development hell though, with every attempt to begin production running into budgetary, scheduling or casting issues. Today, however, it was revealed that the studio is eager to get the production moving again, no doubt fuelled by the anticipated success of Rupert Sanders’ Ghost In The Shell.
Akira takes place in Neo-Tokyo, a city built on the ruins of old Tokyo after a gigantic and devastating explosion. Its heroes are biker gang members Tetsuo and Kaneda, who become embroiled in a government conspiracy to unlock latent psychic talents. The anime beautifully combines sleek cyberpunk yumminess, body horror and surreal dream elements, all set to a cacophonously bizarre soundtrack of dissonant chanting.
Rumors are that Warner Bros. is approaching two directors – Daniel Espinosa (Life) and David Sandberd (Light’s Out). Both are currently hot properties, but can either of them succeed where many have failed before? Albert Hughes (The Book of Eli) came close at one point, as did Jaume Collet-Serra, while everyone from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Chris Evans, Robert Pattinson, Michael Fassbender, Andrew Garfield and even James McAvoy flirted with the lead parts. Nothing came of it, however, and until today, it was presumed that the project was permanently on hold.
One criticism any live action adaptation will need to deal with is the accusation of whitewashing. Ghost in the Shell can almost justify itself by explaining that Scarlett Johansson is playing an artificial body, but with the plot for this project very specifically set in Japan, it’s going to be tricky to argue that the cast should be caucasian. Hughes’ solution was to set Akira in Neo Manhattan, but that’s dodging the problem. Maybe, just maybe, Hollywood could take a stab in the dark and cast Asian-American actors as Shotaro Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima. Just a thought….