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.