Chromatic Casting: The All-Asian Shortlist for Akira

By Guest Contributor Monique Jones

A few days ago, I talked a bit about the all-white shortlist for Akira on my site. After doing so, I decided to create my own all-Asian shortlist of actors and actresses that could star in the film. Since this is being posted on Racialicious, I’m fairly certain I don’t have to tell the readers that race and Hollywood are connected. But, still, let me just make it clear why I’m writing this post:

As I’ve alluded to many times on my own site, race isn’t supposed to be important in a post-racial world, BUT, we aren’t in a post-racial world yet, not when we still have people in America who believe President Obama is not an American simply because he’s the first American president of known African descent. As far as I can see, race will be a deciding factor in a lot of things for several more years to come, and Hollywood is one of the places it’ll be a factor. This all-white shortlist alone shows that race will still be a factor. Yes, the movie has been changed from the original setting of “Neo-Tokyo” to “Neo-Manhattan”, but that doesn’t mean that the race/ethnicity of the characters have to change.

There are not many roles for Asian actors to get outside of indie films and mainstream kung-fu/martial arts films, so when the time comes for there to be a film that should cast Asian actors, such as Akira and The Last Airbender, the bulk of the roles go to Caucasian actors instead of actors that actually look like the characters. The problem is that a lot of studios still hold on to the stereotypical notion that Asian actors and actresses only sell in martial arts/action films; that they can only be the lead in such a film, not in a dramatic and/or romantic film like Philadelphia or The Notebook. So, I say all of this to say that race and image in Hollywood go hand-in-hand and images in Hollywood still need to be addressed by the System-at-Large.

So with that out of the way, let’s get on to the shortlisting!

Shotaro Kaneda: Leader of a bike gang, handsome, rebel, eventual leader of the resistance against the corrupt government

Tatsuya Fujiwara: Fujiwara is probably known to a lot American anime fans as “Light Yagami” from the Japanese film adaptation of Death Note (Hollywood should take a look at this film and its manga form, because this film shows how to do an anime adaptation right). Light is an insane character (well, almost every character in Death Note is insane, as I’ll reiterate later in the shortlist), but he’s also a character of precision, OCD-like intensity, and serious perfectionism, meaning that the actor would have to be deadly serious about his commitment to character. While Kaneda isn’t so much a perfectionist, the actor would have to put a lot of intensity into his performance, and if Fujiwara is able to be this cunning and deadly as Light, then he’s more than capable of taking on Kaneda. His work in Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler, a fast-paced, intense movie in its own right, also reiterates Fujiwara’s ability to take on dramatic, violent roles.

Tetsuo Shima: Kaneda’s best friend, psychic, eventual guinea pig of a governmental experiment, destroyer.

Justin Chon: Chon isn’t seen much in Twilight, but he’s good with what he’s given. I’ll paraphrase what studio execs are stereotyped to say: I like the kid. He seems fresh-faced enough to pull off being an unassuming Tetsuo, because in the anime film, Tetsuo does come off initially as unassuming. In fact, the idea that Tetsuo has psychic abilities surprises Kaneda, who is used to Tetsuo being his right-hand man. And, just because Chon’s in Twilight doesn’t mean that playing Bella’s friend is the extent of his talent. Case in point: the late Heath Ledger, who, up until his turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight, was in teen films like A Knight’s Tale and the classic Ten Things I Hate About You. Even his turn in Brokeback Mountain, an Oscar-nominated film, didn’t dissuade people from doubting his abilities to do the Joker justice, but he proved them wrong and then some. Chon, who is also young enough to pull off playing a realistic high-school student, seems like a good potential Tetsuo; don’t hold Twilight against him.

Akira: Why this whole series exists; the critically-important psychic child with god-like ability, annihilator, government test subject
Hikori Doi: Akira is a creepy kid. He’s inherently creepy because he’s a psychic, but he’s even creepier in the looks department, since he kinda reminds one of Damien Thorn from The Omen–a regular(ish) looking child who possesses scary power, a power you can tell just by looking in their eyes. For this character, the child actor is going to have to be seriously talented and precious-looking, so I say the role should go to Doi (pictured bottom right), the voice of Sosuke in the original Japanese release of Ponyo, another classic made by the master of animated films, Hayao Miyazaki. He’s even got the right hairstyle!

Kei: Love interest of Kaneda, leader of anti-government faction
Chiaki Kuriyama: I’m a squeamish-type person, so it took a lot of willpower for me to watch the Kill Bill series. But when I did, I was mightily impressed by the films. One of the fan favorites from the series is Gogo Yubari, played by Chiaki Kuriyama. The actress/model played a crazy, sadistic schoolgirl so well that I think she could play the other side of the spectrum – a crazed, anti-establishment, anti-government rebel–just as effectively.

