Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi is still working on a live-action version of Akira. Both the Akira manga and anime by Katsuhiro Otomo take place in a dysopian version of Tokyo dubbed Neo-Tokyo in 2019, and follow the leader of a teen bike gang trying to save his best friend from the military when his latent telekinetic powers emerge. That description makes the story sounds relatively straightforward, but both the twisting plot of the anime and manga feature political intrigue, social commentary, and teen melodrama.
The Akira anime was a groundbreaking piece of work, and helped anime become popular in the west. Warner Bros have been developing a live-action take on the property since at least 2002, but it’s proving a tough nut to crack. Various directors have developed differing visions of the movie, including the Hughes brothers and Jaume Collet-Serra. These adaptation plans have ranged from epic two-parters to a modestly budgeted version starring Kristen Stewart and Gary Oldman, but they all fell part during pre-production.
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Waititi is the latest filmmaker to claim the director’s chair on Akira, and in a recent interview with Dazed magazine he gave an update on the project. It seems the movie is still far off, but he reaffirmed he’s focusing on adapting the manga and not the anime:
I haven’t really started to get my head around it yet. What I wanted to do was an adaptation of the books, ’cos a lot of people are like, ‘Don’t touch that film!’ and I’m like, ‘I’m not remaking the film, I want to go back to the book.’ A lot of the people freaking out haven’t even read the books, and there are six gigantic books to go through. It’s so rich. But (the anime) Akira is one of my favourite films; my mum took me to see it when I was 13 and it changed my life.
While the Akira anime is adapted from the manga, it had to streamline and jettison huge chunks of plot to tell a feature length story. While any live-action version would likely pay homage to classic elements like the Kaneda’s iconic bike – which recently made a cameo in Ready Player One – adapting the original manga would allow Waititi to approach the story from a new angle. It sounds like his involvement is still in the air at this stage, so he may be the latest in a long line of directors to exit the project.
A live-action Akira would be coming after similar anime adaptations like Ghost In The Shell and Death Note. Both movies were criticized for whitewashing their source material upon release, and the box office for Ghost In The Shell is belived to have been impacted by the accusations. A previous script for Akira relocated the action to Neo-Manhattan, a version of Manhattan that was bought by Japan when the United States goes bankrupt.
This would have explained the mix of asian and caucasian leads, but Waititi has stated in previous interviews his take on Akira would focus on asian teenagers for the main characters. The success of Thor: Ragnarok will have no doubt led to Waititi receiving a range of offers for major projects, so if he winds up making Akira, the studio will hopefully give him the freedom to make the movie his way.
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