Taika Waititi may be remaking Akira, and existing fans of the source material are not going to like it at all.
Hollywood’s been working really hard to make anime and manga adaptations into a thriving new genre. First there was Ghost in the Shell, then Death Note, both of which went down pretty poorly with their intended audiences.
Akira is next, which makes a lot of sense considering that Ghost in the Shell was probably, to a certain extent, a trial run for this movie. Akira is The Big One; the Japanese cartoon that has the biggest fanbase of all of these properties in the West. If any movie could turn anime into the new comic books, it’d be this one.
That said, it looks unlikely that this is going to go down too well with anyone who’s already seen the cartoon Akira. The movie is a dark, gritty, deeply political and philosophical work that speaks about oppression, modernization, and the struggle of being young in a world that preys on the weak.
In other words, this movie isn’t particularly similar to anything else that comedian Taika Waititi has directed.
It’s understandable why Hollywood might consider Waititi for the project (supposedly he’s in talks to direct, but we’ll see if it pans out). Thor: Ragnarok, his first foray into big budget action movies, is a bright, colorful adventure that’s bubbling with creativity and color. Based on visuals alone, this is something revolutionary, and since its first Led Zeppelin-filled trailer broke records for the most views in a weekend upon release, a lot of movie moguls have sat up and paid attention to Waititi for the first time in his career.
So there’s the logic: Ragnarok appears to be a colorful, engaging comic book movie with a good sense of action. Akira is a colorful, engaging anime with a good sense of action. The pairing of the Ragnarok director with this movie property seems perfect.
Except, Taika Waititi is not a grim, gritty director. His movie are, first and foremost, filled with levity, humor, and an inherent silliness that is born from heavy improvisation and putting jokes first.
Taika Waititi and Akira are not good bedfellows. This isn’t to say that he wouldn’t make a tremendous movie from this source material, but whatever he would create would be decidedly unlike anything traditionally thought of as Akira.
But, Hollywood has tried the grim, methodical, poignant adaptation of anime with Ghost in the Shell. When that movie tanked, it was easier to blame the failure on a lack of color and humor, rather than on the fact that the film butchered its source material, mired itself in bad writing, and wrapped the whole thing up in some incredibly racist casting (yes, racist – ScarJo literally plays an Asian woman whose mind is planted in a “superior” Caucasian body, and there’s no way a movie should be trying to get away with that in the modern world).
So if you have any fondness for Akira, now might be a good time to start steeling yourself for the possibility of a Dragonball Z level of inappropriate adaptation.
Taika Waititi is a phenomenally funny director. He’s just not Akira.