Akira (2021 film)
|Directed by||Taika Waititi|
|Screenplay by||Taika Waititi|
by Katsuhiro Otomo
Appian Way Productions
Warner Bros. Pictures
Lennox House Films
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
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Akira is a planned science fiction live-action film based on the Japanese manga, Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo. Warner Bros., who have held the rights to a live-action version of Akira since 2002, have struggled to get production off the ground over various concerns.
Currently, the film was to be directed by Taika Waititi, production to start in July 2019, and scheduled for theatrical release on May 21, 2021. However, just prior to production, Waititi announced he would put his production of Akira on hold while he directed a fourth Thor film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Warner Bros. has halted production indefinitely on Akira.
"A secret military project endangers Neo-Tokyo when it turns a biker gang member into a rampaging psychic psychopath that only his former friend and a group of psychics can stop."
Film rights and conception
Akira is considered one of the most influential manga works, and had already been developed into an anime with the 1988 film Akira, itself a critically-acclaimed film. In 2002, Warner Bros. acquired the rights to create a live-action remake of Akira as a seven-figure deal. However, the live-action remake has undergone several failed attempts to produce it, with at least five different directors and ten different writers known to have been attached to it. The directors have had some freedom with the project; according to writer Gary Whitta who had written one draft of a live-action screenplay, they have been told that Otomo had instructed those working on the film "basically to not be afraid to change things, that he wanted to see an original and different interpretation, not just a straight-up remake". Otomo himself said in a June 2017 interview that as he is "basically done with Akira" as a manga, that "if someone wants to do something new with Akira then I am mostly okay with that", with the only condition that he can review and approve of any scenario a writer might take it for a live-action film.
IGN concluded that long-term troubles with producing the live-action film come from two areas. First, there has been the fear of whitewashing or racebending, casting American or other Western actors in lieu of Japanese ones, which has come to light when various actors have been named for roles. Secondly, Akira itself is not a story that is easy to relocate outside of Japan, due to the influence on the original story of Japan's role in World War II, including the atomic bombings of Japan, and their own Unit 731.
Shortly after Warner Bros. acquired the rights, Stephen Norrington was slated to direct with James Robinson writing the screenplay and Dan Lin producing. Norrington had planned to make the remake more appealing to Western audiences, making Kaneda and Tetsuo brothers. Following the commercial failure of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003, which both Norrington and Robinson were also on, the project was put on hold.
Director Ruairi Robinson announced in 2008 he was teaming with Whitta to adopt the manga for live-action, breaking the narrative out over two films with the first to have been completed and released by 2009. Producer Andrew Lazar said that the first film would cover volumes 1 through 3 of the manga, with the rest covered in the second film. Whitta, in a 2015 interview, said that the story would have taken place in a futuristic Japan-owned Manhattan, renaming the region as New Tokyo. This would allow them to have used a mixture of Western and Asian cultures and actors as to avoid concerns that they would be whitewashing the project. Robinson left the project in 2009 and was replaced by directors Allen and Albert Hughes, though later Albert Hughes went solo with the project by 2011. They used Whitta's script with modifications by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby with an aim for a PG-13 rating. Around 2011, a version of the Akira script leaked online; though it was unclear if this was Whitta's or Fergus/Ostby's version, the scripts deviated significantly from the source material in what was considered a negative way according to IGN, such as making Akira a "psychotic murderous creepy child", inclusion of heavy-handed references to the September 11 attacks, and characters written in a misogynistic fashion. Around this same time, casting calls for the film led to accusations of whitewashing. Shortly after these events, Hughes left the project citing "amicable creative differences".
In July 2011, Jaume Collet-Serra was hired to direct, with Steve Kloves providing revision work on Torre’s script. The film received a green-light in October 2011, with filming eyed to begin by February or March 2012.
In January 2012, as film was gearing up to begin in Vancouver, Warner Bros. halted production, citing issues with casting, the script and the budget. Collet-Serra would depart the film during this time, but returned in August 2013 when production began again. He detailed his vision for the film in February 2014, stating that while it would be respectful of the source material, it would still have differences. Dante Harper would be hired to write a new draft of the screenplay in 2014,  however by March 2015, Collett-Serra stated no further development on the film had been made. In July that year, Marco Ramirez was hired to rewrite the script. Collett-Serra once again exited the project, and Warner Bros. offered George Miller the chance to direct the film, but he turned it down due to commitments to other projects. According to Jeff Sneider at Meet the Movie Press, the studio is in talks with Justin Lin to direct the film. Jordan Peele was offered the chance to direct but declined the offer.
In January 2016, Katsuhiro Otomo revealed in a French comic festival that an anime television series was being considered.
In September 2017, it was announced director Taika Waititi was in talks to helm the live-action adaptation. In an interview, he asserted his intention to cast Asian-American teenagers to play the leads, possibly due to concerns over whitewashing and preferred lesser-known actors for the roles, along with his intent to adapt the original six-volume manga, instead of directly adapting the anime.
In May 2019, Watiti was officially confirmed to direct the film and would be co-writing the script with Michael Golamco, however the project was put on hold so Watiti could direct a sequel to Thor: Ragnarok.
Similarly to the principle crew members, several actors have been named as part of potential casting for Akira. Andrew Garfield, Robert Pattinson and Michael Fassbender were met with for the role of Tetsuo while Garrett Hedlund, Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake and Joaquin Phoenix were reported to have been in the mix to star as Kaneda by May 2011, in addition to Keanu Reeves being courted to star. Gary Oldman and Helena Bonham Carter were offered roles in the film, with Oldman as The Colonel, and Bonham Carter as Lady Miyako. By November, Hedlund entered negotiations to star as Kaneda, with Kristen Stewart offered the role of Ky Reed. Oldman declined his offer, with Ken Watanabe approached to replace him. Paul Dano and Michael Pitt were reported to be testing for the role of Kaneda, and Keira Knightley approached at some point for a part before production halted.
According to the State of California, the live-action film is set to be produced entirely within state in 2019, earning a US$18.5 million tax credit from the state and the California Film Commission. Filming from this is expected to take about 71 days starting in July 2019. However that same month, the production of the film was indefinitely paused upon the news Waititi would helm another instalment of the Thor film series.
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