Jul 15, 2011

[Movies] Akira (1988)

Akira (1988)It's how there seems to be a whole host of movies, TV shows and other such pieces of pop culture history that people assume I've seen. And when I reveal that I haven't, gasps and other expressions of shock and surprise are often heard. While I am a geek, I'm only human and I've only had enough time and exposure to consume so much media. But as a geek, I've also done my best to keep up to date with as much as possible, thus I tend to know a little about most things on the periphery of my geek areas of coverage and a heck of a lot more about those things that I'm passionate about.

Not that I'm averse to getting recommendations of things that are "must-see" in the opinions of others. I could just do without the surprised gasped and implications of judgement of worth that come along with the whole exchange. You should understand what I mean when you think about your own experiences in this regard.

This movie was definitely one of the bigger ticket items on things that everyone assumes I've seen and yet until recently I hadn't. I'm not sure why I ended up waiting this long to watching it. In the past it was really a question of time and finding a copy of the movie. But when I started living with my current partner, that sort of came along with a copy of the movie in his collection. Sweet. And yet it's already been two years of living together and only now did I watch it.

Regardless of the reasons for the delay, I'm glad that I finally got to watch it. Admittedly, it's a pretty awesome movie.

Akira is the 1988 Japanese animated movie adaptation of the manga of the same name. The movie can best be classified as a science fiction piece with rather strong cyberpunk undertones, although not quite precisely that either. Both the movie and the manga were created by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the film.

In an alternative version of 1988, Tokyo is destroyed in a supposed nuclear explosion that leads to World War III. More than 30 years later, Neo-Tokyo is the name of the metropolis that has risen up in its stead. The island city however is plagued by gang violence, corruption and radical insurgents trying to topple the ruling government. Shotaro Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata / Johnny Yong Beosh) leads the Capsules, a small bōsōzoku gang that are currently engaged in a gang war of sorts with their rivals, the Clowns. During one such encounter together with his best friend Tetsuo (Nozomu Sasaki / Joshua Seth), they encounter a strange child with very wizened features.

Alternate coverImage via WikipediaEventually Tetsuo and the child, Takashi (Tatsuhiko Nakamura / Mona Marshall) are rescued with an armed military force intervenes in the conflict. Kaneda and the rest of the gang are taken by the police for questioning while Takashi and Tetsuo are brought to a secret government facility. It turns out that Tetsuo may have special abilities similar to what Takashi and his fellow Espers have, but they still need to be unlocked. Colonel Shikishima (Tarō Ishida / Jamieson Price) agrees to this and Doctor Onishi (Mizuho Suzuki / Simon Prescott) proceeds with the "treatment".

Meanwhile Kaneda and his gang are eventually released together with Kei (Mami Koyama / Wendee Lee), a young woman that Kaneda starts flirting with. Naturally Kaneda wonders about his friend Tetsuo but has no clue as to what has happened to him ever since they had taken him away the night before.

Considering the time period, the movie is quite beautifully animated even when compared to other hand-drawn cartoons of the period. The visual style of the movie is very distinct and it wonderfully captures the dark futuristic tone that is pretty important when it comes to the narrative. I especially liked the level of detail in the animation work as evidenced by the complexity of the vehicles and even the speed lines for vehicles in motion.

The story is definitely beautiful in its complexity - the likes of which reminds me a lot of older science fiction stories and novels. The story at its core may appear simple with themes like how power can corrupt or how human experimentation can so easily go wrong. But at the same time there's a lot more to things that what appears on the surface and thus we explore the nature of a society in such a state of flux, the class struggles and the criminal elements that inevitably come up to work with the system and of course the relationships between individuals and the power that personal history plays in such matters.

The movie is rather lengthy at 125 minutes and the pacing isn't always all about fast action and adrenaline. But given the valuable investment of time and attention, you'll get more than your money's worth in terms of this movie and the kind of emotional impact it leaves. The synopsis that I wrote above hardly accounts for all the plot threads that the movie eventually explores nor does it do justice to the unique visual style that gives the movie such flavor.

Akira is definitely one of the best anime movies I've ever seen and it stands the test of time as a grim look at a possible future given the current progression of human nature. It gets 5 exchanges of Kaneda and Tetsuo shouting each other's names like lovesick gay boys out of a possible 5.

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