Kaori: Tetsuo’s girlfriend, a girl who’s submissive to a fault
Aoi Miyazaki: Miyazaki starred alongside her brother Masaru in Eureka as siblings who survive a busjacking. Just like the other actors in the film, she showed she has serious dramatic acting chops, but she also showed she can do live adaptations of manga when she starred in the one for Nana. Like Fujiwara, she could have a built in American fanbase because of her work in Nana, which could translate to more roles in America.

Colonel Shikishima: The only one in the know about the Akira project
Ken Watanabe: You would think Ken Watanabe would be considered for something in Akira, what with roles in films ranging from Memoirs of a Geisha and The Last Samurai to Inception and Batman Begins. Granted, he still might be, considering Hollywood’s bad penchant for casting minorities in secondary roles. In any case, Ken Watanabe is not only someone Americans will recognize, but he also brings a commanding presence, something the actor chosen to play Shikishima will need. Plus, Ken Watanabe might actually be able to rock a buzz cut.

So that’s the list! Too bad it won’t be used by Hollywood, though; Hollywood has proven they can cast Asians for roles other than roles in martial arts films – Sandra Oh has been cast films such as Hard Candy and Under the Tuscan Sun – all minority actors need is for Hollywood to routinely cast minorities in film, not just when they feel someone has “earned it,” is “safe,” or “can do martial arts.”

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

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  • Anonymous

    I would actually love to see Jang Keun Suk as maybe Tetsuo (no offense to Justin Chon.Totally love him but he’s more of a funny guy). He’s so intense and brooding in his acting. Plus he’s English is mostly fluent having studied in NZ.

  • Tiger Gray

    Ken Watanabe is freakin gorgeous in that picture.

  • Donna F

    Ms. Jones, you had me at Ken Watanabe.
    If you’ve seen “The Last Samurai,” then you know he is eminently qualified to rock a buzz cut.
    I saw “Inception” because of Ken. (Turned out to be one of my all-time favorite movies. Who knew?) So I’d be darn sure to see “Akira” for him.

  • Aiyo

    I would like the throw Harry Shum Jr. into the mix there. (don’t hold Glee against him he was in that 3min action thing)

    Has anyone seen what they plan to do to Akira? Because I saw a post on cracked and it looks bad, really bad

  • Kwaku

    I would like to see a similar list but with all or mostly Asian-American actors.

  • Wlancewalker

    Does anyone else think that this would be a damn good project for someone like John Woo? I am pretty sure he speaks Japanese as he directed the second Apple Seed film. And with his awesome return to cinema with Red Cliff, I am quite sure he could get the funding for the movie?

  • Jadey

    I want to watch this. Best fantasy casting EVER.

    *sigh* Fuck Hollywood.

  • Escarondito

    I have a thing for Chiaki Kuriyama ever since Battle Royale. She and this entire cast are great actors and actresses with the exception of Aoi Miyazaki and you should switch who plays Tetsuo and Kaneda. I love the way Tatsuya screams as Nanehara in Battle Royale that he would be a great tetsuo.

  • Anonymous

    You know, since you’re fantasy casting, I’m really interested to see if Verbal of m-flo can act. This would be a great project for him, if so. I also think this would be a good project for Gong Yoo , who is best known for his lead role in the Korean Drama “Coffee Prince”. He’d make an interesting Kaneda. For that matter, his co-star, Yoon Eun-hye, would be a good choice for this as well.

    I think the idea of adapting anime to American audience is an interesting one, and one that can help break actors who are big in Asia to the US market. Last year’s live action Space Battleship Yamato is an example of what can be done. I don’t want to see my beloved Cowboy Bebop be among the first to try the US market (especially not with Keanu Reeves starring) – but in time, somebody’s gonna get one of these projects right!

  • Ebony Vandross

    He may be a tad old for the part, but I think Yūsuke Iseya needs to be ALL OVER THIS. He RAN Casshern (the movie itself wasn’t the best but he killed it as the protagonist). As a matter of fact, just transfer the cast of Sukiyaki Western Django over to this one and we’ve got it!

  • RVCBard

    Isn’t there a part for George Takei in this? Pleeeeeease?

  • MsGo

    So much love for this post. ♥

    I suggest re-tweeting it as much as you can to Leonardo DiCaprio, as it is his production company, Appian Way that is producing the U.S. remake.

  • Edwina @FASHION+ART

    Here, here! And by the by, Ken Watanabe can rock a buzz cut or any cut at all. He’s hot.

  • miga

    Ahh, Ken Watanabe, my older-man crush……(drools)… he is totally underused.

  • The Pseudo Masochist

    Ahhhh!! Fantastic list!!

    Could you do me a favor and give up everything in your life to move to Hollywood and become a casting agent? Seriously, this cast would be amazing.

    (okay, I’ll back away from the fangirlhood now)