Akira [Retro Review]

“Amoebas don’t make motorcycles and atomic bombs!”

The Scoop: 1988 R, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and starring Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama and Tessho Genda

Tagline: Neo-Tokyo is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E.

Summary Capsule: Neo-Tokyo falls under attacks as rival motorcycle gangs meet their match in a telekenetic young ‘un.

Justin’s Rating: Can Justin review a movie he saw three years ago? SURE!

Justin’s Review: This review is brought to you by the Why Not Be A Guy? campaign. In our continuing coverage of why guy movies are pretty freakin’ cool, we bring you the 80’s cult animated classic, Akira. It’s the timeless tale of Tokyo after a radioactive makeover, where kids speed around on high-tech motorcycles and spout stuff either in horribly dubbed English or subtitled Japanese. Obviously, the foreign language programs in the future still leave much to be desired.

The plot goes basically like this: there’s a top-secret government project, code-named “Akira”, that gets out and into this wimpy kid. As we all well know, from studying Carrie, rejected nerds with telekenetic abilities do not use their powers just for cleaning litter on the highways. So this telekenetic nerd battles it out with his best friend (a motorcycle racer) and there’s a lot of blood. That’s it, I’ve told you everything in the movie you’ll be able to get out of it anyway.

The reason Akira is such a cult hit is that the animation is about the best you’ll ever see. The Japanese are pretty good at this sort of thing, and it makes a world of difference when comparing a fully-produced Japanese anime against your average Saturday morning cartoon (do they even HAVE Saturday morning cartoons anymore?). The action is vivid, although some scenes contain what we movie critics call “gooshy” violence. There’s also one scene of brief female nudity, but in comparison to most Japanese animes, this is practically rated G in that department. It’s always the quiet ones…

I enjoyed this movie, although the plot and ending were both drawn out and convoluted. We think our American villains talk a lot before delivering the death stroke? Well, the Japanese like to re-enact the Lincoln-Douglas debates between spurts of action. It’s off-putting, but that’s what the FF button is there for. If you love great anime, then this film is a must.

Poolman’s Rating: I shudder to think what this movie would be like to watch stoned.

Poolman’s Review: It’s all about baby steps, learning new things. Despite my longstanding appreciation of the obviously obsessive quality of Japanese animation, I’ve never really been one to leap into the genre. I took in Princess Mononoke largely due to the North American hype that surrounded its release stateside, and I’ve caught the odd special on Teletoon, but I’ve been slow to test the waters. So caught on a Friday night with the same buddy who forced me into Gale Force not too long ago (Remind me to sabotage his wedding. I’m his best man, so it’ll be easy.), we picked something not only well known and established as a cult flick, it would serve as another insight into what would happen if the world ended and the Japanese ran everything.

I’ll begin with a little disclaimer. The clerk at the video store obviously knew Akira pretty well, because he sneered at our choice of the “redubbed version”. I don’t know what this means, and I don’t know how it relates to the original. I just know that once again, the term voice “acting” is a very liberal claim indeed.

So finally, into the movie. Justin did do a great job of summing the whole thing up. A bunch of kids in a motorcycle gang get mixed up in an rescue attempt of one of three (or more, I’m not entirely sure) psychic children from a government facility. When Tatsuo is injured in an accident caused by the freed child, he is taken back (with the freaky little blue dude) and subjected to a new round of tests and experiments. The end result is a psychic being with the uncontrolled power of a god and a flare for dramatic dress.

True to anime form (my other experience lies in Ghost in the Shell and Ninja Scroll), this movie is damned confusing. Despite minutes at a time of on and on diatribes on the power of Akira, governmental structures and betrayals, and souped up motorcycles, I never felt like I had a really firm grasp of what was going on. Multiple viewings would probably help, and I’m sure there are die-hards who’ve seen this dozens of times yelling at me through the screen right now, but I lost count of how many times me and my friend looked at each other and exchanged a silent “huh?”. But there’s plenty of action and gore here, if that’s your thing. Personally, the scene where Tetsuo hallucinates all his organs falling onto the floor and tries to scoop them back up into himself was really disturbing, but appropriate to the story and character.

Akira‘s a hell of a show. But just like the genre it exemplifies, it’s an acquired taste, and one that doesn’t come too easily. It’s absolutely worth your time in terms of quality and cult history, but don’t be too surprised if you come out wondering what just happened.

Great for the ego, great for the suspension.

Intermission!

  • Michael Jackson fans (are there any actually left?) will recognize the scene where Tetsuo learns to fly from the video for “Scream”
  • After Tetsuo cuts his feet in the hospital, they are briefly bandaged, but the bandages quickly disappear during the following scene.
  • The technician in Akira’s storage facility announces that the temperature is at normal, 0.5 degrees Kelvin. That’s more than 270 degrees (Kelvin or Centigrade) below freezing, and just above the impossible theoretical lower limit of 0 Kelvin. Wouldn’t you want more than a heavy coat in that?
  • Speaking as a Canadian, it’s distracting as hell everytime a character yells the name “Kaneda”. It sounds almost exactly like “Canada”.
  • The small, shifty man with the large incisors is named Nezu, which means “rat.”
  • Where is she now? By “she”, I mean the ever famous Tarô Arakawa, who played the unforgettable role of Watanabe in this movie. Come to think of it, she could be a he. I don’t know. But famous nonetheless.
  • Akira was one of the first Japanese animes that recorded dialog first and animated its characters to match, instead of vice versa.
  • Akira originally appeared as a comic book in December of 1982 in the Young Magazine anthology. The series of comic books sold over 3 million copies which made it one of the top sellers of all time. The series and later graphic novel gained even more popularity with audiences in the United States when it was translated and released by Marvel Comics.
  • A neat opening interface featuring all the different motorcycles seen in the movie greets you when you put the DVD in the player. Past that, there’s a neat “spot the capsule” feature where you can hit Enter on your remote and pick up info on the movie, but I found the capsules to be a little too rare.

Groovy Quotes:

Kei: Amoebas don’t build houses and bridges, they only eat.

Kei: Amoebas don’t make motorcycles and atomic bombs!

Kaneda: It must be a trap.
Kei: Then go back.
Kaneda: I must find out what kind of trap.

[Inside the capsule bar]
Boy: Hey, dont take that stuff, it’ll stunt your growth!
Bartender: Hey, why dont you get outta here, ya punk! You’ll scare the customers!
Boy: Then I wont tell him what’s in it, huh?

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8 Comments

  1. Hey There Heather,
    I know what you mean, I want to watch it and will do in due time but heard its pretty gory. Although im curious since most anime’s back in the 80’s were gory (i’ve seen a few) and they were never as popular as Akira. I’m looking foward to watching this movie but,

    Is Akira a great movie and how gory is it?
    BTW great blogpost

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