Akira: 7 reasons why you should watch this film

Director: Katsuhiro Ohtomo
Starring: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki and Mami Koyama
Released: 1988

For anyone who has heard of Akira at all, it is highly likely that they have heard the common declaration of the film. That it is the greatest anime film of all time, that it is one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time, that without it, we wouldn’t have films like The Matrix.
It’s a difficult opinion to argue with. This is film-making and animation of the highest quality, simultaneously enjoyable and thought-provoking. It deserves its high ranking. But what we aim to examine here are the reasons why.

The plot:
Based on the manga of the same name, Akira opens with a focus on the Capsules, a motorbike gang on the streets of Neo Tokyo in the year 2019. Tetsuo, one of the gang members, is in a motorcycle accident early on and hospitalized. While his friend Kaneda attempts to reunite with him, Tetsuo is subjected to the kind of experimentation that resulted in Tokyo’s devastating destruction 31 years prior.

So, why exactly is Akira a film that needs to be seen? Well…

1. It’s not just fanboy material.

A lot of anime films (that aren’t from Studio Ghibli) have a reputation of being somewhat alienating. They tend to feature many aspects of Japanese culture that would be unknown to all but those who revel in it. There is also the assumption (not entirely inaccurate) that many animes have an abundance of red herrings. Action sequences are very over-the-top and, while visually impressive, can seem detached from the central narrative.

Akira breaks away from that trend by being a functional standalone film, and not just another addition to the fanboy library. It never disobeys the rules of the world that it creates. Action scenes happen for a reason, and are infused with an appropriate degree of emotion. And while the film has its own unique style, one that had certainly never been seen in the likes of Hollywood before 1988, it doesn’t feel exclusive to Eastern audiences. It has enough elements to openly hook Western audiences, especially lovers of 80s sci-fi.

2…but it’s still totally fanboy material!

As inviting a film Akira is to watch for Western audiences, there is still a great deal of traditionally Japanese elements present which make it an ideal film for fans of anime and manga. The bike gangs are an example of the bōsōzoku subculture of Japan, which literally means ‘violent running tribe’. The dystopian location of Neo Tokyo has a strong cyberpunk resonance running through it and the governments actions and experiments are expressive of Japans post-war economic revival. As well of all of this, there is also the action scenes at the end of the film. Although they would be spoiled if described here, they possess a  quintessentially Japanese caliber.

3. It’s bigger than all of us.

Akira does more than tell a story, it examines a vast array of themes that are both timeless and though provoking. Almost any major theme in life can be attributed to it in some way and Akira makes some form of commentary. Evolution, the notion of power, creationism, and the Prometheus myth are just some of the more obvious examples. However, there are other strong themes that are also present, though are often glossed over by the overwhelming primary message.

The bike gangs and treatment of teenagers say a lot about youth culture in Japan, and also the notion of rebellion. Government conspiracy naturally gets its foot in the door and there is even a passing commentary on religious cults and how close they may be to organized religions. The film is phenomenal in it’s ability to be adjusted and fitted to any number of relevant themes.

4. It is a masterpiece in modern storytelling.

While Akira boasts incredible originality and some truly thought provoking themes, these would be of no benefit if it were not a well told story. The film sets the scene fantastically, opening with silent footage of Tokyo being destroyed in 1988. Fast forward 31 years and we see how Neo Tokyo has ‘recovered’, being a semblance of Tokyo’s former glory, but with streets infested with delinquents. The soundtrack also deserves a mention for being particularly atmospheric.

The story is well paced and it is significant that we see the majority of it through the eyes of the young Kaneda. It gives the film an excuse to reveal the bigger picture at a slower rate, easing the audience in gradually. The characters are also wonderfully atypical, eschewing any kind of movie stereotype. Kaneda spends a lot of time chasing girls, Tetsuo is constantly ambiguous in terms of morality. A particular revelation, however, is the Colonel Shikishima. Bearing all the mannerisms of the cruel and unforgiving army man, he is actually a surprisingly deep character, not easily painted in black or white.

5. The film has a legacy bigger than Megan Fox’s ego.

A lot of films and video games since 1988 have borrowed aspects of Akira, the most recent example being this year’s Chronicle, directed by Josh Trank. The Matrix borrows heavily from the entire story, but one scene, in which Neo encounters children with psychic powers is particularly reminiscent. Hell, even South Park made a spoof of Akira in the episode ‘Trapper Keeper’.

6. It looks better than it has any right to.

There are any number of awe inspiring scenes in Akira, the shots that take place over the cyberpunk city not excluded. But what is equally impressive, and probably will only be noted when actually looking out for it, is the level of detail that the animators put into every aspect of the film. Huge arenas and cave like facilities boast truly impressive detail and stellar design. Characters are genuinely expressive. And something is always happening on screen, which goes to show that the artists and animators were pushed to their very limit. And probably the most creative and notable of all of their achievements would be…

7…That Ending.

Undoubtedly the most impressive part of the film, the Ending is a triumph in every possible respect. It manages to trump all the action and drama that has come before it, a particularly impressive achievement. It packs a hell of a punch, causing the film to transcend a simple narrative and to become the commentary on philosophies that it is hailed for. And the way in which the final scenes are depicted, with sheer incredible creativity, goes beyond the phenomenal!

And it goes even further than all of these beneficial traits. Because of the quality of the final scenes, it tends to (briefly) make the audience question whether the film itself doesn’t simply rely on this stellar final act. This, in turn, will cause them to think back on the scenes which take place prior to the ending and reflect on them. Not only does this serve as a way to take in the full meaning of the film, but also sheds light on how well crafted the film is from beginning to end.

Well, there’s no surprises here anyway, that’s for sure. Akira is a film that has the ability to transcend it’s considerable reputation. You will have heard any number of stories about how incredible it is, but it is only when you experience Akira for yourself can you really appreciate it. To describe it in a word: Stunning.

Rating: 10/10

I am…Tetsuo” – Tetsuo

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • This was one of the first Japanese anime films to be recorded before it was animated.
  • At the time of release, Akira was the most expensive anime to ever be produced, a record which is now held by 2004’s Steamboy. It also had a record amount of shots and pictures that were almost 3 times the normal amount in anime films.
  • At the time of writing, the live action remake of Akira has been scrapped for the fourth time due to costs estimated at $900,000,000. Just as well, considering the travesty that was Dragonball: Evolution. Any film that tries to sell itself as ‘The kid’s Matrix’ doesn’t deserve a place in this universe.
  • Watching this film completely reinforced a notion myself and some friends have about liking obscure material. My very first thought after seeing this film was ‘I wish this wasn’t so well known so I could tell people about it’.
    I felt a similar displeasure when I noticed a sudden popularity in The Nightmare Before Christmas in the late 90s.

This film is kind of like:

  • A smack in the face


  • A fun way to contemplate your existence, with motorbikes
Published in: on April 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I saw it in Sub, but I’m going to have to watch it again in dub.

    I can’t express how badly I wish other people hadn’t heard of this film, so that I could tell them about it.

  2. Some other things you might like, There are around 50 different shades of grey used in the colouring of Neo Tokyo and 327 colours in total were used in the movie. Kanye West’s music video “Stronger” was inspired by Akira. The date for the first coming of Akira is the same release date for the originally release in Japan.

    I am happy you liked it, which did you watch it in the sub or the Dub?

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