Saturday, 31 May 2014

Akira (1988) Film 10 of the Allen and Anime Marathon


Directed by: Katushiro Otomo

Animation, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
124 Minutes
Japan
IMDB INFO

I re-watched this after two years, and I was blown away again. The Blu-ray update looked even better, and the audio was simply brilliant! On a visual level Akira will have your eyes wide open; on a story level it will shatter your mind. The high-speed chases, explosions and characters all make Akira the quintessential Anime classic, showing cyberpunk as the sub-genre it is. Akira proves just what can be done with animation, treating it not as a genre; but a whole different level of film.


This is based on the manga of the same name that ran from 1982 to 1990 by Katushiro Otomo: also the director of this film. What we can see from this is how the medium of both film and animation are used to take storytelling to a different level both visually and orally. Akira is one of the most influential anime films of all time. Critics cite it as an influence on films like The Matrix (1999), and the recent film Chronicle (2012) has been called “The American Akira”. I had not thought of it before, but that makes sense- a troubled teenager who gains superpower. Josh Trank, the director of Chronicle told to an interviewer that the film was “a big influence” on the film.

It also has a role in the history of the Sci-Fi Genre, and when we look at it now you can see how works all influence each other. The future-set city in Akira is reminiscent of Blade Runner (1982), which was influenced by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). Akira shows its influences for sure, but it definitely generates a new universe of its own. 


Neo-Tokyo in Akira in comparison with Metropolis below.
The City in Metropolis (1927)
Set in 2019; 31 years after an explosion in World War III, the story focuses on a motorcycle gang in Neo-Tokyo. Two member of the gang are best friends: Tetsuo and Kaneda. One evening during a chase with a rival gang, Tetsuo almost crashes into a young boy, who we discover is an Esper- one of the three secret experiments that appear as children in size, but are much older. They each have supernatural abilities. Tetsuo ends up being kidnapped for experimentation, and we soon discover the powers Tetsuo also has inside of him. From here, Kaneda amongst the other gang members, are trying to figure out what is going on and get Kaneda back.

The plot and location are brilliant, and the highest respects go to Otomo for creating such a universe. Neo-Tokyo is a world of violence, drug use and shows itself as an anti-Government, anti-war and anti-violence story looking at a dystopian post-apocalyptic future. It is interesting to note that we are approaching 2019: I would love to see this film get a cinema release for that date.

One of the best things about Akira is its flat-out pace, capturing your attention for every second. At times we get moments of surrealism in the dream sequences, and then we have the extremely well-animated action sequences such as the open motorcycle scenes. It has all the kinetic energy of a live-action action movie, but so much more.

In terms of Sci-Fi/Fantasy this is one of the best films ever made. Extending beyond the city, the story is also looking at a friendship; between Tetsuo and Kaneda. Through some flashbacks we learn more about their relationship, and we learn Tetsuo has had trouble fitting in in the past, having previously been bullied. That is why when he gets the power, we can see what drives him to using it with such force. “From now on, I’ll be in charge of the heroics” he says to Kaneda. He feels he has been bossed around all his life, and now it is his turn to take some control. Many people can relate to that concept that is similar to wimp-turned-super. While we don’t want to cause major destruction to cities and buildings, there are times when we feel those who try to bully or dominate us, should just get a real kick in the ass.

However, the most fascinating thing in the film is the titular character, and the three Espers. We learn about who this Akira is as the story unfolds, and it has made me very interested in reading the manga. The powers they hold are almost overwhelming, which seems to fit the theme of Anti-War and the dangers of uncontrolled power.

The manga had 6 volumes (with over 2000 pages), and the plot sometimes feels like there is a lot being left out, making this film very enigmatic. It is a perplexing story, and there is so much going on. I look forward to checking out the mango sometime. Overall, Akira after a second viewing sits proudly amongst my favourite films, and is truly a landmark in Japanese animation. The last 20 minutes are unforgettable and completely wild; watching Akira is a gaudy experience visually and aurally. 


10/10

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