Warner Bros.’ live-action Akira movie has received a big tax incentive to film in California. The original Akira manga was written by Katsuhiro Otomo in the 1980s and has gone on to become one of the more influential sci-fi Japanese comic book series of all time. Both the manga and 1988 anime film adaptation (which Otomo directed and co-wrote) take place in a futuristic cyberpunk setting known as Neo-Tokyo. There, the young leader of a biker gang, Shōtarō Kaneda, struggles to save his childhood friend Tetsuo Shima, after Tetsuo begins developing powerful telekinetic powers as part of a secret government experiment.
As popular as Akira is, however, WB’s live-action film adaptation has found itself stuck in development limbo for more than a decade now. Directors varying from George Miller to Justin Lin and Jordan Peele have all been offered Akira at some point over the years, but eventually passed. Jaume Collet-Serra (The Commuter) actually came pretty close to getting the project off the ground in 2012, but his version was criticized for white-washing the source material, and ultimately fell apart at the eleventh hour. Most recently, Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi boarded the film, though there haven’t been any big updates to report since he became attached in 2017. However, it seems that could change soon.
According to Deadline, WB and Leonardo DiCaprio have received an $18 million incentive to film Akira in California, as part of this year’s round of allocations from the California Film Commission. DiCaprio’s Appian Way has been attached to produce the movie for several years and is still committed to making it happen, by the sound of things. Deadline further reports that Waititi remains on-board to direct Akira, should it move forward in the foreseeable future.
To clarify, a tax incentive like this doesn’t guarantee that a movie will happen. For example, Disney received a similar incentive to shoot David Fincher’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea adaptation in Australia some years back, but later cancelled the film and allowed the funds to production on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales instead. That being said, it appears that WB is pretty serious about using this funding for Akira. The movie is currently projected to generate $43 million in wages for its below-the-line crew over the course of 71 days of shooting. Still, given the project’s history, it might be best to take a wait and see approach here.
Waititi, for his part, has assured fans that he will not whitewash Akira, and said that he’s interested in adapting the original manga series more than the anime film. The quirky New Zealand actor-director has already cut his teeth on the big-budget Ragnarok, so one imagines he should have little trouble bringing the setting of Neo-Tokyo to stylish cinematic life. Live-action anime movies have a rather poor track record in Hollywood, but the tide has (arguably) finally started to turn following the success of Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel back in February. At long last, could now be the right time for Akira to happen?