Warner Bros. has been trying to make an adaptation of the Japanese manga/anime Akira for, seemingly, ever. So many big-time industry names have been bandied about — Pitt, Keanu, Franco, Hughes — and each time there’s some movement on the project, the principals involved keep getting downgraded to accomodate the neverending budget slashing. Originally, WB aimed high for an multi-film epic, then crunched that idea down to one movie, and then they cut that budget nearly in half to $90 million.
That announcement was quickly followed by actual real life actors being cast — Ken Watanabe, K-Stew, the guy from Tron: Legacy, and Helena Bonham-Carter — who are well-known, or becoming well-known, but certainly don’t have asking prices of the likes of Brad Pitt. An office was set up in Vancouver, and director Jaume Collet-Serra began pre-production, so this time it really looked like a live-action Akira was finally going to happen. Even though nobody but Warner Bros. seemed to want it.
The studio must have finally gotten word that their increasingly watered-down material wasn’t exciting anyone, anywhere because they have just recently closed the Vancouver office and sent the entire pre-production crew home. For whatever reason, Warner Bros. is no longer happy with losing $90 million on a movie that nobody wants to see, but they’re apparently determined to lose some amount in order to bring this battered and bruised abomination to the silver screen. Instead of cutting their losses, now WB is demanding Collet-Serra find a way to carve $20-30 million more out of the production costs. Until that happens the film is on a “Community”-like hiatus, only this time fans are happy at the prospect.
To be sure, $60-70 million isn’t chump change, not even by today’s standard of $100 million per Hollywood blockbuster. But I’ve said it before, so you know I’ll say it again: That isn’t near enough money to do the source material (or even a remake of the 1980s animated adaptation) justice. The movie shouldn’t exist in any case, and definitely not in whatever shape or form this drawn-out process will turn it into. But if you are going to make something as ambitious in scope and ideas as Akira, you do it right. Go big or go home, as people who use that expression would say.
And one way do it “right,” and bring the budget down, is by hiring Japanese actors, or actors of Japanese descent. I think it’s probably likely that Asian performers don’t earn the paychecks that whitey gets on a regular basis, especially when they’re non-native English speakers. I’d be surprised if John Cho from Star Trek and Harold & Kumar has a higher asking price than current-supposed-Kenada, Garret Hedlund. Not that Cho wouldn’t deserve it if he actually does, but that’s not typically how Hollywoodland rolls. Ken Watanabe probably isn’t cheap, but if he’s your highest paid guy, Mssrs. Warner, then you’re off to a good start. Well, a better start compared to bullshit.
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar, and his ware can be purchased here (if you’re into that sort of thing). He’s pretty certain Vancouver can turn from Neo Manhattan into Neo Tokyo so easily… But, really, just kill it. Kill it dead.