» Blog Archive The Akira Remake and Ghost in the Shell's Mistakes -
Evan Conway Animation, Anime, Movies, News

akira 1I enjoyed Ghost in the Shell, I’ll admit that much. As a movie, it was entertaining. Visually stunning. Sonically harrowing. The acting was alright, but the biggest sin the movie commits outside of its controversial whitewashing scandal is that it turns the philosophical message of the source into a character story. While not a bad call in an attempt to appeal to an American audience, it ultimately may be considered insulting in the sense that it belittles the audience in an attempt to appeal to them. Now that rumors of an adaptation of the classic and influential anime film Akira are spinning once again, Akira has the chance to succeed where Ghost in the Shell, ultimately, fell short. While the idea either excites or sickens you, there are plenty of ways Hollywood can make this work.

Akira is a highly influential film in not just anime but the entirety of sci-fi. This film has stood the test of time and, by comparison, holds against almost, if not all, productions since. Akira is best experienced with as blank of a slate as possible, in my opinion; I knew only some of the basic points of the movie before watching it the first time, and everything else came as a pleasant, awe-inspiring surprise to me. In truth, Akira has the scale and ambition of a modern Hollywood blockbuster, although so much will cause complications in developing this film with the proper love and admiration it so deserves in the first place.

Ghost in the ShellLet’s assume that the film is going to happen, first off. Being an adaptation and/or a remake, something needs to be added to the film in order to warrant the remake in the first place. By comparison, Ghost in the Shell left me wondering “Was this film really necessary?” by the time the credits started rolling, as the film didn’t necessarily do anything new for the property. It wasn’t a disaster, sure, but it was just Ghost in the Shell at the end of the day. Instead, it tried to with it becoming more character driven, but didn’t necessarily succeed on that front. Comparing it to another Japanese property adapted by America, one only has to look at The Ring. By comparison, The Ring does something new with the story instead of just adapting it verbatim. It’s set in America, changes the story of Sadako/Samara somewhat, changes some plot elements that weighed down the Japanese original, and cast a bleak and gloomy atmosphere all over the film, almost as if everyone was (Wait for it…) submerged in water. This version by Gore Verbinski totally understands what a remake to be and, in many aspects, does improve on the already great source material it stems from.

So how exactly do you improve upon Akira? That’s a controversial thought to think, but two options are available, essentially: find some things that enhance the plot or just don’t make the movie to begin with. Since we’re assuming the movie’s happening, how could you enhance the plot? While I love the film, it’s not exactly perfect in every sense of the way like some purist fanboys might think. The faults lie within its main characters, in particular Kaneda and Tetsuo, as they are only given so much depth and not much else besides that they’re in a biker gang together. That sense of brotherhood is there, don’t get me wrong, but it can be driven home a lot more effectively given the chance.

akira 4In the film, Tetsuo is given the all-destructive powers that sets the monumental last half into action, of which his anger stems from being saved all the time by others. By modern day standards, this is a very common trope among characters now. Even so much as Kaneda’s character: the laid back, perverted, and top-notch hero who gets the love interest. In a way, based on the final act of the film, these tropes become deconstructed at points and end up developing the characters into different people, but the point still stands: there’s not a whole lot to them beyond these tropes characters. More information, more story, and more history to their friendship and brotherhood could be provided to make the impact hit harder. By comparison to Ghost in the Shell, the film did just enough to solidify a sense of trust between Major and Batou, but in the end, even with Major being fully explored, their friendship had the chemistry but not the impact needed, even with Major getting a full story dedicated to her.

This leads to the actors involved in this film, of which will cause the most problems for the film. Akira doesn’t exist in a world like Ghost in the Shell, in which the film actually stops after a third World War, but also emphasizes the fact that it takes place in a Neo Tokyo. These are Japanese people we’re experiencing in the film, and as such it would feel out of place to cast anyone of a different nationality, whereas the culturally mixed society of Ghost in the Shell is up for debate. This immediately puts Akira at an immediate disadvantage right away: what Hollywood actors are of Japanese descent and bankable? Assuming the project is going to be around Ghost in the Shell’s production range, ($100 million) it’s safe to assume that this will need starpower to propel it forward into the public eye.

akira 3Obviously this is a problem with Hollywood, because you could probably name Ken Watanabe and, maybe if you think hard, Rinko Kikuchi. Most of the other Asian actors, however, and if you want to be politically correct, aren’t Japanese. Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead? He’s of South Korean descent. Donnie Yen? He’s Chinese. You could make this a joint-venture with the ever-growing Japanese film industry and hire some of their actors in addition to others, but the star power would not be a contributing factor to the film’s success. Day dream all you want, actors with a name are the reason they get cast in roles. Scarlett Johansson brings in money, that’s a fact. Five films as Black Widow, some indie hits, and Lucy all contribute to her name, so it’s totally understandable as to why she was brought on board for Ghost in the Shell, ethics aside.

Hollywood is going to want to avoid the casting backlash and accusations of whitewashing again, because this has been prominent since she was announced as the Major. With Ghost in the Shell being considered a financial failure for the studio, obviously this will be a lesson learned going forward. Your stance on Ghost in the Shell’s casting does not necessarily matter, but for Akira it would make all the difference. With nearly no actors of Japanese heritage to bring in decent to bring in people, doing Akira would have to rely solely on filmmaking, storytelling, and spectacle, as well as accessibility, in which it will be dumbed down and simplified for the modern audience.

Akira 2Sure, we can definitely offer the option of doing this on an HBO-level mini series, in which is takes its time and budgets properly, giving unknown actors the chance to shine and do it faithfully. “But why not just cast Asian actors for the movie? There’s some big name Asian actors!” Focus on the term “Asian,” if you will, and realize that being Asian does not mean you’re Japanese. Casting a Chinese or Korean actor in a film where they’re Japanese is, in a way, racist, reinforcing the ignorant stereotype that all Asians look alike. Obviously, on television this might be easier and you’d have an easier time making it work. If you’re adapting strictly the film and not the manga, though, a television show would run the risk of dragging the show down and not doing the film justice.

ghost in the shell 2Akira is being revived as a future film adaptation at a weird time in Hollywood. Learning from the mistakes of Ghost in the Shell, with enough love and intention to further enhance was is damn near a perfect film is not an easy task to undertake. With right (and ethical) actors, an intent to improve any shortcomings, and keep what works intact, a remake of Akira could very well work given the right actions are taken. There’s a lot working against it, and honestly it might just not be worth the financial and ethical risk to make the film work in the end, but even so we still have the original work to still enjoy.

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