Fifteen years ago, Warner Bros. acquired the rights to Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo’s dystopian cyberpunk manga, with the intent of crafting a live-action remake of the 1988 anime film.
After a series of botched attempts to get the project off the ground, it looks as though progress is finally being made (thanks to a production team including Andrew Lazar, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Davisson). After Deadline reported in September 2017 that Thor: Ragnarok filmmaker Taika Waititi was in negotiations to direct the film, he responded to the rumors and indicated his awareness of some of the polarizing issues surrounding previous iterations of the adaptation.
Speaking to IGN, Waititi confirmed there had been “talks” regarding the live-action adaptation Akira, and “I was in talks to do that, for sure, and something that I was very passionate about — am passionate about.”
Waititi then elaborated that if he were to direct an adaptation of Akira, he knows what he would focus on.
“I actually love the books,” he said. “Love the movie, but I would not do a remake of the movie. I would do an adaptation of the books.”
Waititi also addressed the growing concern over Hollywood “whitewashing” adaptations by casting white actors in roles initially created as Asian characters.
“Asian teenagers would be the way to do it for me and probably … sort of unfound, untapped talent,” he explained.
Waititi is somewhat of a fresh face in Hollywood, with just four feature-length films to date — all New Zealand productions — including the acclaimed 2014 vampire satire What We Do in the Shadows. Akira, a dramatic sci-fi story, will be a thematic departure for the director, whose previous credits are largely lighthearted affairs.
The original Akira manga series is made up of six books, though the 1988 anime adapted all six volumes into one film.
The story, set in 2019, follows a pair of biker gang members in a cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic version of Japan. When a motorcycle accident awakens some hidden psychic powers in one of the bikers, he becomes embroiled in a deep-seated conflict between the government and a rebel force, overshadowing the petty wars in which his motorcycle gang had been engaged.
Both the manga and the 1988 anime are bloody, violent, and visually striking; The anime has become a seminal work, inspiring manga and anime artists alike and helping to popularize the genre outside of Japan — it was even made into an unreleased Game Boy game.
Prior to Lazar and DiCaprio’s Appian Way team taking over, the closest Akira ever got was in the early 2010s, with Ruairi Robinson on board to direct a script written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, and Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli). Garrett Hedlund (Pan) and Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria) were tapped for starring roles, and Dane DeHaan (Life) was reportedly competing against Michael Pitt for the lead role of Tetsuo Shima.
There’s no timeline for development on the adaptation at this point. Thor: Ragnarok is out November 3.
Update: We added Waititi’s response to the initial report.