Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


WB taps Tom Cruise to play Billy Cage–née Keiji Kiriya

December 1, 2011

Warner Bros has finally glommed onto a lead actor for its adaptation of the Japanese science fiction novel All You Need is Kill.

Set in a post apocalyptic future, All You Need is Kill is about a young Japanese soldier, Keiji Kiriya, who serves on an international fighting force fighting an alien invasion. Keiji gets stuck in a “Groundhog’s Day” scenario where he keeps reliving the day he died.

Set to play the main character in the film adaptation? On December 1st, 2011, Variety reported: Tom Cruise.

Is Warner Bros on a racebending roll?

Throughout November, Warner Bros kicked around names for its adaptation of another property with Japanese origins: Akira.

After considering Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves, WB nabbed Garrett Hedlund (Tron Legacy) for Kaneda, continues to evaluate a shortlist of unknown Caucasian actors for Tetsuo, and has offered Kristen Stewart (Twilight) the role of Kaneda’s love interest.


Gary Oldman and Helena Bonaham Carter were also propositioned for supporting roles. After Gary Oldman turned down his offer to play the antagonist in the adapted story, the Colonel, Japanese stage actor Ken Watanabe was reportedly offered the role. A casting call has also gone out for a “Japanese American” for the role of Yamagata, a side character from the manga.

Warner Bros is also jump starting an adaptation of the Japanese anime Death Note.

One of these films will have an Asian American lead, right? Or at least an actor of color in the lead role?

Why the All You Need is Kill casting isn’t subtle at all

In Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, the lead character, Keiji Kiriya, is a Japanese soldier who is part of an international military unit. For the purposes of the American adaptation, director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity)has said that the actors will be “totally American.”

And somehow, “totally American” ended up meaning “white,” even though characters need not be white in order to be American.

In the script, Keiji Kiriya’s name was changed to “Billy Cage,” even though named Keiji have been fighting in the American military for generations.

Sound familiar? That’s because history is repeating itself. Starship Troopers, another science fiction novel about an international army fighting aliens, featured a Filipino protagonist named Juan Rico. In the 1997 film adaptation, his name was changed to “Johnny” and he was cast with a white actor. An opportunity for an Asian American actor in the genre of science fiction was completely lost.

Casper Van Dien as “Johnny” Rico in Starship Troopers. Rico was Filipino in the book the film was adapted from.

Science Fiction/Fantasy is a genre that has characters with names like Kal-El, T’challa, Worf, Neytiri, Teal’c, Cthulhu, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Leeloo, and Slartibartfast. Why was it necessary to change Keiji Kiriya to Billy Cage?

To add insult to injury, unlike Akira (a story that only contained Japanese characters), the original All You Need is Kill already featured characters who were white!

The other lead characters in the book are Rita Vrataski and Ferrell Bartolome, both from the U.S. Armed Forces. Even with an Asian American actor in the lead role, white actors would have had ample opportunities to play important roles in the film!

Instead, the production went out of its way to retool the script, erase Keiji’s name and ethnicity, and essentially, lock Asian American actors out of one of their only chances to star in an action movie this decade.

Impact on Performers and Communities of Color

Our concern is that Warner Bros casting practices employ racebending to reinforce the systemic racism that is already present in Hollywood. Setting Akira in neo-Manhattan could have been a great opportunity to reflect the diversity in modern day New York City, opening up lead role opportunities for not only Asian Americans but also other performers of color. There was ample opportunity for Warner Bros to demonstrate a commitment to diversity by finally casting a young lead actor of color.

Likewise, casting an Asian American in All You Need is Kill would not have locked out white actors from other lead roles in the movie, especially since nearly all Warner Bros movies feature white lead actors.

Harold and Kumar (from back in 2004) aside, it doesn’t seem like Warner Bros is interested in developing unknown Asian American talent–even though they are more than ready to whitewash several lead characters that were Asian to accomodate white actors.

Not to mention, Warner Bros will also be presenting a yellowface joke in it’s Christmas release, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

(Awkward coincidence given the whitewashing of roles in Akira and AYNIK is a modern evolution of yellowface..)

Not confidence inspiring.

Maybe Asian American actors are like poor Keiji Kiriya: doomed to constantly relive missed opportunities. When the rare Asian lead character comes along…

Categories: Akira, All You Need is Kill, blog, Featured, History and Concepts

About the Author

Marissa Lee is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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  • You know that people on the internet knows more about Asian Actors than Hollywood. Heck I would look at some of the films and hop on the plane over to Japan and get my actor. But the thing is that Hollywood is more likely to cast Asian women than Asian male.

