Katsuhiro Otomo is one of the greatest storytellers currently alive. His magnum dual-medium opus is arguably one of the most important stories created during the 20th century. Otomo started as one of the most promising young manga artist/writers during the late 1970’s. By the 80’s he had cemented a position as a bonafide star with his highly acclaimed series, about a haunted apartment complex, Domu. In 1982, Otomo launched the manga that would not only propel him into globally respected artist but permanently place him in the pantheon of legendary creators. In 1988, Otomo adapted his comic into an animated feature film which would launch him even further into legendary status.
Akira the manga and Akira the film are two distinctly different entities. The comic book is a six volume, 2000 page epic. It follows Kaneda, Tetsuo, and their gang as the fight the government, each other, and ultimately take over/destroy/occupy/rebuild Tokyo. The film uses the first two and a half volumes as a template and focuses on the resurrection of a super powered child named Akira, who is just one of many characters responsible for the destruction of Neo Tokyo.
The japanese do many things well. They have knack of constructing technology, making manga, and making animated films. You know one thing they’re not particularly good at? Live Action film. The Japanese have a long tradition of live action film focusing on practical special effect called Tokusatsu. This genre usually deals with science fiction and other worldly creatures attacking cities or society. Other than this Japan is not exactly well regarded when it comes to live action film making. They just don’t really place a large emphasis on live action film. Due to this,a live action adaptation of Akira has never really been a priority there.
Due to the global success of Anime, and the emphasis on live action filmmaking in western culture a re-adaptation of Otomo’s work has been in the works for literally two decades. Unfortunately, the film’s re-adaptation has been almost exclusively repurposed for western needs. The American remake is chief among these culprits. They almost unanimously have cast white actors, re-set the film in Neo New York and done numerous other offenses that ‘Re-talor the film’ for american audiences.
Normally this isn’t that bad an idea. Rebranding a story for a culture is a practice that is as old as time. Look at Christianity. In every culture Jesus looks like his worshipers in that region. In America? He’s white. In Africa? He’s black. In Mexico? You get the point. It’s a fairly common practice when someone is repurposing a story. Sometimes it’s not that bad. Sometimes it’s really terrible. The Japanese remake of Unforgiven looks amazing. The Japanese Spider-man is breathtakingly good.
Spider-man isn’t an intrinsically american story. It’s a human story. It’s a story that can be placed into another culture and the surface details messed with and it’ll still be the same idea.
Superman? Not going to translate so well. He’s a VERY American idea. He just is. Sure you could swap him out with a country that has a particularly story cultural identity and large amounts of relevant cultural iconography. Russia? Sure. Finland? Probably not.
Akira is a story like Superman. It’s very related to it’s geographic location. It’s also very tied into post-world war two events. Akira is a story that needs to be told by Japanese people. It needs to be set Japan.
Americans should not be attempting to make this story. We should be attempting to fund an Akira movie, sure. Trying to make one re-purposed for American audiences? No. That’s really not something that needs to be made.