First appearing in 1982, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira was an epic manga, amounting to more than 2,000 pages when it finished its run in 1990. Otomo’s own animated feature, which condensed his cyberpunk tale of bikers, drugs and psychic powers into a relatively compact 125 minutes, was technically ambitious and often stunning to behold.
Frequently cited as the film that popularised Japanese animation in the west, Akira quickly acquired a cult following when it arrived on our shores in the early 90s, and there have been occasional rumours of a live-action remake since.
Almost 20 years later, and new stories arrived over the weekend that suggest an Akira movie is once again in the works. According to reports by Bloody Disgusting and Slash Film, the Akira movie will be shot in two parts by Albert Hughes, one of the directors of the so-so Alan Moore comic book adaptation, From Hell.
The actor reportedly lined up to play motorcycle-riding gang leader Shotaro Kaneda is said to be none other than High School Musical‘s Zac Efron. It’s also claimed that Morgan Freeman will play the sinister, glowering Colonel who oversees secret government experiments into telekinesis and other psychic phenomena.
Freeman certainly has the gravitas to play the Colonel, though he’s perhaps less physically imposing than the character originally presented by Otomo, and while Efron’s an odd choice to play the leader of a gang of bikers, we’ll grudgingly concede that, if his character’s well enough written, he may still be able to convince.
What’s more worrying are the rumours that Hughes has been put under pressure to make his take on Akira as family friendly as possible, with the film fit for a PG-13 certificate. Considering both the original manga and its animated adaptation contained frequent scenes of sex, drug-taking and Scanners-esque violence, it’s likely that much of the source material’s excesses will have to be toned down considerably.
Then there’s the rumour that the live-action Akira will be set in Neo-New York, as opposed to Neo-Tokyo, a change in setting that makes about as much sense as relocating the drama of EastEnders to a farming community in China, and certainly makes us wonder what will be left of the original premise once writer Albert Torres has finished with it.
All this is, of course, mere speculation at this stage, and earlier casting rumours regarding Akira have been quickly denied in the past. It was rumoured two years ago that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was set to play the role of Tetsuo, the troubled teenager who was a key part of the original stories, a suggestion the actor quickly denied.
While we’d welcome a new, sensitive adaptation of Otomo’s manga – with the possibilities that CG now afford, the mass-destruction of the anime and comic books could at last be created with comparative realism – there’s something about a PG-13, US-set Akira that gives us a frisson of dread. Let’s hope our fears are unfounded.
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