Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Akira adaptation getting whitewashed

Adapting previously existing works to a different medium is always difficult. It's a tightrope walk between pleasing the fans of the original work and new fans you want to attract. And in the transfer from one medium to another, changes are allowed to be made (History of Violence is one example of beneficial change). Some fans get too self-righteous when it comes to movie versions of their favorite things. Changes can be made, sometimes for the better. Sticking to the spirit, not the word, is what counts. However, sometimes neither happens and all you have left is a shallow, pointless, unnecessary, big screen version of your favorite book, video game, rock opera, play, comic book, interpretive dance, television show or previously existing movie. That's when fanboys have every right to be mad.

Prepare to get mad Akira fans.

Akira was originally an epic length manga series, clocking in at a gargantuan 2,182 pages (according to my lifelong source Wikipedia). The very idea of cramming that much story into a film is insane. In 1988 a landmark anime film was made that even Roger "Jawless" Ebert loved (note: this was before he was jawless). It wasn't exactly like the manga but it still carried on the spirit, and that's what counts. That is why it is still considered, to use a trite expression, the Citizen Kane of Japanese, animated film. Then again, it doesn't hurt that the director was also the creator behind the Akira comics.

Pictured: not Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira.

Hollywood has no respect for artistic quality. You can't make a Saturday morning cartoon out of artistic quality (1998's Godzilla had an animated series for Christ's sake). And you especially can't put artistic quality on the front of a cereal box. Conforming with a trend in Hollywood, the world of Akira is getting whitewashed with American actors. The Neo-Tokyo world of Akira is being transplanted, and nobody should think this is a good idea. Set to be directed by the Hughes Brothers (famous for having the second best hood movie of the 90s), 2011's Akira is still being casted. The potential cast, however, are as Asian as Mickey Rooney.

Rooney is as Asian-sensitive as Eric Cartman.

It's all a part of Hollywood's obsession with turning everything into WB style dramas. By WB style dramas, I mean by sticking pretty white people in everything and letting them pout for 90 minutes. It's all an attempt to turn every intellectual property into One Tree Hill. Yes WB is now CW, but the spirit is still alive.

Fairy tales aren't even safe.

Now, what about this whitewashing? It couldn't possibly of happened too much. But what if I told you that it not only happened once but three times in recent cinematic history. As Ian Fleming said, "Once is happenstance. twice is coincidence. Three times, it's enemy action." Just last year, M. Night Shyamalan released The Last Airbender. An adaptation of the Nickelodeon, Asian influenced television show, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The movie took Asian themed characters and whitewashing them. In 2009, two movies were released that took pre-existing, predominately Asian works and inserted white people. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li took a simple fighting game story and completely obliterate it with poor casting choices and crappy writing. The movie made the Jean-Claude Van Damme flick look downright respectable. Also in 2009 was Dragonball Evolution, where they took Son Goku and casted Tom Cruise's bratty son from War of the Worlds.


Now I'll admit, I have never been a manga/anime fan. I didn't grow up with Dragonball Z and I never trusted books that I had to read backwards. I may love comic books, but I hated manga. I respect those that are fans of it though, and am even warming up to the art. Akira is one of the most important products of the genre, and to eviscerate it for American audiences is just uncalled for. If they want to make an Akira like movie than go ahead, but to still use the Akira name is counter-productive. Fans of the original work will be turned off by the artistic choices and casual audiences will be alienated by the style. Again, Akira is barely in development stages, but at the very least I hope they learned from Speed Racer. By trying to appeal to both camps they are going to make the product unappealing to everyone. Whitewashing isn't racism, it's just stupidity.

A movie made that doesn't appeal to anyone.

When one mentions Japanese film it's impossible not to mention Akira Kurosawa. The man is the John Ford of Japan, minus the cool eye patch. Influenced by Western culture, Kurosawa enjoyed himself some Dashiell Hammet. Hammet's stories such as The Glass Key and Red Harvest were inspirations for Kurosawa's classic samurai tale, Yojimbo. Kurosawa took an already existing story, transplanted it, and made it his own. Yojimbo/The Glass Key would later return to the West. This time being remade as Sergio Leone's A Fistfull of Dollars. The badass Toshiro Mifune's part being played by the equally badass Clint Eastwood, and the Japanese village being changed out for a Mexican boarder town. Another Westernization of a Kurosawa film, The Seven Samurai, was remade as The Magnificent Seven. Both Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven were masterpieces of their respective genres.

Such a cute little cinematic genius.

That is the proper way to honor/steal from a source. By trying to be different, those films were the embodiment of its originals. By keeping the story but changing the characters and setting, the films were paying the ultimate respect. Dragonball Evolution, Streetfighter: The Legend of Chun-Li and Last Airbender did the opposite. Because of this, they became the hollow, critically panned shells that they are. Akira hasn't been made yet, but with talks of Robert Pattinson having a part, the outlook does not look good.


  1. That's the problem with North American cinema. In French and German cinema, for example, there's hardly any white washing of roles. White actors do white roles and minority actors do minority roles. Plain and simple.

  2. It's not that so much as the story itself. It's like if they remade Les Miserables, kept everything else but set it in the Bronx.