Akira live adaptation film and localization

Feb. 14, 2010In latest movie rumors making its round in the Internet, James Franco is apparently in talks to play Kaneda. Wuzzah? Is it mere coincidence that Franco plays a dude that cuts off his own limb in “127 Hours”, an Academy Award contender, a plot event similar to imagery of Tetsuo losing his arm? Hollywood likes to do stuff like that. If Akira ever gets made (I highly doubt it at this point), Franco could actually be an interesting choice. However, that could only mean that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is playing Tetsuo. They do look like brothers. However, this live-action movie is starting to look more generic by the minute. Of course, I’ve been wrong about these kinds of projects before. For all the cynics out there, including me, I say, wait for it.

Dec. 3, 2010MY WAY: I want to hear Cee Lo Green’s Bright Lights, Bigger City used in this modern adaptation. Maybe it’s because I’m really digging Gran Turismo 5’s 5oul on D!splay, too, but I think Akira needs that hip automobile culture going for it too. Heck, maybe the filmmakers can even get some sponsors out of it. What they need is a lot of flash, action, and definitely a good modern soundtrack. It was like Batman and Robin, if you didn’t like the movie itself, you definitely can dig the soundtrack.

Nov. 7, 2010 – RUMOR – Morgan Freeman has been offered the role of the colonel. His typecast is always that of a paternal, or grandfatherly role. If there’s any substance to this rumor, than that could only point to the rumor of Jaden Smith as Testuo being more feasible. Efron just had his release for Charlie St. Cloud where he plays a grieving big brother to his deceased little brother’s ghost. Strange rumors, really wondering what direction it’s going now. Otherwise, I think Thomas Dekker could also be a good Kaneda.

Nov. 6, 2010 – RUMOR – Zac Efron has been offered the role of Kaneda. Man, that came as a shock. I suggested him as Tetsuo way back when. I don’t see him as a Kaneda at all. What’s Disney thinking? Tetsuo always ends up being the star of the show, just like Spielberg said the T-Rex was the star of Jurassic Park. Efron can earn his action typecast as Tetsuo, not Kaneda. However, I’ve read suggestions that Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson might make a good bad-boy-scout of a Kaneda. In the end, this movie’s not going to be for me. But it’s interesting to study racial politics.

What we know, but isn’t concrete:

  • Hughes Bros. are directing
  • Filmmakers are aiming at 2 movies
  • Tetsuo has been localized as Travis
  • Kaneda and Travis a probably going to be brothers
  • Neo-Tokyo has been localized as Neo Manhattan
  • Warner Bros. has set the milestone for total city destruction with Inception
  • A lot of stuff is “borrowed” from Megazone 23

How I would approach it:
1. Keep it Asian
When Akira the manga first came out in Japan, it was one of the first comics in to have almost realistically drawn Asian boy characters that weren’t hyper cartoony. It’s possible it’s success was because the readers could relate to this depiction. And then it was picked up by American publisher Epic Comics (Marvel), possibly making it the first young Asian characters in American comics, especially fictional ones actually created by an Asian author. There is something intrinsically “Asian” about Akira and therefore should retain an all, or at least majority, Asian casting. Unfortunately, the reality is Hollywood doesn’t see it that way and their common practice is to cast what audiences PAY to see: non-Asian headliners and characters.

2. Depict semi-authentic gang culture
Kaneda, his gang, and their rivals are bad kids, or at least they look bad. You wouldn’t pick that up if you watched only the anime. These are orphans and troublemakers. I would assume they weren’t spoiled, wealthy kids like in “Alpha Dog”. They look more like the kids in Larry Clark’s “Bully” or “Menace 2 Society” or “The Outsiders”. I’m sure Otomo “borrowed” a lot from American cinema. However, I’ve never seen “Asian” gang culture depicted in American cinema, and if anything remotely resembles it, it’s “Fast and the Furious” type of culture, a bunch of rich kids with fancy cars, guns, and no consequences.

So if Kaneda and co. are poor, it would give a lot of motive for them to steal, fight, etc. One iconic item that needs to be stolen is Kaneda’s bike and will represent the phallic object that Tetsuo covets.

Also, Yamagata is Kaneda’s right-hand man. It is a pivotal scene in the manga when Tetsuo kills him. It crystallizes that Tetsuo has now fully “turned” and is using all his newfound powers at will. The anime makes it seem arbitrary, Tetsuo killing Yamagata at the bar just for showing up. In the manga, all the events lead up to Kaneda and his gang discussing how to deal with Tetsuo and ultimately confronting Tetsuo. So it would be a painful scene, right after Tetsuo kills Yamagata, Kaneda is at a breaking point and shoots Tetsuo. Tetsuo feels as if Kaneda has betrayed him, the older brother who would never harm him, and this is when Rome and Romulus finally draw the line. This scene has to be that important, that climactic.

Age might be a factor, too. If these gangsters were 14 and looked like Justin Bieber, it’s not going to work. Young gangsters are messed up and hardened, so they need to look it. Not thug, but hardened. Maybe the characters can be at least 16 and the older is about 20. But they also need to look innocent enough so when they save the day, it’s not unexpected. Good kids in bad environment, doing what they must do to survive.

3. The look
Spielberg’s boring but visually interesting adaptation of Kubrick’s “AI” comes to mind. Neon lights are abundant in Neo-Tokyo, as long as it’s not campy like “Batman Forever” or “Batman and Robin”. The source came from the 80s so the clothes might be antiquated, however, I can’t possibly imagine Kaneda without the untamed hair or red jacket. If it were me, just to modernize it a little, I’d borrow from Otomo’s “Steamboy” some of the steampunk look. And when lit darkly, there can be a lot of glistening leathers, blacks and reds against a sepia backdrop. It looks like “Book of Eli” except the inhabitants think they’re cooler than they actually are.

As for Tetsuo, I’ve always envisioned him becoming like a banshee. In the manga, the kid goes through some horrific transformations. The anime’s depictions were limited (simply because I don’t think there was enough time to hand-animate the details). For reference, check out Resident Evil: Code Veronica. I expect Tetsuo to turn into a pale gray, concrete, steel and wires, pulsating tumor organs and veins beast.

4. The themes
Some of the pontification might have to be removed to dumb it down and sell tickets. But I don’t think it’s that hard to keep the themes intact. Youth vs. old. Thrill-of-the-moment vs. greed. War vs. peace. Innocence vs. corruption. It’s all there. If the anime’s ending didn’t make any sense, the manga’s does. If the filmmakers stick with the manga’s ending, it could possibly be the most uplifting message for young Asian Americans in American cinema history. It’s a shame, again, it probably won’t carry over.

That’s it. Unless I happen to get into the filmmaking industry and get to work on my dream projects, this being only one of them, those are my two cents worth. Back to the daily grind.

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