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Live-Action Akira: An All-Asian American Dream Cast

With all the debate this week over cross-racial and trans-racial casting of comic book movies, one aspect that hasn’t really been discussed in depth yet is the phenomenon of Hollywood White-washing of explicitly non-White characters in live-action adaptations. Famously, Aang of The Last Airbender was played in the live-action adaptation (directed by M. Night Shyamalan) by a young White actor despite repeated references in the comics to Aang’s non-White racial makeup. More recently, a non-comic book (but nonetheless grindhouse-esque cult classic) Korean movie called Oldboy is being remade in Hollywood with an all-White cast.

With the existing dearth of non-White faces in film, let alone comic book film, it’s safe to say that most of us can agree that cross-racially casting a non-White character with White actors is problematic.

A few years back, Hollywood was also rumoured to be developing a live-action adaptation of the landmark anime, Akira. At one point, the film was going to star Zac Efron, and although he has since backed out, it’s still unlikely that today’s Hollywood will cast Asian actors to play Akira‘s all-Japanese cast of characters.

And why not? Hollywood typically argues that there aren’t enough (or talented) non-White talent in Hollywood.

Well, that argument sounds like complete trash to me.

After the jump, check out a re-post of something I wrote in 2010, containing my own all Asian/Asian-American casting of a hypothetical Akira live-action movie.

My all-Asian/Asian American Akira Dream Cast

originally posted at Reappropriate on November 15, 2010

I wrote an hour ago about the quashing of the rumour that Zac Efron, of High School Musical, would star in the upcoming live-action Akira. Even without Efron in the lead role, it sounds like Akira is going to suck; ScreenRant has read an advanced copy of the script, and details some of the travesties found therein. One word: “TRAVIS!!!!”

But, as I was at work today, I got to wondering what an all-Asian/Asian American cast for a live-action Akira might look like. I was further inspired by a Tweet by Greg Pak to try and put together an Akira dream cast.

Keep in mind, it has been about a bazillion years since I’ve seen the original Akira anime, so I’ve had to do some background reading to remind myself of the characters. But, here we go:

Sung Kang as Kaneda

Sung Kang as Kaneda

We’ve seen Sung Kang demonstrate an impressive breadth of talent in the many roles that he’s taken over the years, and I think he’s perfectly equipped to tackle the role of Kaneda. In particular, as Kaneda, Kang could draw out the subtle nuances of a character who would otherwise devolve into being a dumb jock with a hero complex. I also think Sung Kang has the right look (I think they call it “gravitas”) to pull off “post-apocalyptic biker,” even if his action film resume is a little thin. Physically, he’s got that right square jaw look to be a believable Kaneda; now, we just might need to convince him to cut his hair for the role…

Ken Leung as Tetsuo

Ken Leung as Tetsuo

This is a hat-tip to Greg Pak: Ken Leung is a dead-ringer for Tetsuo. He’s cunning but retains a boyish, innocent quality that lends itself well to Tetsuo, and his natural snarkiness could add humour to an otherwise heavy-handed script. Leung has played a few super-powered characters in the past: a mutant with porcupine quills in X3 and Miles, who boasted the ability to talk to dead people, in Lost. A grossly over super-powered Miles who loses his mind and goes on a murderous rampage? Scary.

Moon Bloodgood as Kei

Moon Bloodgood as Kei

This one gave me a little trouble. It’s been so long since I’ve seen Akira that I barely remembered Kei, except as a bad-ass terrorist who handles herself in physical, violent situations remarkably well. Sadly, there are few Asian American actresses who are popular today, and even fewer who could credibly survive in a war-torn, futuristic Tokyo. Then, I realized that there was one Asian American woman who has already played a bad-ass, post-apocalyptic terrorist: Moon Bloodgood in the latest Terminator. And, whoo boy, could she kick some butt. So, I’m calling upon Ms. Bloodgood to lend her talent here, and make Kei more than just some dippy Hollywood love interest; let’s make her a true, gritty, post-apocalyptic heroine.

