One of the most influential stories to come out of Japan in the 20th century, Akira, is considered a classic of the sci-fi genre. First released in serialized form in Young Magazine, the six-volume dystopian sci-fi manga series was later adapted into an animated film of the same name. Released in 1988, Akira has gone on to become one of the most seminal anime films ever released, helping push the medium to new levels of international notice and respect.
Warner Bros. has been trying to put together a live-action adaptation of the story since they acquired the rights in 2002. Numerous directors have been approached for the project, including George Miller, Justin Lin, and Jordan Peele. The most recent director to tackle the project is Taika Waititi. The film was initially slated for a release in 2021, but that has now been pushed back thanks to Waititi’s upcoming return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Love and Thunder. Waititi himself seems unsure if he’ll still get the opportunity to direct the film, admitting as much during an interview with Variety.
But even if the film has been delayed again, it’s worth taking a look at the sort of changes Waititi imagined for the project – especially if it could give any clue about the direction that the film will eventually end up taking if it ever does make it to the big screen. The Illuminerdi has learned more about Waititi’s proposed take on Akira, and the ways it deviates from both the source material and other attempts to adapt the story.
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WHAT IS AKIRA?
Both the film and manga versions of Akira take place in Neo-Tokyo, the cyberpunk remains of Tokyo that have been slowly rebuilding in the aftermath of World War III. Both stories also primarily center around two teenage best friends, Kaneda and Tetsuo. Kaneda is the leader of a motorcycle gang that Tetsuo is a part of, which drives around the crumbling society around them.
But during a battle with another gang, Tetsuo ends up crashing his bike into an Esper – a child with incredible psychic gifts. This chance encounter reveals powers in Tetsuo as well, leading the mysterious Colonel to take him captive for his secret government program. There, he learns about a mysterious and immeasurably powerful boy named Akira who, thirty years prior, was responsible for the destruction of Tokyo.
The manga and anime differ slightly over the course of the story after that, but the broad strokes remain the same. They focus on Tetuso’s advancing powers and dwindling sanity, as well as the attempts by Kaneda and his friends old and new to stop him from wiping out what remains of Tokyo. Waititi has spoken in the past about wanting to primarily adapt the manga, which introduced more characters and took more time to explore Tetsuo as he became more deranged and dangerous. But which elements from the manga would Waititi utilize if he brought the film to live-action?
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WHAT CHANGES WOULD WAITITI HAVE MADE TO AKIRA?
Several websites, including Observer, wrote about the character breakdowns – which were originally posted on Backstage – last year. But there was one key element that wasn’t included back then, which we will discuss shortly. But first let’s go over the differences from the classic film,
For one, the film wouldn’t actually be called Akira. Instead, the title (or at least the working title) would be Box 28. This is likely a reference to whatever is being used to contain Akira himself. In the manga, Akira has been cryogenically frozen after having devastated Tokyo and is eventually released back into the world, where he becomes an ally to Tetsuo. In the anime, Akira is long dead – having been dissected after his outburst but also eventually reaching a new plane of existence through his powers.
Waititi’s version focusing on the manga instead of the anime suggests Akira could have had a more impactful and direct role in the story than he did in the animated film. He’s even listed as a specific character within the story and described as the most destructive force on the planet.
A long-standing question for any western remake of Akira has always centered on the possibility of white-washing the cast and relocating the events of the plot. The story draws inspiration from residual trauma after the atomic bombing of Japan during World War II, and changing the setting would have a thematic impact on the overall story. Past attempts to adapt the story for western audiences moved the story to New York City. This also seems to be the case for Waititi’s version, which is explicitly noted to take place in Manhattan. Waititi seemed to have been intent on his promise to keep the cast largely Asian cast, however, as each major role is specifically listed for Asian-American actors.
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Many of the character names have been altered for the new story, but many of the roles fit in alongside notable characters from earlier versions of Akira. Jun and Koichi are clearly stand-ins for Kaneda and Tetsuo and listed as two lead roles. In an interesting tweak to the story, the pair would be turned into brothers instead of just being friends – potentially strengthening their bond and simplifying their relationship.
While both are listed as core characters, Misa is also described as a lead role in the film. This is likely meant to be Kei, the female lead of Akira. A resistance fighter with some minor powers of her own, she proves invaluable to stopping Tetsuo once he goes renegade.
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Other notable characters from both versions of the story appear to be present and crucial for the concept of the live-action film. Reina is clearly a stand-in for Kaori, Tetsuo’s meek love interest who goes through hell because of his transformation. Takamatsu is likely Yamagata, a fellow member of Kaneda’s gang and an ally in the hunt for Tetsuo. Three younger roles are named Aimi, Gen, and Sumio – likely referring to the Esper children Kiyoko, Takashi, and Masaru who help fight against Tetsuo.
The Illuminerdi discovered one major element from the original manga that would play a larger part in this proposed film over the animated movie: Lady Miyako. Miyako is another Esper, now fully grown, who eventually becomes a powerful ally for Kaneda and Kei in the fight against Tetsuo and Akira. However, the character was largely written out of the animated film. That movie only adapted elements from the manga, relegating the character to a minor cameo. She’s listed as a crucial role for the proposed live-action movie, suggesting that Waititi really was intending to make the movie more akin to the manga.
It remains to be seen if the New Zealand director will return to the project once he finishes filming Thor: Love and Thunder. Honestly, Waititi is an inspired pick for the film, especially given his more bizarre work like What We Do In The Shadows and coming-of-age stories like the Academy Award-winning Jojo Rabbit.
Do you want to see Waititi’s Akira spring into action? Let us know in the comments below.