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.
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.|
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 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...