Akira and the whitewashing topic all over again

For those of you that have read some of the stuff I've posted, you'll be aware that I love, love, love, LOVE Akira. It was the film that opened up art for me; one of the only things I can happily say I have loved longer than anything else (minus, you know, real people).

So, when even the thought of a remake of - to me - one of the greatest films of all time crops up, you'd imagine I'd be pretty peeved about it. And don't worry, I am (sort of). I just ignore it for the most part. I get why people get so irked about films they love, idolise and care for, ones that mean so much to them, being trampled on for the sake of a quick buck. We'd like to think that films are made for the love of cinema, but in most occasions - even those made through small productions - there will always be the money question at the back of everyone's mind. I've lived in this situation, man, so take my word for it.

Other than the fact that there are some pretty questionable things going on in that dire version of the Akira script I briefly read (seriously, what the fuck is up with that Freré Jacques shit?), it isn't my main peeve with the film.

My main problem with this adaptation is something that has happened with many other non-white source materials, and that is the casting of non-Japanese actors. If the actual name of the film and the characters were changed to something, I don't know, less obviously-not-a-Western originated-film, than it wouldn't be so gripe worthy.

The announcement of Garrett Hedlund playing Kaneda (note that it hasn't been 100% confirmed yet) sent waves of hate across the board. To be fair, for fans of the film/comic, this was going to happen with anyone, never mind if they cast the best actor in the world that everyone loved to play the lead (can't think of who that would be, though). I haven't seen Hedlund in anything, though I am aware that Tron: Legacy stinks, I am not sure that was his fault, just looked like dodgy CGI and story workings going on on that front. On the Road looks promising, and because I really love the book, even if I have never managed to get round to finishing it for some reason, I'll definitely check it out when it drops.

Now, the first thing that takes me not-really-by-surprise - as it is widely known fact that teenagers are usually played by mid-twenties actors - is the blatant aging of Kaneda and, I assume, co.

On a story level, the point of the biker gang was the fact that they were teenagers, making their way through this crazy post-World War III Tokyo while trying to save their friend, Tetsuo, in a fucking mental rebellion that everyone was losing their minds over. That was probably one of the similarities in the film and comic, as they are nothing alike past that if anyone that hasn't read the comic series.

The most recent news to hit the web is that Kaneda is no longer a teenager, but a bartender owner. A bit ridiculous, yes, but it has already stripped away something about Akira that was so great - the teenagers. The guns-blazing teenage attitude was really one of the highlights, and I think this adaptation is definitely going to lose that spark the film and the comic both had because of these characters ages. Add to the fact that the biker gang were one of the things that stood out so much.

I imagine that at least the bike will still be included in the film somehow, because it is so iconic, and probably what the film is most known for. The whole teenager biker gang section to the film was a major part, and one that is going to be sorely missed.

And if you're wondering why I haven't spoken of the Kaneda/Tetsuo brotherly shit, I'm not going to. I am still trying to understand why they would changed the dynamics of their relationship like that.

Let me bring up some other news that surfaced a couple of weeks back now. Ken Watanabe has been offered the role of The Colonel, a significant key character in both versions of Akira. The part, apparently, had previously been sent out to Gary Oldman who turned it down. So far, this has been the most shocking turn in the recent-events for this adaptation as, Watanabe, if you didn't know is...Japanese.

The actor is probably one of the most wildly known faces to an American audience, for someone hailing from the East.  He has starred in two successful Hollywood blockbusters - Batman Begins and Inception - both from the mind of Christopher Nolan.

Outside of the Nolan fanbase, Watanabe has been in a string of popular Western films, from the likes of The Last Samurai to Memories of a Geisha, the former which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (though I had no idea of this upon researching this shit, so I am guessing a lot of people don't remember this, because, yes, I speak for the entire film-watching population).

