Japanese sci-fi epic Akira (1988), adapted by Katsuhiro Otomo from his cyberpunk manga, is generally credited with launching a wave of interest in anime overseas. Its story elements are familiar from live-action movies, though not blended together as they are here: biker gangs, lab-experimentation, psychic children, mutants breaking free of their government captors' bonds and running riot, and impending apocalypse.
It's the moments that can only be captured as animation that make Akira still worth watching: gusts of wind from chopper blades, ground shattering in blocks, ka-tooming bursts of fiery explosions, the strobes, lights, and neon of Neo-Tokyo in 2019, even the rush and squeal of racing motorcycles. And there are the visions of Tetsuo (a biker whose psychic abilities explode after military testing until he threatens to awake the mysterious Akira). Only animation can chill and thrill with fantastic images of melting stuffed animals streaming milk, or a wall crumbling into Lego pieces, or intestines tumbling out as the ground opens up.
The radioactive awe and fear of nuclear power, crackling from the metaphor of Akira, holder of “ultimate energy” (a kind of spiritual and biological energy built up over eons), suffuses this Japanese dystopia. Arrogance only mutates the problem, as cocky Tetsuo's reckless power sprouts, veins, and sprawls into a horrifying mass of destruction. It's a nightmare that casts a darker shadow after this year's Fukushima meltdown.
Still, the movie lapses into prolonged battle sequences and the story's more sophisticated than the characters: guys jeer, yell, and fight while girls are often insulted or brutalized. The story's own sprawl can't be entirely contained. And the particularly Japanese fascination with technology, data, scientific readouts, and computer processes becomes a bit tedious. But the climax, a cataclysmic collision of birth and death, remains awfully fantastic.
Flash-forward 23 years, to an era of comic-book flicks for fanboys, when Hollywood continues to profit from making comic-books brutally, blatantly literal. Little surprise, then, that plans are in the works for an American live-action version of Akira. But it won't be able to reimagine the moments in the original that are so explosively anime.
Tue, Dec 20 (9:15 pm)
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Originally released: 1988