So says a white guy, but stay with me. Hollywood is on the prowl, turning Japanese manga and anime into movies. And yet the star factory, once again, cannot find a Japanese person to find a Japanese character.
The movie in question is Akira, which is set in Tokyo (well, Neo Tokyo) and which follows Japanese youth. The iconic manga and anime is being made into a Hollywood feature film. It's been in development hell for a while now, and it's being retooled for Western audiences.
The flick is apparently starring a white dude. Garrett Hedlund of Tron: Legacy fame is supposedly in talks to star as Kaneda. Not only is Hedlund older than Kaneda is in the manga and anime, he's certainly not Japanese. And probably won't be in the flick. Maybe Hollywood will change the character's name to something a little more American.
Why even call this flick Akira? The source material is so directly connected to Japan, urban Tokyo, Japanese youth culture, Japanese consumerism, and Bubble Economy Era anxieties. Oh, right, marketing and branding. You've seen what Hollywood did to Godzilla, right?
It does make sense for a Hollywood studio to shoot a movie in America (or Canada or whatever English speaking country gives them tax breaks). Japan is expensive and a logistical nightmare. But, it begs the question: Aren't there Japanese—heck, Asian—actors that Hollywood can find? In a diverse country of over 300 million people, surely, there's one Asian actor they can find to play a character named "Akira".
Hollywood studios will argue that they select the best actor for the role. More often than not, that actor ends up being white—or black. It's not just about finding the best actor, it's about finding a popular actor that can open a movie. It's about getting butts in the theater.
Hollywood is sometimes fairly accused of whitewashing. Other times, such as with Prince of Persia, it's more complex.
Likewise, Japanese artists are sometimes accused of making Japanese characters "look white".
Warner Bros., who recently greenlit the flick, doesn't seem to be taking any chances. The budget is a mere US$90 million, which is small potatoes for a story of this size and scope.
There are Asian actors working in Hollywood. There are Japanese actors, who have appeared in big, Hollywood flicks. Those actors, however, are not starring in Akira.
If you are not familiar with them, the Akira manga and anime are fantastic. The games are not.