    • Jon

      That’s because Asian women are objectified, so long as they’re submissive and child-like. (Yes, they use the term “child-like” in these materials, and this in no way implies pedophilia.) This meme is very incestuous between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, spreading from one to the other and back.

  • Venom

    WB is doing Argo as well. They obviously have some sort of hate for non-whites and this needs to be brought to wider attention.

    Anyone going to fully boycott? Not just those racist movies, but all their other products?

    • I intend on using my motorcycle to disrupt the filming of Akira, that is if they do shoot in NYC instead of Vancouver passing for NYC.

  • Venom

    Also, word is that Starship Troopers is up for a remake. So there may yet be some hope of rectifying the racism of the previous films (1 and 3, 2 is Casper-free).

  • Anonymous

    I feel we should reserve judgment until we see the actual context of the yellowface. For all we know Watson (Law) will call Holmes (Downey, Jr.) out for the stereotype, only for Holmes to say that is he had dressed in more realistic garb none of the white characters would believe it.

    In any case, this story is set in Victorian-era England. People were racist back then. Holmes, though a progressive criminologist, isn’t necessarily a social progressive. It’s in-character.

    • Jon

      Pretty much. Back then, you had people like Cesare Lombroso pretty much being THE source for criminology. And of course, racial business abounds. When one race, by one arbitrary measure or another, would be implied to be superior to Europeans by the very same measure that condemned another race to a lower rank, it would be ruled too close to call or insignificant.

      All of this would be irrelevant, except there’s still racist pseudoscience out there.

    • Jon

      Pretty much. Back then, you had people like Cesare Lombroso pretty much being THE source for criminology. And of course, racial business abounds. When one race, by one arbitrary measure or another, would be implied to be superior to Europeans by the very same measure that condemned another race to a lower rank, it would be ruled too close to call or insignificant.

      All of this would be irrelevant, except there’s still racist pseudoscience out there.

    • People were racist back then, but the argument that Warner Bros is hewing to historical accuracy (in a fictional, modern day adaptation) doesn’t really fit…If it’s really important for Warner Bros to be accurate when they want to put Robert Downey Jr. in yellowface, it should also be important for them to be accurate when depicting modern and future (presumably) diversity?

      • Anonymous

        Considering how faithful the first Holmes film was in tone, themes and content to the original stories, I would say that this sequel may very well continue that. They’re hewing to the historical accuracy of both the times and the stories.

        Yes, it should be important when presenting ethnic characters in modern or future projects, but not so in films set in the past when people WERE racist. We shouldn’t be white-washing the past simply for the sake of political correctness.

        • Kyle123

          Faithful? I don’t seem to recall Sherlock Holmes from the books doing martial arts.

          • Anonymous

            There are plenty of problems with Ritchie’s film, but Holmes did utilize martial arts.  Not that the martial arts he did use (baritsu) bore any resemblance to what we saw in the film…

          • Downy Jr. was trained in Wing Chun for Sherlock Holmes and TBH I find this film acceptable.

          • Anonymous

            As stated by taranaich, Holmes did indeed use martial arts within the original short stories. He was a skilled fighter.

    • Acid

      Yeah, plus Holmes is supposed to be someone who can change his appearance to fit in.  It’s definitely being done in character.

      • Archredux

        So, here’s the context for the joke.

        He’s in a Chinese neighborhood tracking Irene Adler and when he walks up to her and breaks his disguise, his mouth opens and…He starts speaking in 19th century British English in hushed tones and then takes off his makeup.

  • Anonymous

    Tom Cruise?, Tom Cruise? The Last Samurai now this?

    • Jon

      Seems to be becoming an MO for a lot of people. The lady behind Dances with Wolves, who didn’t want to cast Indians to play Indians until Costner insisted, is behind Breaking Dawn. I won’t say much other than “Boo Boo Stewart”. The name itself makes me laugh.

    • Anonymous

      Erm, Cruise’s character wasn’t the samurai of the title.  Ken Watanabe’s character was.  The film wasn’t perfect, obviously, but it’s one of those occasions where it wasn’t a case of racebending.

      • Obsidian

        More accurately, samurai is both singular AND plural. ‘The Last Samurai’ in film referred to ALL the samurai, the end of the samurai area.

