· Cinephilia · 6 min read

Movie Review – Akira(1988)

· Akira Review

Akira is a quintessential cyberpunk movie. What is cyberpunk? It is this cool subgenre of Science Fiction which is characterized by a post-apocalyptic dystopian society and advanced technology. Common cyberpunk themes often deal with the role of advanced technology like artificial intelligence in human lives, the moral and philosophical issues they raise. It often raises the question – “What does it mean to be human?”. Many films adopt a film-noir style and have a dark, skeptical tone. Its protagonists are generally fringe elements of the society.

The opening scene of the movie shows a huge explosion, which engulfs and destroys all of Tokyo. The sound of the explosion is not heard, just the ghostly, howling winds in its aftermath which is kind of unsettling and sets the dark tone for the entire movie. This event happens in 1988 which marks the starting of the World War III. The actual movie takes place in a new and rebuilt Neo Tokyo, 31 years after the Third World War, in 2019.

Neo Tokyo is a technologically advanced and massively urbanized city with awe inspiring huge skyscrapers stacked one on top of each other, glowing neon lights and advertisements everywhere. Most of the scenes in the movie show highly advanced technology even in the meanest things. Then, there are also parts of the city which are in ruins. There are damaged, dilapidated buildings, which are in dire state of repair everywhere. The streets are full of junk and discarded items, walls are riddled with graffiti and posters.

The society of Neo Tokyo is unstable and decadant. There is a lot of political unrest in the city. Citizens rebel and riot frequently against the imperialist political regime, causing lots of destruction of life and property. The rebellions are brutally and mercilessly crushed by the police. People can be seen in mass gatherings shouting, raising slogan, waving flags, burning up cars and fighting the police. Another noticeable facet of the society is the ubiquity of surveillance. There seem to be lights everywhere searching for people. Perhaps the eye like lights from helicopters searching for a kid in the dark, following his actions is a metaphor for mass surveillance.

The main characters of the movie are teenagers who race around the city on their bikes in a gang and frequently clash with other such gangs. They hang out in a shady bar which is frequented by other transgressors of the law induging in illicit activities. A scene shows their school as the opposite of the bustling instituion of fun and learning that they generally are. Everything in the school from walls, corridors and furniture to the students is dirty. The students are undisciplined and not treated properly. On the contrary, the high society of the city an also be seen roaming around in huge malls and restraunts.

There is a lot more happening in the movie to be able to grasp in a single watch. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, it is a 2-hour movie made out of a 6 volume manga. The story follows three main group of characters - Kaneda and Tetsuo, Colonel Shikishima and Doctor Onishi, and the rebels - Ryu and Kei. Kaneda and Tetsuo are childhood friends and member of the same motorcycle gang, whose leader is Kaneda. During an accident, Tetsuo comes in contact with Takashi, a psychic child in care of the government, and himself gains psychokinetic powers. Tetsuo is captured by the army and hospitalized where he is closely monitored by Doctor Onishi. He starts suffering from psychic migranes and has visions of mysterious being called Akira. It all starts going wrong from there. Bossed around his entire life, for the first time Tetsuo feels powerful, starts resenting Kaneda, becomes arrogant and starts misusing his powers. He comes to know about the whereabouts of Akira from one of the other psychic children under government care and starts on a mission to confront him, destroying the city in the process. Meanwhile, the rebels plot down the fall of the corrupt government, the government, Colonel Shikishima tries to prevent the destruction of the city on the hands of Tetsuo and Doctor Onishi is studies development of power in Tetsuo.

The movie is action packed and entertaining with many high speed bike chases throughout. Lots of destruction is shown as Tetsuo destroys bridges, stadiums and other building throughout the city. For the entirety of the movie, the mysterious being Akira is left unexplained. He is so mysterious that there is a growing religious cult that proclaim him as their God. This ironic incident has the potential of exposing the relationship between technology and religion in a hi-tech, yet crumbling society. Also left unexplained are the psychic powers of the three children under government care. Time delved on the rebels is too less to build any comprehensible story out of it. Character development is also lacking in many of the major character like Kei as they get very less screen time. Since the manga was too long for a 2 hour movie, most of the subplots have been cut so short, it is hard to understand them. Even though the emotional depth of the characcter is overshadowed by the depth of the dystopian world built by the director Katsuhiro Otomo, it would be hard to criticize the movie on its shallow characters as it leaves the audience spellbound with its sheer intensity in every frame.

One notable feature of the movie is its distinct soundtrack which is very different from other typical anime movies of the time. The ominous drum beats that build up anticipation, the bell chimes mixed with chants during the high speed bike chases, the explosive electronic music during the high-adrenaline fight sequences are very apt for the scenes. The animation of the movie is nothing short of exceptional. It is extremely detailed and rich. Some novel techniques were used in the animating the movie. According to Wikipedia -

Most anime was notorious for cutting production corners with limited animation, such as having only the characters’ mouths move with basic lip sync while their faces remained static. Akira broke from this trend with detailed scenes, pre-scored dialogue (wherein the dialogue is recorded before the film starts production and the movements of the characters’ lips are animated to match it; a first for an anime production.

The director does not hold back in showing bloody violence and lots of gore in the movie.

Akira is widely acclaimed to be one of the best animated movies ever made. This was the movie that made anime popular in western countries and has gained a cult status. I was utterly mesmerized by the world built by the director Katsuhiro Otomo. Watching this movie was a unique experience. I will give it a rating of 9 / 10 and recommned everyone to watch it atleast once.

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