The Troubled History of The ‘Akira’ Remake

If Taika Waititi doesn’t return to the project at a later date, he won’t be the first notable director to walk away.
By  · Published on July 22nd, 2019

In an upsetting, but unsurprising, piece of news, the live-action Akira reboot has been put on hold indefinitely yet again. Per Variety, the project will return to the shelf for now due to director Taika Waititi‘s Marvel commitments. In case you didn’t know, the New Zealander will helm Thor 4 for the studio.

The Variety report states that creative differences between the studio and the director may have led to the delay. However, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the main issue is timing.

At the moment of this writing, Warner Bros. is reportedly hopeful that Waititi will return to the director’s chair at a later date. Considering that several high profile filmmakers have come and gone in the past, though, we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

The original Akira, released in 1988, is widely regarded as the best anime of all time. Based on a manga series of the same name, the story follows a biker gang in a futuristic Tokyo who must save the city from one of their members, who’s causing telekinetic-fueled mayhem.

Warner Bros. has been trying to adapt Akira for almost 20 years. The studio acquired the rights to create a live-action film in 2002. In that time, several directors have been hired to helm the project, only for the film to never materialize for one reason or another.

Stephen Norrington was initially on board to direct Akira, which he would have adapted from a script he co-wrote with his The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen screenwriter James RobinsonAccording to Norrington, their film would have preserved the tone and scope of the original anime, albeit with a more accessible story for Western viewers.

In their story, Kaneda and Tetsuo would have been a sibling pairing, as opposed to childhood friends. Right off the bat, it was clear that the American remake was willing to take liberties with the source material.

However, after The League of Extraordinary Gentleman bombed at the box office, Norrington and Robinson parted ways from the project, leaving the door open for others to step in and take on the mammoth task.

Afterward, Leonardo DiCaprio arrived on the scene to produce the film with his company, Appian Way Productions. They’ve been trying to get it made ever since.

Ruairi Robinson was the first director they approached to make the film. His Akira would have been a two-parter mined from the manga, but the story would have taken place in America. Gary Whitta was hired to pen the script, which he eventually described in more detail after both he and Robinson moved on to different things.

“Manhattan became Japanese sovereign territory as New Tokyo, with 10 million Japanese living there; it just happened to be located on the east coast of the United States…I thought it was an interesting way to fuse eastern and western cultures in the movie, and allow a mix of actors from both, rather than just ‘whitewashing’ the film, which is what I think a lot of people were anticipating.”

While many fans were unhappy at the change of location, Whitta never saw an issue with it. He believes that Akira‘s story is universal and “speaks to the human condition.” Furthermore, Katsuhiro Otomo — who wrote the manga series — encouraged them to make their story different to his.

In 2010, the sibling duo of Allen and Albert Hughes were hired to replace Robinson. Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, and Albert Torres took over writing duties and removed all traces of what made the previous script an identifiable Akira story.

A leaked version of the script revealed many changes to the original story, including portraying Akira as a creepy child and littering proceedings with several references to 9/11.

On top of that, the main female character, Kei, was portrayed through a misogynistic lens. In the manga and original anime, she’s an important character who offers so much more than the role of a caricature.

The last director to officially sign on was Jaume Collet-Serra, who came on board in 2011. Warner Bros. approached Jonathan Nolan and Michael Green to rewrite a script that by Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves. It’s unknown if Nolan or Green contributed their talents to the project, though.

Collet-Serra also fell victim to the Akira curse in the end. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he left over a dispute with the studio regarding the film’s budget. That said, he wasn’t even a fan of the source material in the first place (per ComingSoon).

“Nobody’s interesting [in the anime]. Tetsuo’s interesting because weird shit happens to him, and Kaneda is so two-dimensional. That’s part of the Japanese culture, they never have strong characters. They’re used as a way to move the other philosophy forward.”

In the years that followed, several notable directors were rumored to have been in the running, including George Miller, Justin Lin, Christopher Nolan, and Jordan Peele. None of these names dedicated any time to the project and have since gone on to pursue other films.

It remains to be seen if Waititi will return and save Akira from development hell. Or will he be like the others and let someone else have the job instead?

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.