While Ghost in the Shell has yet to prove its worth at the box office, a live-action adaptation of the anime classic Akira may very well be on the way. According to The Tracking Board, Warner Brothers is aggressively pursuing Get Out mastermind Jordan Peele to attach him to the upcoming project as director. But is this choice—or even an Akira remake in general—a good move for the studio?
What Is Akira?
Based on a manga series of the same name, Akira is a 1988 Japanese animated sci-fi film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. For Americans, Akira stands as a very important movie, as anyone who lived through the early ’90s can attest. While anime had certainly been available prior to Akira, the VHS release by Streamline Pictures was a widely distributed and relatively untouched (outside of the dubbing) piece of Japanese animation. Before Dragon Ball and even Studio Ghibli movies made their way to the states, Akira was likely the one anime you watched—or had at least heard about.
And this isn’t the first time there’s been talk of a live-action adaptation. Due to Akira’s sheer popularity, whispers of a live-action remake have been happening since the 1990s. Warner Brothers themselves have been trying to make the film for the past 15 years, and nearly went ahead with a 2015 production that put Jaume Collet-Serra in the director’s chair. The studio could very well pull the plug yet again, but their pursuit of Peele—who couldn’t possibly be more successful right now—implies they’re finally ready to kickstart this Akira adaptation.
Like Ghost in the Shell, Akira definitely reflects some reluctance on Hollywood’s part when it comes to anime adaptations. Ghost in the Shell hits 22 years after the original movie’s release in Japan, and, by the time Akira’s adaptation launches, we’ll likely be past the 30th anniversary of the original film. That’s not to say movies can never be remade, but when you’re dealing with highly influential ones like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, they’ve been borrowed from so much that presenting their old ideas as new ones won’t feel nearly as fresh or special.
And we also have the problem that Akira’s setting of Tokyo—well, Neo-Tokyo—isn’t something that can be cleanly replaced with another location. Netflix’s upcoming adaptation of Death Note moves that story’s setting from Japan to Seattle, but in this case, Akira’s cultural identity feels much more important. It’s even baked into the title, with “Akira” being a fairly common first name in Japan. At this point, it’s hard to imagine a version of Akira in an American setting that still carries the spirit of the original.
Jordan Peele is definitely off to a great start as a film director with the stellar Get Out, but there’s always the question of whether or not Akira could be a good fit for him. As a creative talent used to working on smaller-scale projects like sketch comedy and low-budget horror movies, it’s entirely possible he’s not ready to direct a massively expensive sci-fi epic. And, based on his role as the main creative force behind Get Out, Peele might want to use his current career momentum to make a film out of one of his own ideas, instead of retreading those found in a classic from 30 years ago.
Whatever happens, it’s starting to look like an Akira movie may be happening in the not-too-distant future. And even with a talented guy like Peele at the wheel, it’s still hard to imagine how this live-action adaptation could possibly end up being worthwhile. At the very least, we can only hope that this new Akira outdoes other misguided American anime remakes like Fist of the North Star and Dragon Ball Evolution. Granted, that’s a pretty low bar, but one still worth clearing.