Flashback: Akira (Film)

Show: Akira— Genre: Action, Adventure — Movie

Animated movies are already treated as a curiosity to American audiences, treated typically as only fare for children that has no place in serious cinema. This unfortunate view has left many animated works without the respect they deserve, and has led to a famine in the field of animated films for adult audiences. Sure, anomalies like Heavy Metal and Fantasia exist, and in recent years, quality animated films for children are getting more and more prestige amongst young adults, but the stigma still exists.

And then a movie like Akira comes along.

Imagine being there in 1989 when this movie hit American theaters. Though American audiences had gotten a taste of gritty science fiction with movies like Terminator or Blade Runner, none get quite as heavy at the time as Akira did.

But let’s backpedal for those who haven’t seen it. Akira is a 1988 Japanese animated film based off the manga by Katsuhiro Otomo (the movie was also created by him). Taking place 30 years in the future (from 1988 anyway), Neo Tokyo is a dark, pessimistic shithole of a city, practically the epitome of a cyberpunk world. A motorcycle punk named Tetsuo runs into an escaped patient of secret government experiments, a sickly looking child with psychic powers. Tetsuo is hauled in and scientists find out he’s got incredible psychic potential (likely from the interaction with the child), and they decide to turn him into a guinea pig. Tetsuo’s a messed up kid even going beyond the new psychic powers, and without giving away all of the movie, he busts out of the labs and goes on a rampage. While all this is happening, one of Tetsuo’s friends from the motorcycle gang, Kaneda, learns about Tetsuo’s abduction, and goes after him.

In between all of the above are government conspiracies, mad science, unknown phenomena and a whole lot of cyberpunk. The movie’s plot is deep and confusing at best, though that may be intentional. It’s hard to follow, but at the same time, the world itself is mesmerizing. This is a world just gone to hell; nobody is happy, and everything is either miserable and dull or violent and cruel. It’s a world where nobody, even the people on top, are fulfilled.

The two aspects of the movie that make it stand the test of time are the animation and the sheer ambition of the film. What do I mean by ambition? I mean the movie makes the subject material epic, and it takes itself seriously. The animation is literally breathtaking at points, being incredibly fluid and incredibly violent. The movie revels in the sheer spectacle it creates, and with good cause. The final scenes are among some of the most disturbing and yet profoundly memorable moments in film history. If I were cataloguing my favorite scenes purely on their own merits, then this scene is right up there on the list with the ending scenes of Pulp Fiction or Life of Brian.

Does Akira stack up for modern viewers? While I think the plot and dialogue (though that may have just been the english dub) is a bit lacking, the sheer size and spectacle, along with the fantastic animation, are what keeps makes Akira a classic. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but Akira is unlike any movie you’ve ever seen, and it’s one of those rare movies that I’d say to check out purely for the experience.

Derek Delago is a UF student who is also an anime club officer. He loves anime, video games and rock.