Why Hollywood Needs to Stay Out of Anime (At Least For Now)

Last week I read a wonderfully-written but also terrifying article on Comics Alliance in reference to the supposed Akira Hollywood remake pioneered by director Jaume Collett-Serra.  I certainly don’t want to rehash the entire article for my own post here, but suffice it to say that Collett-Serra’s racist vision of an all-white Akira doesn’t stop just there; he has accused all of Japanese storytelling to be lacking entirely in strong characters.  To say that I was furious and flabbergasted upon reading this severely understates the sputtering and ranting that ensued in my small apartment for the better part of two hours.

There are so many things that I could say about this whole fiasco, many of which were already very aptly put by the author of the article that I read.  The one thing that keeps sticking out in my mind, however, is that until Hollywood drastically changes the way it operates, it should absolutely not be trying to make live-action anime films.


Media apologists everywhere would have you believe that Hollywood only runs the way that it does because of this concept called “marketability.”  We could never have Asian-American headliners in an Akira movie because we don’t have enough big-name Asian-American actors.  We can’t keep the integrity of the original story because it’s not culturally significant to an American audience.  We have to stereotype characters of color because that is what audiences have come to expect.  And we have to set the film either on American soil or in some romantic location in Europe because we want European-descended audience members to feel as though they can relate to the setting.  God forbid a movie challenge an audience’s perspective on another culture or give them an insight into how other parts of the world react to certain situations.  That’s the job of art, not films.

If you can’t tell, I don’t buy a bit of it.  Aside from all of these inherent issues within Hollywood, there is the other genuine issue that Collett-Serra directs action films.  I’m not trying to say that there isn’t a good deal of action in Akira, and I’m not even trying to assert that the film has characters with profound personalities or development.  But the movie on the whole is an allegory for a post-World War II-ravaged Japan, a nation of victims, a nation who is still trying to rebuild itself after having its national integrity jeopardized, not to mention two of its major cities all but obliterated.  This is a very Japanese film, and an incredible peek into the Japanese sense of national identity and fear.  And to boil all of that pain and significance down to an American white-headliner action flick is degrading and, yes, absolutely racist.


And even beyond that is this idea that an American director can just look at one part of the whole picture.  To just look at Akira the film without taking into account Katsuhiro Otomo’s original six-volume manga set (each of which ranges from approximately 300-400 pages) or the context in which it was written is just poor adaptation at best.  Nothing in popular culture exists in a bubble, and just as all American films very clearly reflect American ideals and fears, Japanese films and books are a reflection of the same in Japan.

As a fan of anime, and as someone who first watched Akira at the tender age of nine (yes, way too young), I would not watch a Hollywood adaptation of the film.  And let’s be real, if the fans aren’t going to watch it, who the heck is going to go see a vaguely-anime-based action film for which they have no context?  Has Hollywood not learned that they can’t use the DragonBall: Evolution method of adapting anime into American live-action?

I don’t know if anything can be done for Akira at this point.  The idea of it being adapted by a man who doesn’t even care for the story or the characters, and who has no context outside of the film, makes me feel sick.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that the American film market is doing stupid, horrible things to masterpieces of animation.  But part of the reason I like anime so much is that it has a different idea of marketability than American film and television, so it gives me a little bit of balance in my media consumption.  I don’t want the non-anime-viewing members of the West to think that anime, especially something as influential as Akira can be boiled down to chase scenes and explosions.  There is an angry energy, a self-awareness, and a hopefulness in Akira that is so delicately rendered, and I don’t trust Jaume Collett-Serra to get that across.  And if he, or any other American director, can’t do that, I’d rather the work not be touched.

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  1. “and that their government really needs to get on the ball with owning up to it. That is neither here nor there.”

    — it is most certainly there, and here.

    They can’t blame it on “the government”, as if the government was something that dropped down out of the sky on them.

    This would be like a German blaming it all on “the Nazis”.

    How did that go? “Oh, yes, no Nazis in our town except Hermann, who died on the Russian front, and Oskar, who got killed in the bombing. The rest of us were all members of the White Rose and hated Hitler, only we were too afraid of the Gestapo to say so.”

    Oh, pull the other one, Fritzie, it’s got bells on it.

    My father ran into that attempt to weasel out numerous times in the late 1940’s when he was on duty in Europe.

    But on the whole Germans eventually owned up to their collective responsibility and didn’t try much of this “oh, poor us” stuff. Despite the fact that they got kicked a lot harder than Japan, on the whole.

    The Japanese, with some exceptions, have not faced up to it. Fictions like Akira have helped to entrench this attitude of being hard-done-by in the popular consciousness.

    Hence the myth of the “Japanese victim”, which is pernicious and needs to be called out whenever it crops up.

    Nobody made ordinary Japanese peasant conscripts rape comfort women, or run amok in Nanking; or forced ordinary Japanese to treat the people in their occupied territories like vermin, which they generally did. Ask a Korean about it, or a Chinese.

    There’s still a deep burning well of hatred there, not without violent potential even generatons later, and Japanese attempts at denial or playing-down or (Ghu help us) demands for sympathy haven’t helped.

    The Japanese people as a whole fought and worked hard to support their government during the China Incident and the Pacific War.

    Japan was not a democracy at the time, but neither was Italy, and -they- gave up whenever they could.

    The secret police cannot force you to fight to the death, or throw your children off a cliff and jump after them, which happened in the Marianas. That takes deep voluntary interior conviction.

    And more recently… remember the camera “so simple that even a bakachon can use it”?

    “that normal, ordinary folks had their lives entirely derailed by not one but two atomic bombings on mostly civilians.”

    — so?

    The conventional B-29 raids on Tokyo killed 100,000 people in a single night, with nothing more high-tech than incindiary bombs creating a firestorm, and Curtis LeMay then proceeded to systematically burn one Japanese city after another to the ground and roast their people alive. Hiroshima and Nagasaki survived as long as they did only because they were secondary targets, and were deliberately saved so that there would be something for “Little Man” and “Fat Boy” to blow up. Nuking Tokyo would just have made the scorched rubble bounce.

    Nuclear weapons are just very powerful explosives. They can’t kill you deader than dead, or deader than thermite and bayonets. They are not “Supernatural Evil”, they’re just another weapon. Weapons are intended to kill and destroy.

    “Akira is one of those ways that normal, civilian people have found to deal with those feelings of victimization.”

    — how about they just accept that the Japanese nation as a whole brought those consequences on their own heads and stop asking for sympathy, from themselves or others? How does the Latin phrase run: “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxissima culpa”?

    “No one ever, ever has any violence “coming” to them.”

    — well, yeah, actually, they do; to deny it is to deny human responsibility. That’s why we hung Frank and Kaltenbruner and Eichmann and the others.

    And among Japanese war criminals, Muto Akira. Odd coincidence, that last name, isn’t it?

    That’s also why when Justice is symbolically represented, she carries a naked sword in her right hand.

    “an allegory for the rebuilding of post-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, simply because America – or, rather, one person on behalf of America – was the one who caused the issue at the outset.”

    — excuse me, but how was rebuilding Hiroshima different from rebuilding Tokyo, or for that matter Dresden and Hamburg?

    The Japanese started a war — multiple wars against nearly everybody they could reach, actually — and then got kicked and pummeled until they gave up; that’s how wars end. Hiroshima and Nagaskai gave the Emperor and his circle a chance to overcome the lunatics who wanted to resist until all the inhabitants of Japan were dead. Though that was a near-run thing; fanatical army officers were running through the palace trying to take the Emperor prisoner as the broadcast was made.

    The bombing therefore saved a good many American lives, and even Japanese ones; that’s simple fact.

    The Britsh author George MacDonald Fraser was in central Burma in 1945. Just before the news of the Japanese surrender came through, a Japanese soldier attacked his patrol. The Japanese in question was naked except for a loincloth, emaciated to the point of starvation, covered in open sores and equipped only with a bamboo spear. They had to shoot him multiple times, the last bullet being put into his head as he crawled forward and tried to stab Fraser in the foot with his piece of sharpened bamboo. As Fraser put it, it looked like a long walk to Singapore before the news about the atomic bomb came through.

    “And I realize that there were other atrocities in other countries that were caused by the Japanese military, but that also is neither here nor there.”

    — well, there’s an understatement — but I guess 22,000,000 dead Chinese civilians is just one of those unfortunate things, eh? (Other estimates run twice that high, but I’m being conservative here.)

    Including the ones killed by the bubonic plague fleas dropped by General Ishii’s “Unit 731” bacteriological warfare squads, not to mention the poison gas, both tested extensively on prisoners. Or the “rice offensives” intended to cause famine by confiscating all the food down to the seed grain.

    If the Chinese had had nuclear weapons in 1945, the only Japanese left on the planet would be in San Francisco.

    I’m second to none in my admiration for Japanese cultural achievements; but the attitude to the Pacific War expressed in Japanese popular culture and collective memory is not one of their more glorious episodes and nobody should abet it.

    1. I think part of the reason we’re at a bit of an impasse here is because I’m a pacifist and I don’t believe that capital punishment actually solves problems, so any act of violence seems arbitrary and awful – yes, even the things done by Japan.

      But here’s the thing of it: To be a civilian in a country overrun with war, a country with a military government, is not something an American can really understand. An all-out war hasn’t been fought on American soil for centuries. World War II is *still* a very sore spot for the rest of the world.

      My grandparents were Italian civilians – children – during World War II. They grew up fearing air raids and Gestapo and Blackshirts. There were many Italians who did try to stand up to the Fascist government, but people like my great-grandfather wore his little black shirt and toddled off to work because he was afraid. To go against the government was to die, no questions asked. The freedom to protest or to overthrow was not something afforded to every citizen.

      When I was in Italy a handful of years ago, the Italian people were still accusing their government of being Fascist, and still seeking out Communism as a viable alternative. I went to Berlin, too, and saw the monuments and the concentration camps and the pins that say things like “Never Forget.” The rest of the world lives with WWII every day, and we only cover how the Nazis were bad and the American involvement in our history classes in school.

