‘Akira’ Movie Update: Kaneda the Bartender and Actual Japanese Person Offered Role
As predicted by George Takei in April, Warner Bros. Pictures seems intent on making its live-action adaptation of AKIRA — the seminal manga and anime by Katsuhiro Otomo — as pointless as possible. Takei and other AKIRA fans’ pronounced unhappiness with the studio and producer Leonardo DiCaprio’s plans to cast the film with non-Asian actors was compounded this week with the release of a plot synopsis that indicates more deviations from the beloved source material. To wit, the film version’s main characters Kaneda and Tetsuo are not lifelong friends or members of a violent teenage motorcycle gang, but rather siblings and apparently adults, with Kaneda owning a tavern.
The synopsis also includes a truly shocking confirmation: Inception and Batman Begins star Ken Watanabe — a Japanese person from Japan — has been offered a role in AKIRA.Created by Katsuhiro Otomo in the form of a manga serial and feature-length animated film, both of which are considered landmark works of art and superlative examples of their respective media, AKIRA is an indelibly Japanese story of super-science, politics and youth in revolt set against a post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo. Its main characters are Kaneda and Tetsuo, two motorcycle gang members and the best of friends — until the latter is cursed with uncontrollable psychic powers and goes on a rampage that ultimately results in Neo-Tokyo’s destruction.
According to the synopsis published on Acting Auditions, the Warner Bros. version — directed by House of Wax and Unknown’s Jaume Collet-Serra — things are quite a bit different. Emphasis ours:
Kaneda (Garret Hedlund) is a bar owner in Neo-Manhattan who is stunned when his brother, Tetsuo, is abducted by government agents led by The Colonel (Ken Watanabe). Desperate to get his brother back, Kaneda agrees to join with Ky Reed (Kristen Stewart) and her underground movement who are intent on revealing to the world what truly happened to New York City thirty years ago when it was destroyed. Kaneda believes their theories to be ludicrous but after finding his brother again, is shocked when he displays telekinetic powers. Ky believes Tetsuo is headed to release a young boy, Akira, who has taken control of Tetsuo’s mind. Kaneda clashes with The Colonel’s troops on his way to stop Tetsuo from releasing Akira but arrives too late. Akira soon emerges from his prison courtesy of Tetsuo as Kaneda races in to save his brother bfore Akira once again destroys Manhattan island, as he did thirty years ago.
In the manga and anime, Otomo explores apocalyptic themes in a way that’s unique to a Japanese artist, telling the story of a conflicted, corrupt and desperate city borne out of a catastrophic event that recalls the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Everything about the story is informed by the Japanese people’s struggle to redefine their nation in the post-war era, including the shocking nihilism of its young protagonists, whose increasingly bitter conflict with each other is central to the story’s drama and tragic conclusion. The above synopsis suggests a much shallower affair.
Although Tr0n Br0 and K-Stew are unlikely to win over anybody at this stage, concerns over whitewashing AKIRA could be mitigated by the unconfirmed casting of Watanabe in the role of Colonel Shikishima. Previous reports indicated Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman had been approached for the part, but hey, a Japanese actor as third choice for a supporting role in a movie based on the most iconic Japanese film ever released in the West is nothing to be ashamed of, right?