When I think of Asian actors that are known outside of the East, he is one of the few that pops in my mind, along with Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi, funnily enough, both of whom co-starred in Memories of a Geisha with Watanabe. Those two same actresses also lead Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a massively prolific film when it came to popularising martial arts in the West for an audience who, mostly, hadn't grown up with home-grown Chinese Kung-fu cinema. And the seventh film, to date, that has been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars that wasn't English-language speaking. (Guys, that is seriously another issue right there.)

From a money perspective, it makes sense for Hollywood to go all out on the whitewashing. They know no different. The Last Airbender earnt a ton of money, surprising since there was significant coverage on the whole racial side of things. The problem with this is is the fact that mainstream audiences haven't really been give the chance to embrace non-white casts in the way that independent cinema watchers do. Not to say that we're pretentious arseholes (okay, some of us obviously are), but one of the things that independent cinema thrives on is the fact that it is closer to real life - in most cases - than that of a bigger, Hollywood production. Then again, unless a foreign import, English-language speaking films are lacking in diversity, too.

The one film in recent memory I can think of that featured a non-white case that A) Made a fair amount of money and B) Struck gold at the annual awards season was Dreamgirls, a film I've only managed to watch recently (and yeah, it kinda sucked, but I'll go into that on another time).

To this day, Dreamgirls is the most expensive film ever made with an all-black cast. The film was released in 2006. Yes, 2006. It took until the 21st Century for an all-black cast to have a big budget film, and if you really think about it, when was the last time you saw an all-black cast in a film that wasn't directed by Spike Lee or Tyler Perry? Yeah, I am coming up with nothing, either. In fact, when the hell has there been an all non-white cast headlining a film that has made money and had awards recognition in the West? Apart from Precious, you know, that ridiculously stereotypical portrayal of black people and culture.

True, it has definitely gotten better over the past few years when it comes to seeing other races on screen, that I will happily admit because that is what I want from cinema, to show what life is like, and that includes diversity in its characters. Unfortunately, we are very much still subjected to stereotypical, often racist portrayals of certain parts of the world. Oh, and another thing - don't get me started on the lack of inter-racial relationships in the fictional universe of popularised film. Wow are they hard to come by, huh?

Getting back to Akira, it seems like it is a good thing that the English version is distancing itself from the 1988 film, but what confuses me most is why keep these obvious Japanese names when you could easily change the title of the film and the characters to something that is inspired by Katsuhiro Otomo's story, but not a direct copy?

On a commercial level as well I think that would make a lot more sense, as well. Clearly there are expectations of this film making money, and though its original $150 million budget has diminished to $90 million, the latter is one hell of an amount of dollars - more has been put into the American version of Akira than Eclipse, the third part to the Twilight saga. I don't imagine fans of Akira will be clambering at the doors of their nearest cinema when the adaptation is released anytime soon, so who the hell is their audience for this?

Gonna go out on a whim and say there won't be tents of this fashion if Akira ever gets made. Jus' sayin', dudes. 
Akira may be my favourite film of all time (and is no doubt going to remain that way for quite a long while) and one of my favourite comics, too, but that doesn't mean that I'd be viewed as a crazy-psycho fan who would happily shit in the shoes of the producer/studio that decided this remake needed to happen because it would bring in that delicious P. I can distance myself from the English-language remake of Akira, that is fine (though it would be wrong for me to judge the adaptation as a film before I have seen it). What isn't cool is taking the name of the film and the characters, while transporting all the action from Neo-Tokyo to..uh...Neo-Manhattan, and not casting obviously Japanese-named characters with Japanese actors.

On a completely unrelated topic - well, sort of related - I had a 'conversation' with someone via Youtube about a year ago now, on a video for one of the songs on the Akira soundtrack. They were trying to justify their clearly ignorant argument that Kanye shouldn't have been playing Tetsuo in the music video for Stronger because he was black...despite the fact that it was a music video for one of his own songs. A fucking music video. Not an adaptation of the film/comic - a music video. A music video in which only people who have seen Akira will know where the references are coming from. It's called inspiration. We get it from a lot of places...

