Akira (1988)

Directed and written by Katsuhiro Ohtomo based on his graphic novel. Also written by Izô Hashimoto
(number 440)

I remember first seeing this with my first boyfriend Scott, who adored this movie and opened my eyes to what anime really was. A few years ago me and Sally went to see a show in the festival of the arts about Osamu Tezuka which pointed out something really obvious to me – a huge percentage of Japanese movies are in some way about the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Akira starts with a huge atomic explosion in the middle of Tokyo. It’s followed up immediately by the character introductions – which are peppered with ultra violence and quickly demonstrate the dystopian post apocalyptic world that this movie is so famous for.

It’s a pretty 80s style future as well, lots of bright strange patterns and bright neon everything –

The plot is pretty simple – a bike gang of thuggish teens gets accidentally involved in a secret government project involving human enhancement and psychic powers. Then destruction happens. The lead Keneda is your classic too cool for school leading dude, who gets entranced with a girl. His bright red high tech bike is almost as much a character as he is.

The music is essential to the movie and the plot, being totally matched to the images as well as the plot points that it matches to. It’s an excellent example of how a soundtrack can enhance the movie experience. It’s all pretty experimental music as well, rather than lyrical.

The kids of the Akira project are deeply creepy. Simultaneously small children and withered old men and woman.. the sequence where they visit Tetsuo in his bed as toys… it’s all nightmare fuel. Then later on we get Tetsuo’s body horror and it becomes high octane nightmare fuel. Of course by the time he backs down enough to ask for help it’s far too late. He’s been caught up in his own ego and desire to prove himself to Keneda. It’s the atomic bomb meltdown of the human body, with all the disgusting biology implied by that image. Tetsuo’s ego and need to prove himself triggers a huge, destructive meltdown where he is reborn in the flash of ultimate destruction.

It’s deep, yo!

As with many films, the ultimate message is one of sacrifice for the greatest good. Ultimately the espers (weird psychic little kids) choose to go into the ball of light Akira made to save Keneda – only this sacrifice doesn’t stop the white light from exploding and destroying much of neo Tokyo – the implication is that this is a good thing. This piece of mass destruction is cleansing and allows the sun to come through the clouds, something we haven’t really seen in the movie before. Akira and Tetsuo have achieved transcendence, they no longer need a physical body, and Kei has developed psychic powers seemingly without being operated on, and it’s her voice which gives Keneda direction.

Does it make me love the people? Yeah. Although it’s difficult to immediately connect with characters with no respect for the law or society, somehow you do empathise and love them anyway.

Bechdel test: Hrm. It’s tricky. Kyoko and Kei interact when Kyoko possesses Kai and speaks through her, but I don’t think you can count that as a conversation that they have. I don’t believe it passes, but it sort of feels like it’s off to the side of almost passing.

Best line:

Tetsuo: Why do you always have to come and save me?

Kaneda: Now you’re king of the mountain, but it’s all garbage!

State of Mind: Impressed and disturbed. I want to go back to Japan!

Watched movie count


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