Home Entertainment Anime Actual Asian person Ken Watanabe potentially offered role in AKIRA remake

Actual Asian person Ken Watanabe potentially offered role in AKIRA remake


The long on-again, off-again life action Akira movie is decidedly on again at Warners, with Jaume Collet-Serra to direct the Steve Kloves script. Given that AKIRA is a worldwide classic of anime and Japanese film in general that hugely influenced both animation and the cyberpunk movement, it seems ripe for reinvention in that Hollywood way.

And of course, also in that Hollywood way, despite the story being set in and infused with Japanese culture, because American moviegoers are all white and cannot be persuaded to pay money to watch Asian people on the screen, the film is being moved from New Tokyo to “New Manhattan ” (essentially New New York) and replacing all the Asian characters with white people if casting rumors are true.


Kristen Stewart

Paul Dano

Garrett Hedlund

Helena Bonham Carter

Gary Oldman

Now, we loves us some Gary Oldman and Helena Bonham Carter as much as any other member of the Brit Acting Mafia…and Kristen Stewart is a very talented and engaging young actress. Dano is faboo. Hedlund…eh. Bleh. Whatevs. But the consistent whitewashing of the film is alarming or disgusting depending on your point of view. It’s not just that the movie has to have white stars; it’s that EVERYONE has to be white.

Now, however it seems that Gary Oldman has turned down the part, and in desperation the producers have offered the role to an actual man of Japanese descent, Ken Watanabe.

Watanabe is of course a handsome, brooding movie star, as WELL as a proven favorite in the Christopher Nolan-verse with prominent roles in BATMAN BEGINS and INCEPTION. So maybe having a real Japanese person in the movie won’t destroy it? Except that the role was also offered to Morgan Freeman, so it’s clearly the “Non white person role.” Every movie has to have one. Because this is the land of the free and the home of the brave.

PS: Here’s a great quote by sensei George Takei on the whitewashing of AKIRA;

“I’m surprised Warner Bros. is not keeping up with the audience. The manga and anime phenomenon is mostly white in this country. It originated in Japan, and, of course, it has a huge Asian fan following. But it’s the multi-ethnic Americans who are fans of ‘Akira’ and manga. The idea of buying the rights to do that and in fact change it seems rather pointless,” he told The Advocate. “If they’re going to do that, why don’t they do something original, because what they do is offend Asians.”


  1. Well as long as the villain* of the piece is non-white, that’s cool.

    – Chris

    *: I’m aware that The Colonel wasn’t necessarily the villain of Akira, it was a complex story that didn’t have clear heroes or villains, yadda yadda. I’m just saying: This movie is going to need a villain, it will likely end up being the non-white guy. Because of Hollywood.

  2. Maybe Japanese should learn to draw anime characters like Asians. With a few exceptions, Anime people look caucasian to me.

  3. “… the film is being moved from New Tokyo to “New Manhattan ” (essentially New New York) and replacing all the Asian characters with white people if casting rumors are true.”

    Tailoring it for the audience. Nothing wrong with that. Ever see the Spider-Man tv series filmed in Japan? All white characters replaced by Asian actors … not to mention, the whole concept gets revamped. I think Spider-Man had a friendly giant robot in this one, too.

  4. “because American movie goers are all white and cannot be persuaded to pay money to watch Asian people on the screen”

    Heh. It’s funny because it’s true.

    And lets be honest here. Watannabe, Chow Yun Fat, John Lone, the dude from Heroes and that chick from Die Hard 4 that’s doing that tv revival of that show that was a french movie with that assassin chick can’t do everything. And really, isn’t that all the asians that have any acting talent?

  5. The Akira cast should feature at least 51% made up of Asians. Otherwise its stupid, and an exercise in missing the point. If the title of your movie is a Japanese first name, that’s a good sign that your lead shouldn’t be someone Nordic.

  6. Did Hollywood not notice what happened with The Last Airbender? Although an American series, the creators clearly made the main characters Asian. In the film the studio decided that only the earthbenders were Asian. Watching the animated series and then the live action movie is quite a departure. It’s a textbook example of Hollywood terrified to cast Asians. That film got a lot of negative press and did not do well enough to become the series it was intended to be. While in The Last Samurai the lead was Tom Cruise, everyone else in the cast was Asian and that didn’t harm the film’s success, especially internationally.

