Thirty years after World War III in Neo-Tokyo, Kaneda and Tetsuo, two members of a biker gang, find themselves wrapped up in a rebellion and a secret military project which is attempting to bring back a powerful Godlike being called Akira. After an accident involving one of the test subjects, Tetsuo is taken by the military and experimented upon.
Akira is a landmark in animated films and Japanese animation. Itself and Ghost in the Shell are widely regarded as classics in their genre and helped to popularise the anime form in western countries. They have been deeply influential, inspiring filmmakers such as James Cameron and films like The Matrix. Their presence is still felt today. Ghost in the Shell, which itself has several television series and films to its name, has been adapted in to a live-action film, notoriously starring Scarlett Johansson, which is to be released next year. A live-action adaptation of Akira has been mooted for several years now, with Leonardo DiCaprio’s production house attempting to make the film. It has had directors attached and then lost, and has struggled to get very far in a murky development hell. It’s not difficult to see why it is such a problem. The 1988 film, adapted by Katsuhiro Ôtomo from his own six-volume manga, is so intrinsically linked to its form that it is difficult to see how it would transfer in to live-action. Akira is a gorgeous film, rendered in beautiful detail through hand drawn animation. Neo-Tokyo, reminiscent of the dystopian Los Angeles in Blade Runner, is full of vibrant neon colours and ground level grime. Its Ôtomo’s eye for detail and visual acuity, honed through his work on comics, though that really sets it apart and puts Akira in another level. The soundtrack by Shôji Yamashiro is one of cinemas most underrated and overlooked, with its complex layering of instruments and voices that adds to the tone and feeling of the film.
Akira feeds off of Japan’s history with the destruction from the atomic bomb, and Akira and Tetsuo both have powers that reflect its city-levelling destruction. Woven in to this are government conspiracies and power struggles and a disaffected youth and population, with several revolutionary and religious groups, who are barely held back by the violent hand of the army. But, within it all, the film never loses sight of its main thrust, the friendship and struggles of two friends: Tetsuo and Kaneda, and it is their bond and arc that is the heart of Akira.
A classic of the animated form, Akira should be seen by all film fans.
Special Features: Three featurettes / Akira sound clip / / Director interview / Storyboard collection / Original trailers / U.S. 2013 Trailer / Original commercials / Glossary / Art cards / Bonus DVD
AKIRA: THE COLLECTOR’S EDITION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: KATSUHIRO OTOMO / SCREENPLAY: IZO HASHIMOTO, KATSUHIRO OTOMO / STARRING: MITSUO IWATA, NOZUMU SASAKI, MAMI KOYAMA, TESSHO GENDA, HIROSHI OTAKE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW