Akira (Japanese, 1988)
The artistic richness of the Japanese animation and the imaginative power of it has got mixed up in the dose in Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 cyberpunk animation flick Akira. Akira is a quintessential example of its genre and has been one of the most important works in terms of treatment and has proves itself now as a source of technical reference for animations.
In a way Akira is special. Otomo, originally a manga artist, began his career in 1973. After his unsuccessful attempt on a sci-fi manga ‘Fireball’ he went on to create Akira, for which he is remembered today, and stands as his best achievement. Akira got released in Manga comics from December 1982 and went on till 1990. Otomo decided to get Akira on screen and went on to write screenplay for the movie version, out of the original manga which runs over 2000 pages. The film got released in 1988 and instantly became a cult classic.
Akira takes place in Neo-Tokyo, post the third world war that annihilates Tokyo in 1988. And the year is 2019, and its 31 years after the war. The film opens with the street races between two bike gangs in the dystopian Neo-Tokyo streets that end up in messy violence. Shotaro Kaneda leads one gang and his team mate Tetsuo Shima is now seriously wounded. Both of them having brought up in orphanage are on their own now with no one to care except a few friends. Tetsuo is taken to the hospital by force by the military inviting suspicion. Mean while we get to see a mysterious laboratory where in some kind of strange research being carried out in secrecy, by the government, headed by Col. Shikishima- a daring, extremely disciplined yet arrogant chief, an exerciser of power to any extent if ever necessary. The research team compares Tetsuo’s pattern, who is right now under medical observation with Akira a subject of research from the past, whose details remain concealed to the viewer’s knowledge.
Meanwhile Kaneda is determined to free Tetsuo at any cost and dares to break into the heavily guarded medical facility. Tetsuo who was a subject of mockery ever since childhood always had to relay on Kaneda’s help in case of emergencies. He clearly hates this and wishes to live o his own. While he recognizes the new powers he has obtained- only for which he is under observation- he chooses to exercise this at his will. Tetsuo stages a violent departure from the hospital thrilled by the just received extreme powers. This drives him mad and enters the city challenging the army with his powers. People out there in the city mistake him to be Akira. We learn the before story in the due course of the film. Akira is gifted boy of extreme powers which later overpowers him and is the reason behind the destruction of Old Tokyo. The government retains some of the samples and carries on with its research with other subjects who are specially gifted.
Kaneda having learnt about Tetsuo’s transformed persona tries to control him. Meanwhile the situation initiating a political unrest and takes a twist when Col. Shikishima seizes power by force. Tetsuo, now unstoppable, marches to the newly built Olympic stadium, where in the secrets of Akira are preserved underground. After a heavy and violent rampage, Tetsuo realizes that he is being consumed by his own powers just like Akira. Col. tries his best to stop it but in vain. Kaneda is able to contain the power only to Tetsuo, sparing the city, but couldn’t it engulf Tetsuo with it.
The plot embraces partly the fear of the future generations shying away from traditional Japanese culture. But its prime focus is on the prolonged effects on the mechanized life lead by the Japanese people and the fears of after effects of over inclusion of science and technology in their lifestyle. This film has also set standards on the technical front, for this work is cited even now for its animation style and quality.
Akira is not a children movie but a movie for all ages. This movie could also be interpreted as the human fear on the cons of scientific override in our lives. Some might suspend it as unnecessary skepticism but even they can’t deny the fact that science is a bad master as well. This work also has a good dose of supernatural phenomenon, a Japanese favourite. Akira is altogether a flick fun to watch and a theme to ponder over after watching it.