  7. Hollywood is run by a bunch of white males who seem to only be able to relate to white males. When Imagine Studios sent me the tape of the mini pilot for Rat Bastard back in 2000, I was horrified that they took all the minorities out of my story. If you watch this http://bit.ly/vSm57s you’ll see that there are only white people in NYC in the future.

    Also, they took my transvestite freedom fighter and turned her into a bad guy, because I guess they thought transvestites were just naturally bad. In a way, I’m glad the show never aired — sure, I would’ve made a lot of money, but I’m pretty certain I would’ve blown my brains out by season 2. That’s show business.

  8. It’s more important to me that the actors be 15/16.
    The characters in the comic are Japanese because it was a Japanese comic, I don’t see the color of their skin as crucial to the story.
    I do see their youth as integral, and profoundly important.

    Seeing a lineup of adults pisses me off more than anything else.

  9. Kubrick baaarely pulled off aging his actors by 10 years for A Clockwork Orange.
    Whoever they eventually get to direct this thing won’t be Kubrick

  10. You would think after Speed Racer and Dragon Ball Evolution Hollywood would’ve taken a hint?

    Also, am I the only one who thought Akira wasn’t that great of a movie?

    I sense another box office bombs coming, from all anime to Hollywood adaptions.

  11. If we want a anime adaptation that honors its source material it needs to be a low key one, something like Revolutionary Girl Utena, which has a modest fan base but is under the radar even for some anime fans. perhaps doing a anime that’s more a fictional period-piece tone like Rorouni Kenshin or Samurai Champloo,. honestly I don’t like Akira, never did and could barley sit through it, so boom or bust i don’t care. honestly the one series i would like Hollywood to adapt is Area 88 or my paramount fav Utena(only if i could be in charge of it,lol)

  12. Some manga that have made the jump from print to movie (to American DVD release) that I’ve recently watched and enthusiastically recommend you track down and watch with English subtitles:

    – GANTZ – (Surprised I liked it – maybe because it downplayed the T&A of the manga, which improved it greatly)
    – Oldboy
    – Ping-Pong (Matsumoto!)

    If Hollywood wants to adapt managa using white actors why not adapt series that include a large white cast – like Monster?

  13. I haven’t read Akira… is their nation of origin integral to their characters/identities or is it is simply incidental?
    While I totally agree that Hollywood whitewashes EVERYTHING (I mean, is Ken Watanabe the ONLY Japanese guy who can act? Letters from Iwo Jima tells me NO) I wonder if being Japanese is essential to these characters.
    Also, George Takei is amazing.

  14. As an Asian-American [Chinese descent, not Japanese], I’m okay with adaptations of foreign films, tv shows, etc. as long as they’re done with intelligence and class.

    The Academy-Award winning “The Departed” being the best example of this.

    My problem lies with the movie evidently trying to keep certain Japanese elements like the names [Kaneda, Tetsuo, Shikishima, etc.].

    As a NYC resident, I’m more upset that the film is set in “New Manhattan” and there is still no diversity with casting especially since the movie is set in the future. It’s like the cast of “Friends” or “Sex and the City” all over again.

  15. @maggie


    The bits that are distinctly japanese are distinctly japanese in a way you’re not actually going to notice.

    The politics, for example, are very, very distinctly japanese (And 60’s/70’s Japanese at that, despite it being written in the 80’s) but if you’re not aware of it, it’s just a thing.

    The aphetemine popping biker kids are a very japanese thing but not so you’d notice if you weren’t aware they’re a thing.

  16. Damn !!! Hollywood destroys Japanese manga again !!!!
    Nightmare of Hollywood Dragon-ball flash back in my brain again.
    Are they really have eyes? KANEDA is JAPANESE,not Caucasian !

  17. For animes and mangas, with the huge passionate loving fanbases they have, the priority of moviemakers should be finding good actors that look MOST like the character, AND ENSURING the actor is close to the SAME ethnicity as the character. If the characters are truly all asian, theyneed to get as many asian actors they can. Or most look asian. Like if a character DEFINITELY looks white, they gotta be white. Black=black actor, asian=asian actor, middle eastern=middle east actor, and so on. And when the best actors eyes and hair dont match, invest in CG and or contacts and dyes to make it work… I DONT CARE HOW LONG IT TAKES TO MAKE. Just collabotate and affiliate with others who support it.

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