In response to the all-white shortlist Hollywood has issued for the roles of Tetsuo and Kaneda in the film adaptation of Akira, I put together my own all-Asian shortlist of people I’d give a script to if I had studio power. I’m following up with my shortlist by providing a list for the other characters that make up Akira.
Like I said last time, I’m aiming at getting all Japanese people, seeing how this film is based on a Japanese manga and anime film (which is considered one of the best anime films–if not the best anime film–of all time). But, seeing as how this adaptation will be an American-made movie, and since there are not a lot of big-time Japanese actors in America (and since Hollywood execs cast people by who they know/trust), there might be a few other Asian actors on the list.
Akira (why this whole movie exists; the critically-important psychic child with god-like ability, annihilator, test subject)
Hikori Doi (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea)
Akira is a creepy kid. He’s inherently creepy because he’s a psychic, but he’s even creepier in the looks department, since he kinda reminds one of Damien Thorn from The Omen–a regular(ish) looking child who possesses scary power, a power you can tell just by looking in their eyes. For this character, the child actor is going to have to be seriously talented and precious-looking, so I say the role should go to Hikori Doi, the voice of Sosuke in the original Japanese release of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, another classic made by the master of animated films, Hayao Miyazaki. He’s even got the right hairstyle!
Kei (love interest of Kaneda, leader of anti-government faction)
Brenda Song (The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, Suite Life on Deck, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior, The Social Network)
Brenda Song broke out of her Disney mold when she was cast in The Social Network, playing Christy Lee, the girlfriend of Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. While she can do drama, she has also proven through her Disney work that she is a pro at comedy, too. Even though comedy is not necessary to play Kei, who is so militant she doesn’t even respond to Kaneda’s advances, it shows that Song has the range to play a bevy of characters.
Julia Ling (Chuck, Grey’s Anatomy, ER, Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Julia Ling is possibly best known for her recurring role on Chuck as Anna Wu, one of the members of the Nerd Herd (a version of Best Buy’s Geek Squad) at the electronics store Buy More. Her character is also a martial artist, just like Ling herself, who was a Top Four Finalist representing the U.S. in the martial arts competition Jackie Chan Disciples. So, if and when she would have to fight as Kei, she would be completely convincing.
Chiaki Kuriyama (Kill Bill vol. 2)
I’m a squeamish-type person, so it took a lot of willpower for me to watch the Kill Bill series. But when I did, I was mightily impressed by the films. One of the fan favorites from the series is Gogo Yubari, played by Chiaki Kuriyama. The actress/model played a crazy, sadistic schoolgirl so well that I think she could play the other side of the spectrum–a crazed, anti-establishment, anti-government rebel–just as effectively.
Colonel Shikishima (the only one in the know about the Akira project)
Takeshi Kaga (Iron Chef, Death Note, Sengoku Jietai 1549, various stage musicals)
One of the best person for this role is the chairman of chairmen, Chairman Kaga. As you can tell, I was introduced to Kaga through Iron Chef (still the ultimate cooking show; eat it, Iron Chef America!), but the guy’s a seriously talented actor. Like Fujiwara and Matsuyama (featured in the last Akira post), he is probably well-known to youngsters from his work in the Death Note movie series, so if future movie-goers to an all-Asian film version of Akira saw Death Note, these three actors would already have a built-in American audience. The one thing I’d hope is that, if they did cast Kaga, they would change Colonel Skikishima’s hair so that Kaga wouldn’t have to have that severe buzz cut.
Ken Watanabe (Memoirs of a Geisha, Inception, The Last Samurai, Batman Begins)
Again, like Jay Chou, you would think Ken Watanabe would be considered for something in Akira, what with the roster of films I just named. Granted, he still might be, considering Hollywood’s bad penchant for casting minorities in secondary roles. In any case, Ken Watanabe is not only someone Americans will recognize, but he also brings a commanding presence, something the actor chosen to play Shikishima will need. Plus, Ken Watanabe might actually be able to rock a buzz cut.
The Espers (three middle-aged children, government experiments, psychics)
All of the Espers are essentially children, despite their aged, decrepit looks. Thus, they should be portrayed by children that really look and act like children; the aging makeup will give these kids the right creepy “are they children or aren’t they?” factor.
Yuria Nara (Ponyo)
(Nara, pictured bottom center)
or Nozomi Ōhashi (Ponyo)
Takumi Kitamura (Gaiji keisatsu)
Daigo Mori (Shock Labyrinth)
Nezu (government mole, Kei’s affiliate)
Yakusho Koji (Shall We Dance, Seance, Eureka)
Yakusho Koji was terrific in the rom-com Shall We Dance, but he was also very emotionally gripping in the drama Eureka, a film my pick for Yamagata was also in. His films show his versatility as well as his real gift for drama, something needed for a movie as dramatic and gripping as Akira.
Yamagata (second most powerful member of the Capsule motorbike gang after Kaneda)
Karl Yune (Memoirs of a Geisha, Speed Racer)
Karl Yune is a Korean-Japanese actor (1/4 Japanese, according to IMDB) who has been in several American films and shows, such as Speed Racer, Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid, One on One, and even videogames like 50 Cent: Bulletproof. The biggest U.S. film he’s played in was Memoirs of a Geisha, in which he played Koichi, Hatsumomo’s (Li Gong) lover. He’s a great actor and not a bad looker; Aside from Kaneda, Yamagata might be the second hottest guy in the anime, so it would only be fitting that he would be played by someone who was good-looking (Yune was a model for L’Oreal and Phat Farm back in the day).
Kai (Yamagata’s friend, part of the Capsules)
Masaru Miyazaki (Eureka, The Reason, Gegege no nyôbô, Imo tako nankin)
Masaru Miyazaki plays one of the two children who survive a busjacking in the film Eureka. The film shows realistic performances set against such a dramatic event, and because Miyazaki, as well as Koji and the others in the film, showed such restraint in their acting (it’s actually pretty hard to act “normal” in a film), Miyazaki could be one of the actors who adds a bit of realism to the film.
Kaori (Tetsuo’s girlfriend, a girl who’s submissive to a fault)
Yin Chang (Gossip Girl)
Yin Chang is known to most young people as Nelly Yuki on Gossip Girl. On the show, she’s Blair Waldorf’s competition for Yale University, but I think she could also play Kaori, whose loyalty to Tetsuo is so inane that its almost to the point of Stockholm Syndrome. She’s also about the right age to play Kaori, and this role could give her a big break to star in other Hollywood movies.
Aoi Miyazaki (Eureka; My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?, Nana)
Miyazaki starred alongside her brother Masaru in Eureka as the sister half of the brother-sister duo who survive the busjacking. Just like the other actors in the film, she showed she has serious dramatic acting chops, but she also showed she can do live adaptations of manga by playing in Nana. Like the actors from Death Note, she could have a built in American fanbase because of her work in Nana, which could translate to more roles in America.
So there you have it! The completed list! What do you think of these choices?