Let’s look at my favorite movie, ever.
Akira is one of the most influential science fiction films ever made. The ways in which this film has inspired others cannot be understated. I remember first watching this as a child (probably too young) and being absolutely enthralled. Directed by the manga creator Katsuhiro Otomo, we end up with the first half of the manga being cut into its own story.
I’m not going to discuss the manga here. It is worth reading though.
What makes Akira so interesting is the numerous plot threads and issues weaved together in a violent and chaotic story. We follow Kaneda, the leader of a biker gang filled with other wayward youth. They’re at war with the Clowns, another gang, and we jump right into this conflict. Kaneda’s friend Tetsuo crashes his bike when he runs into Masaru, an esper who is the victim of intense scientific experimentation. Tetsuo is taken into custody by government officials and now Kaneda must figure out what happened to him.
We also have violent government protests being brutally suppressed by police and military violence. A corrupt and inept government can do little to quell the rising social issues and chaos. Further, liberation groups work to free the test subjects, and seem to be exacerbating the social tensions. All the while Colonel Shikishima worries that the disaster surrounding the Akira incident 31 years earlier may be repeating itself, which would result in a massive nuclear-esque explosion.
Tetsuo’s exposure to Masaru awakens incredible telekinetic powers within the young man. Now, the story answers the question of “what would a troubled and bullied youth do with unlimited power” quite accurately. What follows is a whirlwind of violence that tears the loosened threads of a society completely apart.
The chaos of the narrative makes the film somewhat divisive. Each plot point could be its own story. Otomo takes the approach that more is more in storytelling. I understand where some people see this as a messy movie that doesn’t always make sense. However, the tapestry of issues allows for us to get a complete look at the society.
What I love about this movie is that it seems to be getting more relevant today (at least in America) than it was in 1988. As our own social issues seem to be increasing the images of violent protests and corrupt politicians rings true. Otomo knows people, and his vision showcases a lot of underlying issues in human society. (This is not to say the story is not also uniquely Japanese, which it is, but it is also universal).
The colors and animations are fantastic. The visual spectacle is simply amazing. It is worth looking into how many colors were created (you read that right) for this movie. The sound design is also excellent. I prefer the dubbed 1998 version myself, but the subtitled one is great, too. Everyone has their own favorite.
Another enjoyable aspect is that none of the characters are good people. While we might feel sympathy for Tetsuo, he certainly doesn’t use his powers for the good of the world. Kaneda is more interested in pursuing a young love interest than finding his friend, and everyone else is in it for themselves.
Come see a world of antiheroes and hard answers. Akira is a visual masterpiece that demands multiple viewings and has for years been my favorite film. I can’t recommend it enough.