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.”