Some fans of the classic Japanese manga and anime Akira may have been disappointed that the recent attempt by Warner Brothers to turn it into a live-action franchise came to naught, but judging from some recent comments by one of the actors who was in contention for a lead role, it looks as if they may have avoided a bullet.
Last fall while the project was casting, British actor Toby Kebbell was in consideration for the part of Tetsuo. As a fan of the original manga, Kebbell was psyched to be up for the part. However, after meeting with the studio about the project, he began to have second thoughts. Speaking to IFC while doing publicity rounds for the upcoming Wrath Of The Titans, Kebbell spoke about the impression he got for what Warners wanted to do with the film.
They were like, ‘This is going to be a big franchise!’ So I said, ‘Then in that case, understand that I’ve read the comics, and I’ve read the comics that got turned into the annuals, and then the annuals that got turned into the one-off anime. So if you really want to do it, then why don’t you look at the six comics and just put two into each film?’
That way my character, Tetsuo, is not the lead. He’s not the second lead, and he’s not the third or the fourth lead, because there are eight major characters there. You’ve got great young actors, and you could get them in there. That’s the way to do it if you want to do sequels.
Warner Brothers had been attempting to develop the near-future set story in which a secret military project kidnaps a motorcycle gang member in order to turn him into a weapon by enhancing his latent psychic powers, unaware that the experiment will lead to disastrous results for nearly a decade. At various points in the projects long stay in development hell, such creatives as Stephen Norrington, Gary Whitta and Albert Hughes had worked on trying to get the film before cameras while Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Efron, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Morgan Freeman were all said to be possible players in the film at one point or another. When the film was shut down over budgetary at the beginning of the year, Jaume Collet-Serra had been signed on to direct, Garrett Hedlund was in talks to portray Kaneda while Helena Bonham Carter and Gary Oldman were already in the cast.
Kebbell felt that the studio did not have the same enthusiasm for maintaining fidelity with the manga source material that he had.
They were like, ‘Welllll…’ So I told them, ‘Then this is a remake [of the animated movie], and I don’t want to do a live-action remake of the cartoon, because [the cartoon] is perfect and you’re not going to do it dark enough — so therefore, I don’t want to do it. I was desperate to play Tetsuo, but Tetsuo in the comic and annual form. He’s brilliant in the anime, but if you know anything about the comics, they cut so much of the story out. You care about him, because it’s brilliantly done, but you don’t really care about Kaneda, who isn’t.
Considering how he viewed the importance of the relationship between Tetsuo and Kaneda to the overall story, Kebbell understandably had some reservations about some of the changes that were brought to the two characters.
The other thing they wanted to do was make [Tetsuo and Kaneda] brothers. I was like, ‘The point is that Tetsuo can’t comprehend how someone who isn’t his brother could love him so much — and that’s where his wrath and his rage come from. Do you not see that? Why have you made them brothers? What the f–k are you doing?’
Now there’s always some transformation of material when a book or graphic novel is translated to film. While some of those changes are understandable due to the differences in each storytelling medium, making Tetsuo and Kaneda brothers sounds more like a shortcut to generate an easy relationship between the two characters more than a change to accommodate a cinematic telling of the story. And such a change also robs Tetsuo’s character of much of his drive.
Hopefully, if the project gets revived at Warners, it will be in the hands of someone who is a bit more familiar with the character dynamics that lie at the heart of the film’s storytelling engine.