Neo-Manhattan Melodrama: How The American Akira Could Be Worse Than We Imagined

By Arturo R. García

When last we left the American Akira, the racebending had barely started: Garrett Hedlund was only being courted to play the lead character, Kaneda.

This week, thanks to Geek Tyrant and other sites, we got some more disturbing pieces of the puzzle, when this casting call for extras and stand-ins listed Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart stepping in as “Ky” – possibly because the character’s original name, Kei, was just too long for somebody’s tastes – and Helena Bonham-Carter playing Lady Miyako.

The casting call also shed some light on how the new version’s vision of “Neo-Manhattan” might play out. As “adaptations” go, it sounds like this Akira could hew as closely to this Akira as Jesus Christ Superstar did to the Gospels. Spoilers are under the cut.

Here’s a transcript of the plot summary:

Kaneda is a bar owner in Neo-Manhattan who is stunned when his brother, Tetsuo, is abducted by government agents led by The Colonel.

Desperate to get his brother back, Kaneda agrees to join with Ky Reed and her underground movement who are intent on revealing to the world what truly happened to New York City thirty years ago when it was destroyed. Kaneda believes their theories to be ludicrous but after finding his brother again, is shocked when he displays telekinetic powers.

Ky believes Tetsuo is headed to release a young boy, Akira, who has taken control of Tetsuo’s mind. Kaneda clashes with The Colonel’s troops on his way to stop Tetsuo from releasing Akira but arrives too late. Akira soon emerges from his prison courtesy of Tetsuo as Kaneda races in to save his brother before Akira once again destroys Manhattan island, as he did thirty years ago.

Depending on how many “liberties” are taken with the source material, this incarnation of The Colonel could be more of an antagonist to Kaneda and company than the original. If the latest rumors turn out to be true, and Ken Watanabe actually does play the character, the only POC in a principal role could be playing the bad guy. As our friends at Racebending said on Facebook, “This doesn’t sound like a terrible rehash of Airbender at all.”

Besides that, this summary – again, if it is indeed the plot of the new version – points not only to a whitewashing, but to a PG-13 dumbing-down of the original: Kaneda and Tetsuo are brothers? An adult Kaneda with a job? Akira as a villainous force? This isn’t even reprehensible anymore, it’s almost laughable. Unless this unnerving theory by Cracked Magazine’s Robert Brockway turns out to be right:

With all of these factors considered — the change in race, age, and location — there’s only one thing this live action version of Akira can be about. The same thing every other “meaningful” Hollywood movie has been about since the day it happened: 9/11.

Think about it: There’s a city, emblematic of its nation, that undergoes a great hardship, but after many years of struggle, they finally rebuild. Then a group of friends, their gang analogous to a controversial real life group, ostracized and hunted by the government, somehow causes the destruction of said city. It was an important moment in our history, and of course it deserves coverage. But why choose Akira to talk about it? Well, because Hollywood believes that the only disaster Americans can relate to is 9/11, but sometimes work is hard and it takes a lot of time, and that sucks. So instead of setting to work on an original script, they’re just going to up and steal a movie that perfectly captured what it was to be Japanese in a tumultuous period of history, and make it all about white people problems instead.

And if that’s indeed the case, I hope this film makes Airbender’s box-office take look like Avatar’s by comparison.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Javan-Nelums/696759111 Javan Nelums

    You know i prefer Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire to play at Kaneda than these white people. Man come on Japan has ton of Male actors..young male actors.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Javan-Nelums/696759111 Javan Nelums

    You know i prefer Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire to play at Kaneda than these white people. Man come on Japan has ton of Male actors..young male actors.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Javan-Nelums/696759111 Javan Nelums

    You know i prefer Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire to play at Kaneda than these white people. Man come on Japan has ton of Male actors..young male actors.

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    This reminds me of the terrible Hollywood remake of another Japanese classic Godzilla. The characters and storyline become unrecognizable and subpar to the Japanese original.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t have a huge problem of them doing some theme of 9/11 because every anime references the atomic bomb in some way.

    But it begs the question of why this movie has to be called Akira at all.

  • Anonymous

    Is it bad that I no longer get surprised in the slightest by things like this? I think that the most galling aspect of the casting, beyond the whitewashing, is that the token POC cast member is playing a character that is heavily antagonistic for much of the story, yet again pushing/reaffirming POC as Other.

    And by making Kaneda and Tetsuo brothers we have the added message of all American family unit fighting to survive against the authoritarian and corruptive Other.

    Eye-roll to infinity.

  • Pingback: The Akira remake… thing « Loose Leaf Stories

  • Ada

    Oh dear god no. 

    I am not watching this. Akira did not need to be remade. It desperately needs to not be remade as a white, american fantasy (because americans can only watch remakes of successful foreign shows? what? And everyone is suddenly white?).

  • Ada

    Oh dear god no. 

    I am not watching this. Akira did not need to be remade. It desperately needs to not be remade as a white, american fantasy (because americans can only watch remakes of successful foreign shows? what? And everyone is suddenly white?).

    • Anonymous

      Remakes of foreign films and TV shows is not uniquely american. India, China, and other countries do it all the time. The problem as I see it is that when foreign films and TV shows are remade in the US the characters are always white(the exception is with death at a funeral which stared black americans). They could have remade Akira with US born Asian characters. 

      If they want to remake the Akira film they should fully Americanize it rather than appropriating Japanese culture bit by bit and keeping Japanese names(why would all the US born/raised characters have Japanese first and last  names??). I mean do what they did with the Seven Samurai and the Magnificent Seven. 

      • Keith

        I disagree American remakes are usually renamed and repackaged (the departed, eyes wide shut, etc). In this case they are white washing the series when they decided to call it Akira.

  • Ada

    Oh dear god no. 

    I am not watching this. Akira did not need to be remade. It desperately needs to not be remade as a white, american fantasy (because americans can only watch remakes of successful foreign shows? what? And everyone is suddenly white?).