There are plenty of films in development hell that may never get made, but none of them seem to have quite the poor luck of the live-action Akira. Just when things seemed to be trending in a positive direction for the project, director Taika Waititi had to put his production on hold so that he can return to the Thor franchise. Hey, plans for the Akira franchise have been delayed for worse reasons.
In fact, there have been many times Akira's production has been put on hold, forgotten about or re-worked over the many years since a studio first got the idea to adapt the critically acclaimed 1988 animated film, which was actually an adaptation itself. It was able to get made, so why does the Akira live-action movie keep running into production problems?
Well, while there have been many false starts on this project, there have also been some key common denominators in why this movie hasn't been made yet. Let's take a journey through those reasons, and hope Taika Waititi's current pause doesn't become another one of the reasons this project doesn't happen again.
The Insistence Of Making The Live-Action Akira An American Story
One of the biggest hurdles the live-action Akira has faced in its development is the insistence on making it a primarily American story. That idea has been around since almost the very beginning, as Blade director Stephen Norrington was quoted in saying the idea was to make an adaptation that appealed to Western audiences.
Since then, it's become clear that studios don't feel Akira will work as a direct adaptation of the anime movie, but rather one with more Western influence. The result was seen in a leaked 2011 script, which included references to 9/11 and various other story changes that fundamentally changed the source material greatly. Those who have seen the original and find the leaked script may note it felt like something that was Akira in name alone, i.e. very removed from the original.
This is a problem, but understandable given the task. Multiple Hollywood screenwriters have been tasked with essentially making an Americanized version of a movie that is written with Japanese culture and history in mind. Primarily, the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II and the aftermath of how Japan bounced back afterward are big influences. Americans can't really relate to those events, which may be why screenwriters have incorporated elements that reference national tragedies like 9/11.
While intentions may be in the right place to keep the spirit of the adaptation alive, there will always be fans with something to say when directors talk about Westernizing this story. These naysayers can spark backlash which, as we know, can make studios nervous. Unfortunately for producers, as long as the live-action Akira remains a primarily American-based tale, those doubters and naysayers will always be there.
It's an issue that somewhat goes hand in hand with the desire to Westernize the live-action Akira, and a controversy that tends to rear its head with anime film adaptations these days. We all know the story by now: one side wants accurate and equal representation, another wants whichever actor/actress is best for the job, and the studio wants a name who will get people excited enough to show up in theaters.
Akira has had the same talking points and arguments spring up over the years as actors like Garrett Hedlund and Chris Pine have been eyed to play Kaneda, and it's the same story with other key characters. Of course, part of this is due to the Westernization of the plot, and has caused controversy over the years when casting calls or casting rumors have hit headlines.
While there has been no explicit proof halts in production were tied to backlash from allegations of whitewashing, it's worth noting that director Albert Hughes left the film due to creative differences around the same time fans were upset about casting calls for white actors. It's also worth noting that when Taika Waititi joined the project, he was pretty vocal about his desire to cast lesser-known Asian teens for the roles. Perhaps those in charge decided a different approach was needed?
Other Movies Get In The Way
There are two specific times that another movie has gotten in the way of the Akira live-action film, though for two wildly different reasons. Both instances kind of book-end the production woes however, and they just so happen to be on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.
The most recent one, of course, is Taika Waititi delaying the production of Akira so that he can return to the MCU for Thor: Love and Thunder. As passionate as he may be about correctly adapting Akira, Waititi gave audiences one of the best Marvel films of the decade with Thor: Ragnarok, so it's completely understandable why he's excited to hop back to the franchise after all that acclaim.
The other instance was one of the first times Akira's production was halted, back when it was under Stephen Norrington with screenwriter James Robinson penning the script. The two were reunited after their work on another film which hadn't been released yet, but showed promise, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Production stopped not long after the film hit theaters, possibly because the movie was panned by critics and still gets a lot of flak to this day.
Will Akira Ever Get Made?
It's the million dollar question, especially since it was so painfully close to happening this latest time. Taika Waititi seemed in the clear of casting controversy, and his desire to adapt the Akira manga over the anime made it feel as though his film would be more faithful, if still some loosely Westernized adaptation. If he comes back, Akira might not only get made, it looks like it has the best chance of being a movie audiences can agree with.
Too much can happen in Hollywood to guarantee Taika Waititi will jump right back on Akira when Thor: Love and Thunder is finished, however, so it's a toss up. Maybe another director will sign on with a wildly different vision, or Warner Bros. may backpedal to a former vision that could derail production as it has in the past. We'll just have to wait and see, and hope that if this film ever arrives in theaters, it's something audiences want to see.
The Akira film is still on hold, but CinemaBlend will continue to keep an eye on its progress and what's happening with it in the future. Be sure to stick with us in the meantime for more news on what's happening in the world of movies and television.