This year Jordan Peele made the jump from sketch comedy to feature filmmaking and absolutely crushed it. Get Out, his directorial debut, enjoyed near-universal critical acclaim and made him the first black writer-director to crank out a $100 million movie on the first try. Peele’s already said he has more plans for original films featuring his incisive-but-entertaining social commentary, but Get Out has also made him one of the hottest directors in town, so studios are bound to come calling with their own ideas about what Peele should do next.
According to The Tracking Board, one of those studios is Warner Bros. and they’d like Peele to tackle their long-gestating live-action adptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic cyberpunk manga-turned-anime, Akira.
On the surface, this makes a certain degree of sense, though not as much sense as hiring a Japanese or Japanese-American director would. Peele has proven himself with social issues, chief among them race, in comedy and drama, and he’s a genre nerd to boot. The live-action Akira project has already faced whitewashing controversies for casting (or attempting to cast) everyone from Chris Evans to Zac Efron in past iterations, so it makes sense that the studio would want a sensitive director.
Peele’s credentials aside, though, he might want to steer clear, because Akira is kind of a mess. Warner has been trying to get this off the gound in some form or another since 2002. At various points the project has been linked to Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Nolan and Justin Lin, and conceptual attempts to Americanize this essential piece of Japanese pop culture have seen it set in Chicago…and even a version of future Manhattan that was bought and rebuilt by the Japanese. Numerous screenwriters, directors, actors, and producers have jumped on board the project at various points, and none of them could make it work. Two years ago, Warner Bros. tried to get Mad Max: Fury Road maestro George Miller to step in and work his magic on this unwieldy quagmire, and he passed. Akira might not be toxic, but it is certainly giving off a faint radioactive glow.
This weekend, Paramount’s dropping its live-action version of the anime classic Ghost in the Shell, a film that’s getting solid reviews despite a whitewashing controversy of its own. If Ghost hits big, Warner Bros. will want to put the hammer down on Akira, and they’ll want a director everyone is eager to work with right now. Peele fits that description, but his own projects still have tons of positive association. Same can’t be said for Akira.