Friday, December 16, 2011
Akira or How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Observe the Hypocrisy
Posted by Courtney Small
Akira has been on my mind recently due to the controversy surrounding the remake. Like many fans, I was perturbed by the news that there was going to be a live action version made. Akira was an instrumental part of my development as a film lover. In the early 90’s my discovery of Akira, along with others 80s films such as Barefoot Gen, Vampire Hunter D, Wicked City and Fist of the Northstar, taught me that anime could be more than just a thirty minute Saturday morning cartoon. However my fears about the big screen adaptation have more to do with my inability to fathom how they plan to recreate several iconic scenes rather than the casting choices. To be honest, I naively assumed the likes of Ken Leung, Sung Kang and John Cho would probably be casted in the film.
However, like many, I was caught off guard when I learned that the likes of Garret Hedlund (Tron Legacy, Four Brothers) and Kristen Stewart (Twilight, Adventureland) could possibly star in Akira. It is even more disturbing that, although set in neo-Manhattan, all of the predominantly white characters will still go by the Japanese names from the original manga/film. While I agree that it is another example of a studio taking a beloved Asian animated film and Americanizing it (i.e. making the cast predominantly white), I find the backlash rather fascinating. Why is it that people get up in arms about this practice for certain adaptations, but blissfully accept it in others?
For years studios have taken live-action films from Asia and remade them with little to no fuss at all. The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars are two examples of films that were adapted to much praise. More recently films like The Departed, The Ring, Shall We Dance?, Dark Water, Eight Below, Pulse, The Lake House, The Grudge, Bangkok Dangerous, and The Eye were all remakes of Asian films that received little to no claims of “whitewashing.” Of those films mentioned, Bangkok Dangerous was the only one, if my memory serves me correctly, that actually feature any Asian actors in prominent roles. One would think that there would be the same level of outcry for these films as there is for Akira! In most of these cases, similar to the major complaint most have with the Akira remake, Asian actors/actresses were not cast in most of the roles.
I could not help but think of the Q &A session for the wonderful film Better Luck Tomorrow at TIFF in 2002. The film’s director Justin Lin, who would later go on to make the surprise hit Fast Five, and his talented cast, which featured John Cho pre-Harold and Kumar, talked about the struggles of being Asian-American in Hollywood. The cast commented on how they all became friends by running into each other at the same auditions to play the Chinese food delivery guy. While the cast was able to look back and laugh at their early days, the fact is things have evolved slowly for Asian-American actors. Sure they are more visible in regards to roles on television, but the roles are still few and far between when it comes to the big screen.
The sad part is people only seem to want to stand up and shout when talented Asian actors/actresses get ignored for anime/manga adaptations. Even then it seems like they are picking and choosing which adaptations to rile against. Speed Racer and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World where both released with no uproar, however films like Street Fighter: The Legend of Chung-Li, Dragonball Z, and The Last Airbender were viewed as crimes against humanity for featuring white actors in the leads. Is it because talented directors like the Wachowskis and Edgar Wright where attached, not to mention the star studded cast in each, that people were more accepting of this practice? Both Legend of Chung-Li and Dragonball where directed by individuals who brought the world Exit Wounds and Final Destination respectively. As for Airbender, well let us just say M. Night Shyamalan missed the mark with this one. Regardless, change cannot truly occur if people get annoyed in one instance, but blissfully let it go the next.
Now I am not saying to sit idly by and accept the “whitewashing” of Asian cinema. If anything, I think people should voice their displeasure of the lack at diversity in Hollywood loud and clear. I would love to see Akira done with a predominant Asian cast as much as the next fan of the film. However, if you are going to get all up in arms over Akira, then be sure to angry when films like The Departed, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Shall We Dance?, Speed Racer, etc. are adapted as well.