Skip to content

DVDs I think you should own #1 – Akira


As I might have mentioned before, I have a bit of a soft spot for animation. In my youth I would tape them off the TV (usually channel 4, often on late at night) and watch them to death until I knew every frame like the back of my hand. Akira was one of these films and it made a massive impact on my opinion of not just animation but film in general. Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 science fiction masterpiece is not merely the jumping off point for my interest in Japanes animation, it’s an iconic moment in the history of anime. Caution for those who wish to proceed – there may be spoilers.

Kaneda is the leader of a motorcycle gang in the post-apocalypse Neo-Tokyo. His close friend and fellow gang member Tetsuo inadvertently becomes embroiled in a secret military project known only as Akira. Tetsuo is detained by the military to undergo medical testing and in a bid to rescue his friend Kaneda hooks up with a group of revolutionaries to bust him out but they discover that Tetsuo has developed potent psychic powers and been driven mad in the process. He goes on a murderous rampage through Tokyo until the final showdown with his old friend in the Olympic stadium. Carnage ensues.

Coming in at just over two hours long it is an epic tale (at least by animation standards). No work done on computers here, the whole thing is hand drawn so a two hour running time is an achievement in itself. As if this wasn’t enough the whole thing looks and feels like a proper film. This was possibly the earliest indication to me that animation could be more than just Saturday morning cartoons, that there was a potential (when handled correctly) for them to be every bit as exciting and awe inspiring as any live action feature film. If anything, because it was animated, it meant the makers could do more and get away with more than they would have in the realm of live action film making.

The attention to detail is superb. The music score is fantastic. Every shot is framed as if it was a “proper” film. There is a depth to the characters and a richness to the back story that brings authenticity to the proceedings. The plot is a bit convoluted, to the point where the English language dub I saw originally didn’t entirely make sense (something that is remedied by watching the original language version with subtitles) but is genuinely exciting with great action set pieces. Otomo’s vision of the future (now the very near future) is a cyberpunk’s dream and the theme of youth in rampant rebellion against their elders and the establishment resonates strongly throughout. The end result is a believable Neo-Tokyo filled with violent gangs, corrupt politicians, fascist governments and military psychopaths. For something that in essence is just a series of drawings it feels incredibly convincing and realistic.

While admittedly, when compared to something like Spirited Away or Ghost In The Shell, the animation looks a little bit dated it is no less beautiful for it and when this is combined with the story and the characters it leaves Akira almost peerless. Due for a reissue this year on DVD and Blu Ray it is ripe for a brand new restoration (the last time it got a proper clean up was I think in 2001) and I would dearly love to see it get the full treatment for its next UK release. As it stands though, Akira is unavailable on DVD in the UK so if you can’t wait for the re release of this masterpiece of Japanese film making you will need to get your mits on an import copy. either way it’s certainly worth the wait or the effort.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Feexby permalink
    21/01/2011 17:45

    Yes. Can’t disagree with any of that. I saw this on the big screen back in the day (1989?) and was blown away by it. I don’t think it’s dated too badly.

    As it happens I do own an early DVD boxed set of Akira (disc 1= remastered widescreen version, disc 2 = the 4:3 pan and scan version!).

    Like you I appreciate all forms of animated film. I was lucky enough to see Ralph Bakshi’s abortive LOTR rotoscope movie at the cinema when it came out in 1978, but my epiphany came in 1981 with Heavy Metal, a movie I remain defiantly passionate about.

    I think you’ve talked about Rene Laloux before, but have you seen the Eureka! Masters Of Cinema release of La Planete Sauvage? It’s a beautiful release of a great film.

    • 21/01/2011 18:14

      I’ve never seen it but I absolutely adore Maitres Du Temps, another film I knew only from a TV showing of the English dub that muddied the plot waters slightly more than was necessary. Just had a quick swatch at IMDB and it looks very interesting indeed. We have Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards in the shop just now, another film I have never seen from a film maker who commands respect. Too many films, not enough time!

  2. 21/01/2011 23:11

    Akira is a for sure, must own DVD. For a lot of folks (myself included), it was our anime gateway drug.

    • 22/01/2011 12:50

      I couldn’t agree more. It’s a brilliant introduction to anime and probably was my gateway drug too, although Miyazaki’s Castle In The Sky probably deserves the title more as I’m sure I saw that first (it was a loooong time ago, my memory is a little fuzzy!).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: