If Kaneda’s bar is anything like the Full Throttle Saloon, well damn, I think we might actually see some bikes in this damn movie.
The recent revelations about the plot trouble me. The whitewashing and name changes aren’t the key issue in my mind. The real issue is the themes of the original work. In my opinion, the three main themes are the abuse and corruption that comes with power, duty and loyalty, and the disenfranchisement of youth in the modern world. The first is the most obvious, and the most trivial. Testuo’s transformation is the driving force of the plot, but the story is really about Kaneda’s own growth and transformation, finding his place in the world.
The original work exists against a cultural backdrop that is representative of the anti-establishment themes of classic cyberpunk and the specific effects of the crash of the Japanese economy in the 1990′s. For the last 20 years, the Japanese economy has been stable, but greatly depressed, with high unemployment and limited economic mobility and opportunities, especially for young people. The same situation has developed in the United States during the recent depression, with 10% or higher unemployment, with worse rates for those in their 20′s. In some ways, this makes a new Akira even more relevant in 2011 America.
This is where the character changes start to impact the themes of the original work. Bumping the characters ages up to the late teens or early twenties doesn’t violate suspension of disbelief: we’re used to seeing high schoolers portrayed by 20-something actors. And in this case, the age doesn’t matter, as being disenfranchised economical and socially is as relevant at age 14 as it is at 18 or 24. Kaneda and his gang are adrift in the world, with no support or direction, living their lives as recklessly and as hedonistic as possible. They spend their time ditching school, taking drugs, driving their motorcycles and picking fights.
Making Kaneda own a bar destroys the entire character setup. You’ve taken the drug abusing motorcycle hooligan, and turned him into a small business owner! He no longer is a directionless loser, but someone with obligations and a place in society. The bar wasn’t even that important of a plot point. It existed as a place besides the school for the characters to hang out.
Having Testuo as Kaneda’s brother tweaks a subtle point of the plot, and changes the nature of Kaneda’s character development. Over the course of the work, Kaneda grows from the drifting hooligan to someone with a duty to more than just himself, a sense of leadership, and place in the world. Unlike some other evil villains in various works (notably super hero stories), Kaneda is in no way responsible for Tetsuo’s villain origin. He’s under no obligation to correct a mistake, or a duty to stop Tetsuo. His involvement in the crisis, and his opposition to Tetsuo grows organically as his character does.
In the initial part of the work, Kaneda treats Tetsuo and the others with the same apathy he treats anything else. After Tetsuo’s accident, he is concerned, but not particularly moved. Even his rescue attempt is as much about impressing Kei as it is helping Tetsuo.
There’s a deeper connection if the two are brothers, and a greater obligation to family than just a friend. This changes Kaneda’s motivation as the story progresses. The gang is a kind of family, but doesn’t truely develop as one until the crisis, and Kaneda takes on more of a leadership role. As the conflict grows (especially in the manga version) Kaneda’s community grows to include Lady Miyako, the rival gangs, and eventually the survivors in the city. If the two are brothers, in some ways it cheapens Kaneda’s growth. Instead of developing naturally into his place as a leader, he’s simply helping his brother.
Kei is in contrast with Kaneda: she’s just as disenfranchised, but she’s turned her energy towards militant change. Maybe Kirsten Stewart was a good choice, hopefully her wooden emotionless acting will come across as stoic determination.
I think what makes Akira work so well is all the various elements working together to tell a story about real character development. Unfortunately, Hollywood is going to latch on to the action, the psychic powers, and the science fiction and miss the subtlety. The story is just as relevant today as it was 20 years ago, but only if they are true to the real themes of the work.
you sir, have it exactly right. I applaud you for this look at the baseless money grab that is “Steve”. Oh and *Wall of text crits you for 9999 hp*