The reason why I brought that little Youtube argument up was because, while the film adaptation can be defended in certain aspects that it is set in America and Eastern films have been remade from Western source materials with Asian casts, there is a vast difference from taking aspects of a film/comic and letting them inspire you for a music video, then stripping the whole meaning behind a story bare and, by doing so, altering everything that made it so great in the process.

I don't really have expectations for this film, unfortunately. The source materials are so great, and so much could be done with either one of them, but, to be fair, this is probably pretty wishful thinking of me.

I really do hope Hollywood fixes up their act and tries to stop patronising their audience, though. Most of us are pretty normal people who have no problem whatsoever with seeing other races (I mean, we see them in day-to-day life, and aren't all white, ya know), so why would there be a need to portray a non-mixed world that we obviously don't live in now? And, come to think of it, you're setting this particular film IN THE FUTURE. Or is that going to be the big deal clincher? Races have been divided thanks to World War III going down? I think I should start taking bets on that being the added-plot to the story, and the defense of all those involved with the Akira-process.

Looking at you DiCaprio...


  1. Hollywood will never stop patronising us. I study film because I love it, and hope to one day be a part of making it. I look at all these directors who come out with these pieces of crap films and go 'Soo...when did it stop being about the art, and start being about the money?' In all fairness it is such a hard industry, and I guess sometimes it really comes down to having money to live, but really....oh well, my thing is sound anyway.
    And I'll be sure to watch the original version of Akira before I see any kind of remake of it. Hopefully Watanabe should be good - I had no idea that he had been nominated for an Oscar either!

  2. You raise really good points about the money/art situation.

    I think, mostly, it comes down to the audience and what everyone imagines we want to see.

    Steaming piles of crap, unfortunately, do make money, and that is the sad state of affairs because people go to see whatever film that may be, so the money thing definitely does override the art.

    Then again, I don't think that mainstream audiences - or those that don't love film as much as us nerds - have really been given a chance to actually embrace good big budget films of recent times (apart from something like Inception I guess.)

    Having had the experience of being head-on in the industry now, even at a production company level, I can safely say that I am definitely more of a film watching-lover than an actual lover of wanting to make a film. I'll leave that to all the other people out there!

    You totally should watch the original! It took me a while to get it, but once I did, history wrote itself.

    Thanks for the comment Ruth!

  3. I guess money is the only reason Alvin and the Chipmunks got a third movie...though it still seems incredible that it managed to make a profit to me, haha

  4. The problem is, the producers believe that in order for a big budget film like this to succeed, they need to cast bankable stars... and unfortunately there are pretty much zero young Asian stars in Hollywood to fill these roles... so the issue is much greater than 'Tetsuo is going to be played by a white guy' but that there are simply no stars at all that would make the producers/investors happy.

    I think the audience is ready for it though, and wouldn't this be an excellent opportunity to actually make some Asian stars... sadly of course we'll just get the token old guy that everyone knows.

    Anyways, great post as always.

  5. Good point about the bankable stars situation; should have mentioned that in this post too, but it completely went over my head.

    Weird thing is, they haven't really tried to get bankable stars. I mean, they have gone for Keanu Reeve (not even going to comment on why, no mater how much I love a bit of the Keanu, but all his most recent films have flopped), Andrew Garfield (who hasn't proved to be a box office hit since The Social Network - yet), and Robert Pattinson (who only seems to do well inside the Twilight universe). So, in terms of them actually going to people - that we're in the know-about - it has pretty much failed.

    Then again, there are of course the profiled actors that they probably have gone to that we haven't heard about, so I guess we'll never know.

    Either way, for it to make any money, really, it does need to have a high profiled-cast, which, I don't think is going to happen...it'll be like Dragonball Z all over again, I imagine.

    And the token old guy is totally true!

    And thank you for the kind words, and comment!

  6. I have just installed iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.




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