        Why is this so hard to understand?

        • Anonymous

          Nice try there with the grammar card but no dice. Cruise clearly was “The Last Samurai” of the title. How could you deny
          this when he was the last samurai alive in the last battle of the movie?

          What a contrived attempt at trying to evade clear white supremacist propaganda in Hollywood.

          • It certainly doesn’t help that it was Cruise’s face is plastered all over posters for The Last Samurai, but if you take the film on its own terms, it does support the fact that the samurai are the last samurai in the title.

            Just because Tom Cruise survives at the end doesn’t automatically make him the last samurai.  That’s being restrictively literal.

            Anyway, the movie’s just ok (though I used to like it a lot).  But if you want to push the white supremacist agenda thing, there are much better targets.  Because I certainly agree that there is an agenda, both intentional and insidiously unintentional.

          • Anonymous

            “Just because Tom Cruise survives at the end doesn’t automatically make
            him the last samurai.  That’s being restrictively literal.”

            No, that’s being logical. The title is ‘The Last Samurai”. How many samurai are left at the end of the movie? One. Who is that one samurai? White man, Tom Cruise. Well, that would make white man Tom Cruise the “Last Samurai”.  Doesn’t take big brains to put two and two together.

          • Obsidian

             You really should not speak about things you do not know anything about. It’ll save you from embarrassing yourself.

            How many samurai were left at the end of the film? An entire village.

            You think ‘samurai’ meant someone who carried a sword and fought in a war. That’s like thinking that someone who likes to drive cars is a NASCAR racer. No.

            Samurai was a specific class within Feudal Japan, a distinct culture all it’s own. Yes, it had a military component, but that is not all it was. Women were samurai too. And so were children. And people who had never carried a weapon in their lives. By the times of the Meiji Restoration, samurai had evolved into a specific culture, a way of life that had influenced all of Japan as a whole. Those reforms brought an end to that specific culture. It would be like outlawing the Amish here in America.

            Again, ‘The Last Samurai’ means exactly what I said. It was the end of a way of life in Japan, a specific element of Japanese culture.

          • Anonymous

            First of all, you have your facts wrong. Women who were part of the Samurai class were indeed trained in combat and there were also female samurai that fought in battles. In fact, pretty much everyone was trained in combat in some shape or form if they were part of the Samurai class.

            Second, The Last Samurai means exactly what I said it means. It is referring to Tom Cruise’s character. Ask yourself, why is Tom Cruise THE LAST SAMURAI left alive in that battle? Why not have some other samurai also alive at the battle with him? Why have ever single samurai other than the white man die and have the white man be the sole survivor of that battle? Heck, why not have Tom Cruise’s character die and have other Samurai alive instead at the end battle?

            Had the movie’s climax ended with Cruise and several other Samurai left alive then your theory could work. However, it does not because in a spectacularly unlikely scenario where  Cruise’s character, despite only training as a Samurai for a few months, is THE LAST SAMURAI alive at the end battle. And what is the movie’s name? Oh yes. The Last Samurai. What a coincidence…

          • Obsidian

            Last samurai alive? You mean besides the ENTIRE VILLAGE OF THEM he returned at the end of the film, I assume?

            If you exclude them to justify your claims, then sure.

          • Anonymous

            “Entire village of them”??

            Just because someone is Japanese doesn’t mean that person is a “samurai”.

            All the samurai went to fight at the end. The people of the village were just civilians.

            “The Last Samurai” in the title is referring to white man, Tom Cruise.

            He is the LAST samurai left in the film. ALL of the samurai die at the end except for him the WHITE MAN.

            If you cannot see how obvious that is then it says plenty about you.

            Let it also be known how ridiculous it is that the woman that he widowed
            at the start of the movie falls in love with him even though she knows
            he killed her husband. It is an insulting white supremacist fantasy.

          • Obsidian

            As portrayed in the movie, Samurai were not just a military, but were a more. Samurai originally referred to the servants of the nobles in Japan, and the culture that came with that. Eventually, it involved into a particular class of people. Hence, the ending of the Samurai meant the end of the a way of life in Japan.

            The village he returned to were people that followed the culture of the samurai and the way of life that brought with it.

            Wives and children of samurai warriors were themselves considered samurai, because it was in essence a distinct culture with their own customs that had nevertheless influenced Japan as a whole. That is why, even today, you will find people who are descended from a samurai family. The Meiji reforms brought an end to the samurai class and their way of life, and hence the village at the end were some of the last who had belonged to the samurai class and followed that way of life. Hence, they were the last samurai of the movie, and the movie was about the end of the samurai era and culture.

