Akira has always been one of those properties that was going to be severely white-washed, but who would have guessed they’d try so hard to age the characters into oblivion as well? Keanu Reeves is now the latest of a batch of A (or B1/2)-list actors that have passed on being the film’s lead, and of them Ryan Gosling is the youngest at an even 30 (Brad Pitt is 47, James Franco 33). The long-gestating project has been a priority at Warner Brothers for some time, though they’ve struggled to get a script written that would allow for a reasonable budget and a name actor.

Keanu passing comes from JoBlo, who also discovered that the pre-viz department may currently be dormant, even if the production itself is still in active development. Warner Brothers themselves confirmed that the project hasn’t halted, and JoBlo’s source astutely compares the pre-viz hiatus to Cuaron’s Gravity, another production that took an effects development break while the above-the-line names got sorted out.

It’s clear that WB sees the potential for a blockbuster adaptation of such a popular anime, but are struggling to find the right balance between serving the cult audience and making this a widely popular film. Scott Pilgrim is clearly a different animal in terms of tone and content, but its under-performance makes vivid the similar problem of maintaining a relationship with a pre-established audience vs. marketing the more esoteric elements of the property are probably the foremost concerns in their mind. Bringing the budget down and packaging the weird shit with a known face and name are the most obvious solutions, but as I’ve mentioned before, it ensures that this will have to be a fairly ground-up re-engineering of the story. There’s a teeny-weenye gang-violence, teen-revolt angle that was part of the texture and allure of the original… that’s not something you can exactly recreate with Keanu Reeves of Brad Pitt on a big over-designed motorcycle.

One wonders if a Pitt or a Franco would really do all that much to bring in audiences for this kind of film. If Warner Brothers went for a younger choice, and dug deeper than Shia LaBeouf, any names that strike out at you?

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Photo: Ixion