Thursday, October 7, 2010


Released in 1988, AKIRA twisted the boundaries of what animation could show: violence, body horror, and sex built around heavy themes. It ushered in the "Golden Age" of Japanese animation and was one of the first of its kind to break into the American market.

Akira begins like any post-apocalyptic movie: in a rebuilt but morally decayed Neo-Tokyo, 30 years after after a cataclysmic explosion has leveled the city. Crime and violence run rampant and the government has similarly evolved into a brutal police state. The plot follows the leader of motorcycle gang The Capsules (Kaneda), as he deals with the kidnapping of one of his friends (Tetsuo). The shady government scientists subject Tetsuo to a battery of tests and injections and eventually awaken his latent psychic powers. Unfortunately Tetsuo has a pretty bad inferiority complex, so when presented with his new abilities... well, explosions ensue.

Sound ridiculous?

Frankly, it is. On top of all the gratuitous mushroom clouds, there is way too much plot for a two hour movie. (It was condensed from a 2,000+ page graphic novel, so there are a LOT of characters, exposition, and plot to cover.) Nevertheless, Akira is considered one of the most aesthetically iconic movies, animated or otherwise. See if you can spot ties to Blade Runner (1982), Tron (1982), The Matrix (1999), or even Kanye West's music video for Stronger.

Some things to keep in mind:
  • Pay attention to the structure of the narrative. How is this set up like many sci fi/action films we see today? (Or is it not?) Where does the exposition come and what effect does this have on the viewer?
  • As Akira's cult status has grown, many critics have stated its only saving grace is the gorgeous animation. How much do the aesthetics of the movie affect its quality? How does the setting become more than just a backdrop? (Pay attention to color changes, angle choices, etc.)
  • What kind of things can be accomplished within this medium that would otherwise be impossible? What are the limits?
  • Akira is best enjoyed with an open mind and a heavy suspension of disbelief. =)

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