Who knows if Warner Bros. will ever get the American remake of Akira off the ground. The project has been riddled with production stops and starts, casting issues, and controversy for “whitewashing” the original characters and story. Now some unused concept art has shown up online, giving us a look at Neo-Manhattan, as well as rough illustrations of a white Kaneda.
Production Designer Rodolfo Damaggio was responsible for the look of Neo-Manhattan, and it’s absolutely stunning! It’s not too often concept art of a modern city landscape is set during the daytime. Most of the time, artists use a nighttime atmosphere to lend a little extra sheen to a futuristic cityscape (i.e. Blade Runner), but Neo-Manhattan pops with its hologram corporate billboards and futuristic highways cutting through the city itself.
Maybe it’s a good thing Warner Bros. has halted production of the American Akira, because Americanizing the original Japanese story isn’t so easy. The story of Akira is completely Japanese and is a keen look at the pitfalls of atomic power, social class division, and the rampant Japanese youth culture of the 1980s. It would be like Americanizing Godzilla without its Japanese subtext and meaning, and would be completely missing the point about why Akira is such a good story. Even the character names are very Japanese; Tetsuo and Kaneda don’t feel exactly right if white actors are going to play them.
Warner Bros. acquired the rights to Akira in 2002, and the film has been in production hell ever since. We’ve had 10 years of casting rumors, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Andrew Garfield, James McAvoy, Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Justin Timberlake, Joaquin Phoenix, Chris Pine, Robert Pattinson, and Keanu Reeves all rumored to be playing the roles of either Shōtarō Kaneda or Tetsuo Shima. In early 2012, Warner Bros. shut down production of Akira for the fourth time.