Akira (Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo, Japan, 1988): Ok, I know I’m not going to be able to do this film justice. It’s tough when you put something into the DVD player at 10:00pm. Sometimes a long movie just feels longer when it’s after midnight and you’re lying horizontally on the couch. Like many Japanese anime, Akira was based on a longer manga series, which may explain why there seemed to be a lot of plot jumps that force you to fill things in on your own. When the film was released in 1988, the animation was considered cutting-edge, and although there has been a lot of innovation in the almost twenty years since, the film’s visuals still have the ability to amaze.
Set in 2019, more than thirty years after World War III has destroyed the old city of Tokyo, the film tells a complicated story of a secret government project designed to develop powerful psychic powers in children. When Tetsuo, a young member of a biker gang, stumbles across one of the escaped children, he is abducted by shadowy military forces and subjected to experiments which unleash his latent psychic powers. His friend Kaneda becomes involved when he tries to rescue Tetsuo and by the end of the film’s 124 minutes, there is a lot of carnage and general mayhem.
I’ll have to admit that I found the plot confusing, and the film overlong. In general, I’ve found anime’s plots fairly predictable (while at the same time maddeningly vague), and Akira may have set the standard. Having recently reviewed Paprika, though, I found that a few of Akira’s scenes were just as spectacular, and I suspect that most anime have borrowed from Akira in some way or another over the years. For a film that’s almost twenty years old, the animation still feels fresh and in a world of CGI and twenty years of copycat films, that’s quite an accomplishment.
I know this film has a lot of dedicated fans, so I’m hoping some of you will chime in with some insights in the comments.