I can’t say I’m particularly looking forward to this, though as a geek I’m duty-bound to watch. Apparently Akira is being given the live-action Hollywood treatment. Say it ain’t so!
I’m not much of a “canon purist”, especially not in cases where I’ve never read the original source — the original anime movie Akira was based on a 2100-page manga epic and therefore had to depart from the source a good number of ways to make it fit into a reasonable movie-length premiere. My chief concern even outside of the faithfulness to the originating material is that the impending explosion in Neo-Tokyo, like in this Youtube parody, is going to be transformed into the standard Hollywood and Americentric concerns. With white American actors. Actors like Garrett Hedlund, who’s in the running for the part of Kaneda.
Two nights ago, we watched a Japanese action film called Attack From Space during our Mock the Movie event, a film from 1959 overdubbed into English. All the Japanese names were retained. All the Japanese focus was retained. All of the baggage of a post-World-War-II Japanese mindset was retained. Sure, it wasn’t a good movie particularly, but as a treatment of Japanese cultural heritage, it was relatively sound. I can’t help but doubt that the message of the venerable movie Akira — steeped as it is in themes of revolution, youth culture versus authoritarianism, and societal fears of a nuclear holocaust, embodied in a single person whose will can cause said holocaust — is all going to get wiped away in an effort to turn the franchise into another Michael Bay style vehicle for explosion porn.
I’m with George Takei on the race issue, as well. Taking a movie about Japan and Japanese culture and Japanese kids, and casting white actors in their place, is not cool. Race-swapping actors the way Hollywood did with Avatar: The Last Airbender is simply unacceptable. Non-Americans and non-whites can and should be protagonists in our society. It’s not only an insult to Asians to take Asian characters and make them white, it’s also an insult to white Americans to think they cannot identify with characters who are visually different from them in any way. If race is a manufactured societal construct based solely around visual cues, then — though this might be counterintuitive — ending racism begins with acknowledging that people have different appearances. And not in shallow ways, like casting white people into roles where the originals were Asian, or adding in The Token Black Guy. I’m talking acknowledging the differences in appearance in real ways, like actually casting Japanese folks in a movie about Japan. It’s not racist to suggest that Asian characters be played by Asians, it’s an acknowledgement that not every protagonist has to be an American-born-and-bred white guy for consumption by the insular and racist parts of American culture.
Ending sexism, homophobia and transphobia means making being sexes and genders other than what is proscribed by our patriarchal society as the norm, normal. Ending anti-atheist sentiment means making being an atheist normal. Ending racism likewise means making it perfectly normal to be another race, or to possess the visual cues that suggest that you’re another race. Normalizing the “others” cannot be done by eliminating them from stories and replacing them with the “normals” everywhere possible.