      Since you know all of these haunting facts about the Japanese atrocities, you probably also know that immediately following the war they completely disbanded their entire military for the duration of the American occupation, and whenever they made attempts to start over with it, the Japanese population spoke out against it with severe anti-war sentiment. The Japanese people have traditionally been a very reserved culture, and things such as protest are somewhat recent. And again, a lot of the people probably lived in as much fear as civilians in the other countries that were actually seeing war.

      Speaking of the Occupation, did you know that thousands of rapes were committed against the Japanese people by American soldiers? The government was so afraid of this that they organized so that experienced prostitutes could be made available for the soldiers to protect the rest of the women and girls in the country. Didn’t actually work out so well. We don’t talk about this in history class.

      Oh, Americans also set up Japanese internment camps and barred Asian-Americans from many services here in the States. Not as bad as the Nazi concentration camps, but not really what I’d call a step in the right direction. Civilians didn’t do very much to prevent that from happening. In fact, most of them pointed out anyone they thought might be vaguely Japanese. We don’t talk about this in history class, either.

      If history and justice go hand in hand, and if perpetrators of genocide deserve punishment, I’d like to know where the punishment is for the slaughter of Native North Americans is? We still haven’t owned up to that, and we still act like children when confronted with the issue.

      The atomic bomb is another weapon of war, meant to kill people. No, it’s not necessarily worse than any of the other acts of war, not when you mention it that way. Between the two bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, approximately 350,000 people were killed. That’s a little more than a third of number of people the Nazis killed in their concentration camps in one year. And we did it in two days. And actually, that’s a real kicker, too – that after we knew what the bomb actually did, and after the REST of the world knew what the bomb did, we dropped a second one.

      Once again, the film Akira does not at all glorify the way Japan has dealt with this problem. Neo Tokyo (yes, it actually takes place in Tokyo) has an entirely incapable government, the civilian population is angry and oppressed, and the military has too much control. As much as it is allegory, it is also criticism. But it is Japanese criticism of Japan, and to bring that story through Hollywood would rub away all of that meaning.

      Also, Akira is a given name, not a surname. In the English format, we would have called him Akira Muto.

  2. “But the movie on the whole is an allegory for a post-World War II-ravaged Japan, a nation of victims, a nation who is still trying to rebuild itself after having its national integrity jeopardized, not to mention two of its major cities all but obliterated.

    — those screams of wrath and outrage are coming from China and Korea and… well, from all sorts of places.

    Remeber Pearl Harbor?

    The Rape of Nanking?

    The Bataan Death March?

    The ‘comfort women’?

    To listen to some Japanese, or to watch their anime, you’d think Japan was selflessly trying to lead Asia to freedom and prosperity when the dastardly Americans nuked them.

    This article (and the Japanese attitude embodied in a lot of post-1945 Japanese pop culture) is a perfect illustration of Japan’s refusal, unlike Germany, to honestly come to terms with their role in the Second World War.

    And the fact that with suffering, basically they had it coming, firestorm raids and all.

    Japan does not get to play the victim card.

    As to the Akira remake, it’s probably going to be an abortion, like “47 Ronin + Keanu Reaves”.

    The reason isn’t that Hollywood is ‘racist’, the reason is that Hollywood is full of stupid chicken***ts who despise their audience and think they can’t tell a Japanese story without some Gaijin in it because all the folks out in Flyover Land are bigots and ignoramuses.

    The box office record proves that they’re wrong, of course.

    The American audience is perfectly willing to watch movies without round-eyes. Japanese-produced movies have often done well here, as have moves from China (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” comes to mind).

    1. I’m certainly not trying to downplay the fact that Japan, as a nation, has done some horrendous things, and that their government really needs to get on the ball with owning up to it. That is neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that normal, ordinary folks had their lives entirely derailed by not one but two atomic bombings on mostly civilians. It wasn’t the civilians who initiated Pearl Harbor or the Rape of Nanking or the Bataan Death March or any of that. But they had to live with the consequences of other people making those decisions, and Akira is one of those ways that normal, civilian people have found to deal with those feelings of victimization.

      No one ever, ever has any violence “coming” to them. I feel that it’s particularly injudicious for the American film market to be adapting a film that is an allegory for the rebuilding of post-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, simply because America – or, rather, one person on behalf of America – was the one who caused the issue at the outset. And please don’t even try to tell me that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “just desserts” for Pearl Harbor, because the American military had the gall to drop an atomic bomb on civilians twice, whereas the Japanese military attacked a military base. And I realize that there were other atrocities in other countries that were caused by the Japanese military, but that also is neither here nor there. There have been a good deal of atrocities committed by just about every government the world over, and it’s not like we don’t all play the victim at some point or another.

      I encourage you to remember that Akira, and media like it, was created by a single person who had nothing to do with the decision to attack any nation for any reason. It is a reaction to living in a country that has had to deal with this issue. Additionally, the character of Tetsuo, who is meant to symbolize Japan, is actually kind of hard to sympathize with. He’s whiny and bratty and full of himself – so it’s not like Otomo isn’t self-aware enough to realize that playing the victim isn’t a healthy way of dealing with the problem.

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