The Book Of Eli director Albert Hughes recalls his attempt to make Akira. “They were $9 million in by the time I got on.”
When you think of the phrase, ‘development hell’, Akira is one of those projects that springs to mind immediately. Warner Bros has held the rights to a live action remake of the beloved cyberpunk anime for two decades now, and although lots of big name directors have been officially (or unofficially) attached during that time, it’s never really felt like the project has even come close to production.
Jordan Peele was said to be involved at one point, Taika Waititi was definitely attached (and still is as far as we know), Justin Lin, Daniel Espinosa, Stephen Norrington, David Sanberg, Ruairi Robinson, Jaume Collet-Serra and Albert Hughes are also all directors who at one point or another have been involved with a project which has been dubbed by some as ‘unfilmable’.
The reason for that is twofold. The story’s themes are inextricably linked to Japan’s status as history’s only victim of an atomic bomb, meaning that removing the tale from Japan robs it of all of the rich context that made the original Akira so meaningful. Plus, a production of this size would need movie stars familiar to western audiences to support it and Warner Bros will remember all too well the loud and damaging claims of whitewashing that plagued Paramount’s Ghost In The Shell, another live-action take on an iconic anime that released in 2017 featuring Scarlett Johansson in the lead role.
Albert Hughes has been reflecting on this knotty predicament, telling the HappySadConfused podcast about his experience of working on the project around 2011.
“I was deep. I was deep,” said Hughes. “The dirty little secret on that is they tried it many times, they were $9 million in by the time I got on.
“I had another three [million[ on the project so they’re in 12 [million dollars] right now. I had a production designer, a whole office, previz and it all came down to you know this BS stuff in town like ‘oh the right casting’. It’s like well ‘Akira’ is the name, it’s the IP.
“They were scared to make it and you could smell it after a while. You know it’s, like, well why did you get me involved? This was after Book Of Eli when Warner Brothers opened up the vault, and they said what do you want.
“I said I want Akira, and so I was on that for a little under a year and I started smelling the […] coffee. I’m like this… they’re not really ready to make this. They’re using the excuse of casting, but that’s BS you know.
“Then you know the whitewashing thing comes into play like, ‘are we gonna hire Asian actors or white actors’ and like… I’m not trying to get involved in all that. I’m fine with doing the original the way the original needs to be done, and I think the IP is bigger than any one actor.
“But at that time that was 2011, and I did some really cool previz though I had some fun doing that … and redesigning the bike.”
Will an Akira remake ever see the light of day? Remember that for decades, Alan Moore’s Watchmen was considered unfilmable and yet, after decades of trying the project was eventually ushered out of development hell by Zack Snyder. If and when an announcement ever comes, you can be sure we’ll let you know.