Rumors of a live-action Hollywood remake of Akira are a regular occurrence; the project has been on the top of studios’ wish-lists since the groundbreaking anime premiered in 1988 and brought the medium to the masses. It’s hard to overstate the power of Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterpiece, a hugely ambitious dystopian sci-fi epic whose influence stretches across nations, mediums and creators: Everything from The Matrix to Chronicle to Stranger Things. Even Kanye West expressed his love for the movie by using it as the basis for the music video of Stronger. It’s not hard to see why a Hollywood adaptation would be such a good idea, but equally a difficult thing to pull off.
Justin Lin was considered a strong favorite to direct last year when the rumors were reignited, as was Jaume Collet-Serra, and even Christopher Nolan and George Miller were suggested as the man for the job. Now, the newest names thrown into the ring are Daniel Espinosa, director of Life, and David Sandberg, a favourite at Warner Bros. thanks to the surprise success of his high-concept horror film Lights Out. Neither are huge names, nor were they previously considered favorites for the job, so this talk may be just that for now.
That talk intensified with a new potential name thrown into the ring this week – Get Out director Jordan Peele, which signals the first major blockbuster rumor attached to Peele since his debut feature crossed $100m at the US box office. However, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games a mere three years away (mirroring the events of the manga), the timing feels right for Warner Bros. to take the leap and bring Akira to the big screen. The project, which has never gotten beyond rumors in the decade or so since its first announcement, remains the studio’s biggest chance to define how Hollywood handles anime as a source for adaptation, and possibly a real opportunity to create the definitive adaptation of the story.
The original adaptation of Akira remains a stellar piece of work – jaw-dropping in its attention to detail and vivid in its beautiful and often disturbing imagery, but it’s only a tiny part of a much more expansive story. When the film, directed by Otomo from his own work, was released, the manga was still two years away from completion, and as such the anime is a condensed version of the story, with many characters and subplots removed. Most of the second half of the 2000+ page epic was removed, which is understandable given the constraints put upon the project (Otomo retained creative control, and a considerable budget almost unheard of in anime at the time, but admitted to struggling with finding an appropriate ending).