MOVIES EVERYBODY SHOULD SEE – AKIRA
Once a week here at TWBT we will be discussing a movie we agree everyone should see at some point in their lives. For the most part we will try to avoid the really obvious choices (The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Die Hard, etc) as their reputations are such that if you are at all interested in film you’ll already have seen them, or you will be aware you probably should. In certain cases an obvious classic may be discussed if we think we have something new to say, or just really want to talk about it, but by and large we are looking at films the casual film fan may not have seen. This list will run the gamut as we’ll be looking at older films, foreign films, genre films, cult films, exploring the whole diverse world of the movies.
This weeks entry is…
Anime (a sub-section of animation that primarily comes from Japan) has a reputation for being a little… dodgy. You start a conversation with somebody who doesn’t know a great deal about it and it will not be long until they ask “is that the cartoon tentacle porn stuff?”. This reputation, coupled with the fact that westerners consider animation as primarily for children, is largely responsible for why mainstream western audiences tend to stay away from it.
One of the purposes of these articles is to get us looking at important films we perhaps otherwise wouldn’t, and there are definitely a few anime movies that fit that bill, most notably being the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli (some of which will get articles in the future), and Katushiro Otomo’s Akira.
The plot, at its most basic, revolves around two teenage boys, Kaneda and Tetsuo, who have been friends since early childhood. Kaneda is now the leader of a motorcycle gang, and during a fight with a rival gang Tetsuo comes into contact with a strange child with unusual abilities. This encounter leaves Tetsuo with powers that allow him to psychically contact a hidden messianic figure known only as Akira, putting the entire city of Neo-Tokyo at risk.
There is a lot more to the plot than that, involving political activists, corrupt politicians, and a high ranking military official who seems to hold all the answers. It is a densely plotted piece of work, which isn’t surprising as it is based on a manga (Japanese comic book) that spans over two thousand pages. The downside to the source material being so vast is that the film cannot possibly cover everything, and this becomes noticeable in the second half as plot points get rushed through and things get increasingly hard to follow. When Akira finishes I’m often left with the feeling that there is something I’m missing, one last piece of the puzzle. But the world of Neo-Tokyo is so rich and vibrant, so full of detail and life that I want to head back in there and root around for the answers.
That is why Akira is a must see. The amount of detail in this world is staggering, even more so when you consider computers were hardly used in the making of this movie. The sheer level of artistry is unbelievable. Pause the film at any moment and whatever still image you land on deserves to be hung in an art gallery. The city of Neo-Tokyo is influenced by everything from Blade Runner (the neon lit cityscapes, and omnipresent corporations) and Metropolis, to The Road Warrior (the vehicular warfare), and has in turn gone on to influence countless filmmakers itself. Every street is imagined down to the minutiae, from what hangs in a store front to the patches stitched onto the jacket of a rioter. It is beautiful, and visually on par with any animated film I can think of. This is one of those films where the Blu-ray is a must.
This attention isn’t just reserved to the design of the city, but is employed in every area of the film, including the fantastic set pieces. The opening bike chase is glorious and filled with enriching flourishes, such as the neon tails of light trailing the bikes. Tetsuo’s “awakening” as he becomes fully aware of his powers is both thrilling and horrifying as Tetsuo is haunted by creatures that are pieced together from children’s toys that bleed milk. In the break out sequence you can see the influence this film has had in works such as The Matrix, Metal Gear Solid, and Chronicle. The final battle, which has to be seen to be believed, is truly the stuff of nightmares. What’s on screen is disgusting but the work involved in creating it is exquisite.
Akira is dense in detail and in theme. It is both huge and tiny. A sprawling cyber-punk epic that at its heart is about the friendship between two boys. It asks big questions about our future and the dangers of self-imposed evolution, whilst reminding us of the past of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is a towering piece of work and deserves its place alongside the other greats of sci-fi.
Further Viewing – If you like Akira you should check out…
Ghost in the Shell. The other big for “grown ups” anime movie. Set in the near future, a group of anti-terrorist police lead by a cool cyborg lady hunt down a lunatic hacker bent on shaping the world to his whim.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Basically the end of Akira, as Tetsuo starts to fuse with the metal around him, but live action and stretched out for a whole movie. A metal fetishist enjoys shoving metal into self inflicted wounds on his body. He is involved in a hit and run accident and left for dead, but he gets his revenge as he forces the driver’s body to violently fuse with scrap metal. It is super weird and super gross. It’ll stay with you for a while.
Chronicle. Another film about a kid that gets powers and then becomes a bit of a dick. Despite featuring a number of scenes that are pretty derivative of Akira and the Superhero genre as a whole, Chronicle still manages to feel fresh. The cast of young actors are all great and the found footage gimmick works surprisingly well.