“Anime.” What do you think about when we think about “anime?” Honestly, take a second to think about it.
Anime is loaded word. As a type of movie, it often comes with these negative connotations that it’s “too weird,” or that “it’s for kids,” or that only a certain “type” of person watches anime. But anime shouldn’t scare someone away. It really shouldn’t make you think anything about the movie other than it’s animated and that, maybe, it’s in Japanese.
If someone asked you if you wanted to watch one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made, you’d probably say “Of course!” But would your opinion change if they told you after that it’s an anime movie?
“Akira,” which is being presented as part of the “Cinemanga” series by the Center for Japanese Studies at the State Theatre, is a 1988 animated classic based on the manga of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo. There is no question why it’s widely considered both one of the greatest animated films and science fiction films to ever be made.
Set in a dystopian Tokyo in the year 2019, there are riots and political unrest. Neo-Tokyo is the backdrop for this incredible tale in which teenager Testuo (Nozomu Sasaki, “Yu Yu Hakusho”) gains superhuman powers. The animation of the setting is gorgeous. The detail of every shot is absolutely insane. There is an instance in which Tetsuo walks into down a flight of stairs to an underground bar in the grand scheme of things, this shot is a couple seconds at most. But it still sticks out in my mind, it’s visually striking and detailed, it seems impossible to forget it. It could be a painting in and of itself. This is exemplary of “Akira” in general. One would be hard-pressed to find a shot in this film that is not as technically and beautifully crafted as the previous one.
The plot follows Testuo as he is captured and put into a testing facility by the government. His friend Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata, “Outlanders”) then tries to set him free. However, Tetsuo soon escapes of his own volition, eager to set free Akira, who is rumored to have destroyed old Tokyo and to be even more powerful than he is.
What is special about “Akira” is that it’s not just an exciting science fiction adventure story. It’s so much more. The film explores the potential of life after a third world war. It delves into the Japanese subculture of youths and their tricked out motorcycles. It deals with religion in government. It makes one question what role mankind serves on earth, and it makes one struggle with the idea of power and who should and shouldn’t have it. The film causes discussion of human experimentation. It calls into question the purpose of the Olympic Games. “Akira” is an essential movie because it raises all of these questions and examines unique situations.
Like all great films, to summarize “Akira” and whittle it down couldn’t do it justice. It’s one of those things you just have to see with your own two eyes.