Warner Bros. has been trying to get Akira off the ground for years, first with Irish director Ruairi Robinson, then with the Hughes brothers, and finally with Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra, who went so far as to cast Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart, among others. When the studio pulled the plug on Collet-Serra’s version late in the game, the project spent a few years on the back-burner before Warners started taking a hard look at it again earlier this year.
The studio met with Justin Lin, Daniel Espinosa, David F. Sandberg and hot Atlanta helmer Hiro Murai before putting the full-court-press on Jordan Peele, who was fresh off the success of Get Out, though he ultimately opted to continue telling original genre stories for Universal.
Waititi apparently sparked to Akira while putting the finishing touches on Thor: Ragnarok, though I’m a bit surprised he would engage on this long-troubled project, if only because when I was poking around about the possibility of him directing Star Wars: Episode IX, one insider told me he was growing weary of “the machine,” alluding to Marvel and Disney. Before making the leap to big-budget filmmaking with Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi previously enjoyed a lot of creative freedom while telling more personal stories at a lower budget, such as Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Eagle vs. Shark.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way is producing Akira with Andrew Lazar (American Sniper). Marco Ramirez (Netflix’s Daredevil) wrote the most recent draft of the script, though I won’t be surprised if Waititi does his own pass, should he close a deal. Keep in mind, that is hardly a certainty, as he has committed to direct the WWII dramedy Jojo Rabbit for Fox Searchlight, the stop-motion animated movie Bubbles for Netflix, and a sequel to the vampire film What We Do in the Shadows. Where Akira would fit into his calendar, I’m not sure, and it’s possible it could arrive several films down the line if Waititi isn’t looking to rush back into the blockbuster world.
Warner Bros. has struggled for years to gets its live-action adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic manga off the ground, and the property has languished in development to fans’ dismay. That said, Waititi may be a blessing in disguise for Akira, as he values diversity when it comes to casting, and I don’t see him embracing the idea of an all-white cast playing Japanese characters. That move may make the most sense for Warner Bros. from a business perspective, but why go that culturally insensitive route when it didn’t make a difference for Ghost in the Shell.
We’ll see if Waititi actually closes a deal given his busy schedule, but for now, the talks are real. He’s represented by CAA and Manage-ment, and his Akira talks were first reported by Deadline.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief