Actor George Takei (aka “the guy who played Sulu from Star Trek”) has spoken critically of Hollywood’s penchant for taking Asian film, manga and anime and recasting everyone with white actors, citing the upcoming and thoroughly purified Akira as a particularly egregious example.
He was recently interviewed about the adaptation, which transposes Akira from Neo-Tokyo to “New Manhattan,” features a cast of handsome white men in place of the 2D yellow dwarves of the original, and according to supposed leaks takes radical liberties with the script:
Were you surprised to find out Warner Bros. is courting white leading men for roles in the adaptation of Akira?
It’s an old Hollywood tradition that we’ve always been battling, not just Hollywood but Broadway too, if you remember Miss Saigon and the furor over that.
So, no, I really wasn’t surprised, but the audience has changed now, and 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.
If they’re going to do that, why don’t they do something original, because what they do is offend Asians, number 1; number 2, they offend the fans.
The same thing happened with M. Night Shyamalan. He cast his project [The Last Airbender] with non-Asians and it’s an Asian story, and the film flopped.
I should think that they would learn from that, but I guess big studios go by rote, and the tradition in Hollywood has always been to buy a project, change it completely and flop with it.
I think it’s pointless, so I thought I would save Warner Bros. a bit of failure by warning them of what will most likely happen if they continue in that vein.
What would you ideally like to see happen with the Akira adaptation?
Well, ideally, they should do it properly and get Asian-American actors cast in those roles.
In the adaptation they would of course be speaking in English and understandable to a popular American audience. That’s the whole point. They bought a project that is popular and enormously loved by its fans, and if they want the fan following to support the film, that’s the way you do it.
Of course, from the perspective of actual Asians (most of whom hate each other) rather than the happily undifferentiated “Asian” Americans, the prospect of seeing a bunch of Chinese and Korean actors play faux-Japanese in a Hollywood production may be even less appealing than seeing a bunch of big-name Caucasian actors in any case…