In 1988, a change to animation was felt in the Western world. Animation is cinema during the 80’s was thought of as family-friendly or kid’s stuff with Disney fare coming on the screen and Don Bluth joining alongside Universal to release classics like An American Tail and The Land Before Time with the only risk takers in animation coming from the art house and independent film scenes. Then, one film stepped in to give everyone a shock to their system.
Akira, based on the Japanese manga series by Katshumiro Otomo, brought upon Anime to the Western world. It is hard now to think of a world without anime being a part of the animation world, but before Akira access to Japanese animation was limited to film clubs and bootlegs being passed back and forth with homemade subtitles and dubs. Yet, Akira is claimed to be the one that brought an entire sub-genre of animation to the West.
The story of Akira follows Shotaro Kaneda and his biker gang the Capsules in 2019 Neo-Tokyo, a bustling metropolis sprung from the ashes of World War III filled with color, sights to behold and ruthless filth both on the street and on the pavement. Kaneda’s best friend Tetsuo Shima nearly crashes into a small man child that has escaped from a laboratory named Takashi. Takashi has been the subject of test by the government due to his psychokinetic skills. Tetsuo gets taken a hold of by the government after it is revealed he has psychokinetic powers as well and may help to bring about the rise of the psycho criminal Akira, who caused major devastation. This leads to a tale of betrayal, the over-powerment of one’s being and how far someone can dive before they lose complete control.
It seems that this story has been told before as one of the protagonist’s cohorts turns rogue against those who supported him and those who came to make them the person they are. It is the point where the character learns if it is really worth it and with their new powers, they can finally see their full potential or lack thereof. The character practically turns into their own worst enemy. Tetsuo gets corrupted by his power and turns into the worst alongside everyone. Akira accomplishes this by showing us the darker side of obtaining powers and the pressures one goes through. As it captures the seedy side of human nature, it also captures the seedy side of life in general. The punk and degenerates may be perceived as wrong, but the government and military are ten times worst that whatever they have to offer having handling of the politics and the science. The full control of the law surrounding the world of Neo-Tokyo is gritty and dirty filled with danger everywhere. Nothing seems safe, yet everything seems perfect.
The animation in this film still holds up and seems to be a window to the past of anime in the best way. The designs seem dead set in a more bizarre version of the works of Osamu Tezuka, but very much a new style that would be seen in such films as Ghost in the Shell and Porco Rosso. It is quite clean and balances colors quite well against the darkness. The action sequences are stellar with fluid and fast paced animation taking hold and becoming more than just a style, but a substance all its own. Akira takes the foundations of Japanese animation it was built on and expands it into something new, something broader and more of a acid-influenced experience to behold.
This weekend on Film A Week….
To kick off the celebration, Herschel Gordon Lewis lays on the gore thick as Montag the Magnificent brings gruesome display to crowds with pure mutilation of his assistants and chaos in The Wizard of Gore.
Film A Week 39: The Spooktacular Seventies The Wizard of Gore (1970)
Saturday, October 5th