Akira, by Alexandra Ferguson

Akira (1988)
Certificate – 15
Director – Katsuhiro Ohtomo
Cast – Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama and Mitsuo Iwata

If you think animated films are just predictable children’s fantasies, either stop reading now or be prepared to accept your opinion is flawed.
Western cinema has previously presented drawn animation as children’s media. Dominated under a Disney dictatorship, the animated film has thrived on colour, song and a fairytale structure without venturing too close to adult themes.
It’s strange then that in Japanese culture, the animated film is the complete opposite. Thanks to the powerful culture of Manga (Japanese style comic books); audiences in Japan have always been excited by the never-ending possibilities of pictures drawn by hand.

The natural transformation of Manga to animation has treated Japanese film-goers to a plethora of mainstream animation which is aimed at mature audiences. These animations have dealt with sex, violence, politics and cultural difficulties in the same way as any live-action film. In Japan, animation is the highest art form and gives the artist a blank canvas on which to create every stroke of his vision.
Katsuhiro Ohtomo’s Akira is possibly the most influential and highly regarded anime film to cross over to Western cinemas. Originally released in the UK in 1991, the film was unlike anything audiences had ever seen and carved itself a place among the giants of the science fiction genre.
Akira (2)
Set after the devastation of World War III in the year 2019, Akria is the story of a biker gang called The Capsuals. Led by teenager, Kaneda (Iwata) the gang spend their evenings riding their bikes through the devastated streets in the bowls of Neo-Tokyo and engineering encounters with rival gang, The Clowns. When Kaneda’s friend Tetsuo (Sasaki) runs into a strange looking child one night on the road, he unwilling finds himself captured and placed under a secret Government project known as ‘Akira’. As Kaneda sets out to find his friend, Tetsuo uncovers his own set of supernatural abilities, and begins a path of destruction to rival the war which previously destroyed Tokyo as we know it today.

Though the film’s plot is like navigating Skyrim without a map, Ohmoto and Hashimoto discuss devastation, reckless youth, political power and friendship all whilst expressing a specific focus in visual style. Akira’s story tackles many themes which have become synonymous with Japanese anime, particularly the relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo. Tetsuo’s admiration of Kaneda manifests itself in a way which damages himself and those around him, and despite his protests it is Kaneda who risks everything to save his closest friend.
The bonds Kaneda makes along the way are all a comradery created to stand up against the regime forced upon them.

It is not only the insane plot which sticks with you long after watching Akira, but even more so the unforgettable style. For a country spoon-fed Disney animation, the arrival of Akira was like the very first sports car.

The vision of Neo-Tokyo is as impressive as Ridley Scott’s vision of a steampunk city in Blade Runner (1982). Colours pop, lights flash, shadows fall and explosions boom. Combined with a powerfully emotive soundtrack, Akira is an action movie on a scale like no other.

Bizarrely, Hollywood is currently in the process of recruiting for a remake of Akira as a live-action, English-language spectacle. A remake has been rumoured since its initial release, though it is only in recent years that remaking outstanding ‘foreign’ films for Hollywood profit has really taken off.

What makes Akira such a special film is Ohmoto’s vision and the wealth of talent who painstakingly drew the entire 124 minutes of footage. Animation provides a limitless resource for creativity and exploration, and so the concept of transferring this to live-action is a difficult one to accept. Though almost anything can be achieved with computer technology these days, for those of us who have been blown away by the original film, watching it play out in a computer generated costume will be like eating a microwavable roast dinner – it’s progress but defeats the object of the original idea.

Akira has gone on to influence some of the biggest action films of this generation, including The Matrix (1999). It has also been a doorway to a universe of Japanese anime, as well as proof that animation can be as serious an art form as any other. I recommend you see the original film before it is soiled by Hollywood greed and Zac Effron.