Daniel Dae Kim as Colonel Shikishima

Daniel Dae Kim as Colonel Shikishima

Originally, I wanted to cast B.D. Wong as Colonel Shikishima, because I think Wong is incredibly talented and could play this villain-turned-hero character really well. Unfortunately, Wong simply doesn’t have the appropriate physique, especially compared to the other actors I’ve cast in the roles of the protagonists. So, I’ve opted to put in Daniel Dae Kim as the Colonel, who would obviously need to grow a moustache and be aged (via the magic of Hollywood) to appear a little older than he is. Kim needs to be forthright, severe, and physically intimidating, but ultimately a sympathetic figure who has the best interests of Tokyo and the Esper children in mind. With the way that Kim made Lost‘s Jin a heroic figure, when he was initially introduced as an abusive husband, I think he’ll be able to handle the Colonel remarkably well. And, I think we can probably forgo the Mohawk.

James Kyson Lee as Kai

James Kyson Lee as Kai

Kai is a member of Kaneda’s gang, normally quiet and shy, but a capable fighter and biker. I think James Kyson Lee, if he grew his hair out a little, could probably play Kai ably. As he showed in Heroes, he’s capable of carrying a scene on his own, while also sharing a scene with another character without taking away the spotlight. On an unrelated note, have you ever Googled images of James Kyson Lee? I had no idea he was so ripped… Mamma mia…

Jamie Chung as Kaori

Jamie Chung as Kaori

Any actress who plays Kaori has to fit two simple criteria: young and good-looking. And, whether we like or we hate Jamie Chung, she fits this bill pretty nicely. Kaori is the Ophelia character in Akira, who pretty much runs around helplessly, angst-ing over her boyfriend Tetsuo’s transformation into a villain, until she is ruthlessly (and graphically) killed. Jamie Chung’s profile has been rising lately, with her recent casting in Sucker Punch, but her acting chops simply haven’t been tested yet. Given that Kaori’s role is neither particularly demanding, nor particularly important, Chung’s as good a choice for Kaori as any (as long as she can act morose enough, since Kaori spends most of her time unspeakably, irritatingly sad). As an added bonus, Jamie Chung recently starred in Dragonball: Evolution, which already makes her a veteran of the anime-turned-live-action movie genre.

And there you have it — my dream casting of a live-action, all-Asian American adaptation of Akira. I’ve decided not to cast the roles of Akira or the Espers, because the Espers would probably be child actors with CGI faces, and because Akira should be played by an unknown actor who is significantly younger than most of the high-profile Asian American actors today. It’s also a pretty small role, anyways.

What do you think? Think you can do better? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

6 comments

  1. Let’s face it; if ‘Hollywood’ actually casts an Asian as Colonel Shikishima it’s going to be either Chow Yun-fat or Ken Watanabe. Both look great with a ‘tache though.

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  2. Your actors are all way to old. You forget that they’re teenagers in a bike gang in nei Tokyo. Unfortunately Hollywood is right, there aren’t enough known talented asian actors in america… What they don’t tell you is its because Hollywood doesn’t hire asian actors for lead roles to begin with (minus a few John cho, ect.). It’s a catch 22.

    On the other hand Hollywood frequently hired asian females in roles to hook up with the movies lead male charecter. It’s like they’re saying, “asians are only good if they’re women, and then only if we have sex with them so we may breed out the asian race.”

    It’s sad to see but it’s even sadder when white people roll their eyes at this and say its not as big a deal as we make it out to be. The question is how is it not bad? It’s strikes the public on a sub conscious level. They end up belive in asians to be inferior just based on the fact that that’s why they were fed from a very young age. Don’t believe me? Just google Olympus has fallen and red dawn racist tweets. America is probably 80% idiots. Don’t give people the bennifit of the doubt, cause they’re just stupid.

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  3. This is a pretty old article, but I agree that all the actors and actresses are definitely too old!! I’m also not a big fan of the selection for Kei. Like….could you seriously only think of 1 fully Asian actress before going to Eurasian actresses…

    Anyways, I really can’t imagine a Hollywood adaptation of AKIRA being anything but terrible.

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