Warner Bros. has been in negotiations with the Thor: Ragnarok director over the coveted film.
One of the most exciting directors today may be landing another huge gig. Deadline reports that Taika Waititi is tapped to direct the long-awaited live-action adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira.
Deadline’s description of the plot is vague but already hints at a resituation of place — from a Neo-Tokyo to New Manhattan specifically. The new Akira will apparently be about “a leader of a biker gang saves his friend from a medical experiment.” With the film being in such early stages, there’s no way to know how much of that blandly-phrased one-liner will hold up by the time the studio officially lands its director. In sticking with a unique auteur like Waititi, this could still work.
Otomo’s original manga and its landmark 1988 anime adaptation boast a strong cult classic following, and whoever fills the director’s chair for this new version has a lot on their plate. Before Waititi’s reported involvement, Warner Bros. courted Jordan Peele after his debut film, Get Out, was a gargantuan (and well-deserved) success. However, Peele — to many’s disappointment — basically confirmed he wasn’t going to direct the project earlier this year.
The studio has been trying to get a live-action Akira remake off the ground for well over a decade. Acquiring the rights in 2002, Warner Bros. sought to make the dream come alive with five directors and possibly up to ten writers in the last 15 years. According to IGN, troubled production process showcased a fundamental issue Hollywood continues to perpetuate: adapting inherently Japanese material outside a Japanese context. Not to say the industry hasn’t done that since, of course. If anything, it’s gotten bolder in its quest to rewrite Japanese stories in American or just white contexts.
However, directors like Peele and Waititi are people we trust, especially in terms of advocating for representation onscreen. A flurry of support accompanied Peele when it was announced that he may be helming a new Akira. Given his uproariously funny yet bitingly critical indictment of racism in Get Out, he was an obvious choice for director. He expresses a deep love for the first adaptation, instead pointing his desire to direct original projects.
Waititi himself usually makes films based in New Zealand, featuring Māori primary characters in all of them. He recently expanded his boundaries tremendously with Thor: Ragnarok, which seems ready to showcase his unconventionality in delicious pops of color and psychedelic design. This highly commercial venture with Marvel also saw Waititi putting together a thoroughly unique set of people joining Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston at the end of Asgard. Thor: Ragnarok may be as bizarre as Marvel has and frankly will get for a while (given their track record of chasing bonafide auteurs away), and it introduces a side of Waititi less constrained by budgetary reasons. He’d be a great fit for Akira combining his combined sensibilities for pathos, humor and high-concept presentation.
The news of Waititi’s involvement with Akira is still developing. However, with so much riding on this adaptation, at least Warner Bros. is heading in the right direction.