Nearly a month after a report surfaced that Taika Waititi was in talks to helm Warner Bros.’ long-planned adaptation of Akira, the Thor: Ragnarok director remains coy about his potential involvement. However, one thing is clear: If he does sign on to the project, he would remain faithful to the source material by casting Asian actors.
“Yeah. actually Asian teenagers would be the way to do it for me,” he told IGN, “and probably no, not, like no-name, I mean sort of unfound, untapped talent. Yeah, I’d probably want to take it a bit back more towards the books.”
Although Waititi has yet to be confirmed for Akira, his comments will undoubtedly be encouraging to fans of Katsuhiro Otomo’s pioneering manga. There’s a history of U.S. adaptations of manga and anime casting white actors as characters originally intended to be Japanese. This year, especially, public awareness of the need for increased Asian representation has picked up steam, with criticism directed towards Paramount Pictures’ Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson, and Netflix’s Death Note.
The upcoming Hellboy reboot was also accused of whitewashing after casting Ed Skrein as Benjamin Daimio, a character of mixed Asian heritage. Acknowledging the concerns, the actor swiftly left the film, and was replaced by Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim.
Debuting in 1988 in Young Magazine, Akira is a seminal cyberpunk manga is set in a near-future Neo Tokyo and follows a teenage biker gang member Tetsuo Shima, who becomes embroiled in a mystery involving his leader Shotaro Kaneda, and a series of government experiments designed to harness the human potential for psychic proficiency. The experiment, of course, goes awry, which leaves Katsuhiro to discover the secrets of the enigmatic Akira. Otomo himself adapted the manga for an acclaimed 1988 anime film.
Warner Bros. began development of a live-action adaptation in 2002 that was reportedly set in a rebuilt New Manhattan, rather than the Neo Tokyo of the manga and anime. Over the years the project has passed from writer to writer and director to director, and perhaps came closest to reality in 2012, when Jaume Collet-Serra was attached, before stalling three years later.
Although no cast was set, Warner Bros. had been in talks with Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Ken Watanabe, and Helena Bonham Carter to star before pulling the plug on the project.
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