Gary Whitta most recently co-wrote After Earth with director M. Night Shyamalan, a flick that could have finally given Shyamalan a big-screen comeback, but which has instead underperformed at the box office. While that’s not the result any movie writer would hope for, Whitta is no stranger to high-profile projects that seem plagued by bad luck. In a new interview with Collider, Whitta opens up about his time spent working on the live-action Akira adaptation that’s been in the works since the dawn of time.
While Akira has gone through numerous other creative teams and is currently mired in development hell, Whitta was one of the earliest writers attached to the project. He tells Collider that he worked on the project for about six months, during which it was attached to director Ruairi Robinson. As Whitta explains, there were obstacles to overcome from the beginning, ranging from trying to avoid an R rating, to finding a way to make it more approachable to American audiences without “whitewashing” the story and characters. (See Shyamalan’s previous film, The Last Airbender, for an example of how not to handle that second problem.) Whitta jokes about the prospect of Shia LeBeouf playing Tetsuo, but then reveals their solution to handling the project’s Japanese roots. They would have set it in New Manhattan…but it still would have been set in New Tokyo. It sounds confusing, but here’s Whitta’s explanation:
What we did was, the idea is that there’d been a massive economic crash in the United States and in our desperation, we sold Manhattan Island to the Japanese, who were becoming a very powerful economic force, and they were having an overpopulation problem, because Japan is a series of islands, it can only accommodate so many people. So they just bought Manhattan Island, and it became the fifth island of Japan, and they populated it. It became New Tokyo, and it was just off the coast of the United States. So it was Japanese territory, it wasn’t New Tokyo, but there were Americans who kind of lived in little Americanized quarters of it. I felt it was a way to do a kind of cool Western-Eastern fusion of the two ideas; not fully Japanese, not fully westernized. Whether or not you’ll ever see that version, I don’t know, but I thought that was kind of a cool solution to that problem of westernization of a Japanese concept.
It’s been over a year since we heard any new major rumors about Akira — at one point The Dark Knight scripter Jonathan Nolan was rumored for a rewrite. At the moment it seems to be in limbo, largely because of budget concerns. Given how contentious the idea of an adaptation is among Akira fans, that’s probably for the best. In the meantime, you can check out some unused concept art from the project below.