‘Simply put, no Akira, no Matrix. It’s that important.’ (Newman, 2008)
Akira is based on the popular manga series created by Katsuhiro Otomo. Set in post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, Tetsuo is a member of a motorcycle gang led by his close friend Kaneda who becomes part of a top secret government project. Kaneda aims to save Tetsuo but is caught between activists, politicians and a powerful military leader. Tetsuo begins to grow in power wreaking havoc around Neo-Tokyo, to prove his heroics to Kaneda, and leads to a final battle in Tokyo Olympiad in an attempt to uncover the secret of Akira.
Akira is a monumental achievement for Japanese animated film, the production budget reaching nearly $10 million which was a record for Japanese animation film. An animated triumph filled with complex techniques that would put to shame many CG orientated epics from today such as complex camera work and lavish backgrounds. A thing that many filmmakers would shudder and hide from was the use of night shots in animated film due to the increased colour requirements however Akira takes place mostly at night which adds to the records that this film broke. It consisted of 2,212 shots and 160,000 single pictures, using 327 colours, 50 of which were created for the film. Daniel takes note of the achievements in his review ‘Yet, a simple outline doesn’t capture the magic of Akira. Using then revolutionary practises in Japanese animation (detailed backgrounds, lip-synching, realistic body movement), the film remains a visual wow, designed and animated as if live action, with tracking shots, point-of-view, depth of field and a generally astounding level of movement in each shot that builds on what Ridley Scott had established with Blade Runner.’ (Daniel, 2011)
The film deals with Tetsuo’s monstrous change through his ever growing power. At a deeper level it can be discussed as a change through adolescence of Tetsuo who we learn throughout the film that he is a shadow behind Kaneda and a frustration of being ‘rescued’ has formed. This frustration leads Tetsuo on his rampage, finally being able to be in control and exert a power over people rather than watching on as Kaneda plays hero and at times lightly bullies Tetsuo in his lack of power. In Napier’s book she discusses Tetsuo’s character as being a representation of Japanese self-representation ‘Akira appeared in 1988, a time when Japan had reached what has perhaps been its postwar peak of international influence and (mis)recognition, a period when many nations felt threatened by what they saw as Japan’s emerging superpower status. Tetsuo’s monstrousness can thus be coded in ideological terms as a reflection of Japan’s own deep-seated ambivalence at this time, partly glorying in its new identity but also partly fearing it.’ (Napier, 40;2001)
A symbol of Tetsuo’s lack of power is Kaneda’s red bike. At the beginning we see that Tetsuo is unable to start Kaneda’s bike causing him to laugh at the failed attempt and later on when Tetsuo aims to run away his knowledge of the bike fails him again causing the bike to stall and then Kaneda coming to his rescue. The bike has therefore been described as ‘the phallic symbol of power and authority’ (Napier, 41;2001).
Akira is an incredible film which has created a huge cult following and been an influence for many films and Anime such as The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell and the Anime would boost the popularity of anime in the west. However recently the fans of the classic have turned to uproar due to a Hollywood remake, with many strange casting choices causing major causes for concern and even rumours of a PG rating. Whatever the outcome of the live action saga Akira still stands the test of time in its amazing production, with filmic camera shots and realistic animations, Akira will continue to be a historic achievement.
Child, Ben (2011) Akira? A caricature, more like accessed on 07/02/12
Daniel, Rob (2011) Akira, http://skymovies.sky.com/akira/review accessed on 07/02/2012
Napier, Susan (2001) Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: experiencing contemporary Japanese Animation pages 40-41 accessed on 07/02/12
Newman, Kim (2008) Akira accessed on 07/02/12