Friday, November 13, 2009

REVIEW: Akira


アキラ (Akira)

Released: 1988

Director:
Katsuhiro Otomo

Starring (voice talent):
Mitsuo Iwata
Nozomu Sasaki

Mami Koyama
Tessho Genda
Hiroshi Otake

Running time: 124 min.


Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff


Nostalgia can be a funny thing. It can bring emotions of old rushing back, filling your mind with joyous visions. It can also blur your objectivity. This happens a lot to me when I watch films from my informative years. In the summer after grade 9, I visited a friend who’d moved away. He spent his summers with his dad, who had satellite TV, and would come back with VHS cassettes of a variety of movies he’d taped. That fateful summer he told me about the most amazing animated film he’d watched. There were teenage biker gangs, and psychic powers and nuclear explosions and it’s really bloody and kind of sad. "Akira" was that film, and it blew my mind. It opened my eyes in so many different ways. Not only on a visual level, but also psychologically and to some degree, spiritually. Will it be easy reviewing this film objectively? Probably not.

Neo-Tokyo, 2019. The city is built on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay . 31 years earlier, what seemed to be an atomic blast destroyed the city, starting what would become World War Three. Neo-Tokyo is on the verge of collapse. The powers that be are losing control. The bureaucrats, corrupt and power hungry, are too busy waging war with one another. Anti-government protestors march the streets, rioting frequently. Shamanistic groups chant and pray to some being named Akira, that or may not have been tied to the explosion 31 years ago. And biker gangs roam the streets, battling one another over territory control. Some of these gangs are made up of impressionable teenage boys. The Capsules, a gang lead by Shotaro Kaneda, clashes with their rivals, The Clowns. During their battle on the abandoned highways of the old city, Tetsuo Shima, Kaneda’s best friend, crashes into a strange looking boy with blue skin. Quickly whisked away by the military, Kaneda and the rest of the gang are arrested by the police. During their time at the station, Kaneda meets Kei, a cute, yet mysterious teenage girl. She seems to be working for a terrorist resistance group. While Kaneda becomes embroiled in bringing down the corrupt government, Tetsuo begins to develop strange, psychic powers. And as he grows in power, so does his ego, and his lack of self control.

Katsuhiro Otomo made the film while he was still in the process of writing the manga, so one of the beautiful things about it is that it’s a different interpretation by the artist of the same work. Katsuhiro Otomo was able to filter all the ideas down to their purest form, so that he ended up creating a film that is so incredibly dense, it damn well deserves the catharsis that comes during the climax at the Olympic stadium. The visual style matches that of the groundbreaking manga, and the images are bursting with detail. Will this review be objective? Somewhat. Even watching it now, for 2-D animated standards, "Akira" still holds up. It looks great, especially for a film made 21 years ago. And a lot of that is due to the detail that Katsuhiro Otomo brought to it. It was one of the first films of its kind to bring anime to that level, and that quickly become the norm. It was the first anime to feature lip synched dialogue. It set records in Japan. Can that many Japanese people be wrong? Probably not. It’s great on so many levels. Great visuals. Yes. Involving and original story. Yes. Psychic powers. Yes. Political, philosophical and spiritual thematic elements and undertones. Yes. Amazing sound track. Hell yes, good enough to be released on CD in North America. The soundtrack feels so organic, and resonates so much with the thematic elements involved; it seems to reverberate with the images on screen, shaking your soul. If anything bothers me about this film, it’s that the new Pioneer dub, while more accurate, doesn’t sound nearly as great as the old Streamline one. But that could be nostalgia talking.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog. 

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