            Again, you are excluding and twisting facts to fit an argument.

          • Anonymous

            The only person twisting anything around here is you. Yes, the Samurai did develop into a class all on its own but that fact doesn’t dispute anything I am saying.

            The main character is a white man who becomes a samurai and in a matter of months becomes just as good as those in that village who’ve been taught these ways since they were children. It is blatantly obvious that the title is referring to Tom Cruise’s
            character as he is THE  LAST SAMURAI that is still alive at the end
            battle. Do you really think that’s a coincidence?

            Let me also point out how you interestingly ignored my point about the insulting plot point of the romance in the movie. After Tom Cruise is THE LAST SAMURAI left he goes back to be with a women whose husband he killed earlier in the movie. Despite her knowing this she still falls in love with him. You know that is insulting and a white supremacist fantasy which is why you didn’t acknowledge it in your reply to me.

            The title of THE LAST SAMURAI is referring to Tom Cruise’s character and it is backed up clearly by the movie itself by the plot points I mentioned.

          • Obsidian

             Last Samurai alive? You mean except for the ENTIRE VILLAGE of them that his character returned to, of course.

            You are conveniently ignoring elements of the film to fit your own claims. Does not work.

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  • KaidaWong

    So Warner Bros. is essentially 4kids but bigger and more powerful. Wonderful-_-

  • Rue

    Tom Cruise, huh?

    Coincidentally, I finished reading All You Need is KILL about a week ago, and it’s sitting on a shelf above me right now. It’s a good book and there are no reasons for these changes (the “totally American” quote gets under my skin with its implications), so I can say without a doubt that I won’t be going to see this if it shows up in theaters near me.

    Like the article says, there are plenty of roles for white actors to play, with Rita’s right up there next to Keiji’s in terms of how important it is (and a role for a Native American woman – it’ll be interesting to see if they chop that). There’s already a renowned U.S. division, as well, so America gets a piece of the action. Not only that, but Keiji’s ethnicity is mentioned several times, in ways that I think are pretty important to the plot. This change will cut those out completely (“Killer Cage” would still work with the name Billy Cage but I found the original reason for it more interesting than what’s implied now, and I can’t imagine a key exchange being Keiji and Rita taking place if they’re both white and, presumably, from America).

    This news is disappointing, but the real shame is that I’m not surprised at all.

    • Is Rita Native American? I have not read the book, only the summary, and I had assumed that Rita was white.

      • Rue

        My mistake, I worded that badly. Rita is indeed white, and I was referring to another female character by the name of Shasta.

  • regular black guy

    As an african american, I feel your pain. Thanks to your website I am no longer ignorant to the fact that so many roles were ment to be played by asian americans. How can you remake a classic Japanamation movie with all white people?!?!?!?! Starship troopers? Really?!? Asian, African, Hispanic and Native Americans should band together and remake Gone with the Wind. Thats right, a Civil War movie with no white people.

  • emperor_domi

    Warner Bros seems to enforce both racism and sexism, as they were reluctant to even greenlight Sucker Punch because of it’s majority female cast, merits of the movie aside.

  • Jack Burton

    You guys are really delusional if you think it’s racism. Hollywood regularly replaces historically White roles with non-Whites just for the sake of diversity. “Race-bending” goes both ways.

    It has more to do with the dearth of leading Asian male actors, there really aren’t any, none comparable with Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt.

    When it comes down to it, it’s about money. They will make more money with Tom Cruise than some random Asian male actor.

    • happyappa

      “Hollywood regularly replaces historically White roles with non-Whites”

      Regularly?… Historically?…

      “When it comes down to it, it’s about money.”
      So it’s still racist if it’s racism driven by money.

      Perhaps you should read more on the site about how a POC playing a White character is NOT EQUAL to a White person playing a POC one, before you start calling people “delusional” aka using the “you’re just being sensitive” derail.

    • Venom

      No it doesn’t. Let me guess, you’re now going to rattle off some worthless minor characters in movies where anyone who actually matters is white.

  • Raiden

    Just call it what it is “Tom Cruise Saves The World. . . Again.”

    I like Tom Cruise action movies as much as the next guy, but lately it seems he is just playing the same role over and over again. It’s starting to get a bit stale.