The Parker Weekly - Saturday, October 26, 1991
I wrote this article about Akira when I was 16. I was a big fan and a young writer. This first appeared in my high school newspaper, and then in "The Humble Review," a software-encoded newsletter distributed by the software pirate group "The Humble Guys."Sometimes the best movies never reach the public at large. My favorite movie of recent memory never (to my knowledge) toured the main theatre circuit in the United States, never enjoyed a major video release, and doesn't have anything to do with Hollywood or any of the traditional American movie traits. Despite all the things working against its widespread popularity, Katsuhiro Otomo's AKIRA continues to delight those fortunate enough to find copies of it or to catch the late showing at the Music Box.
Movie Review of "AKIRA"
The movie is set in Tokyo in 2019 after World War III (now called "Neo-Tokyo"), the site of the 2020 Olympics. A motorcycle gang lead by a boy named Kaneda race through the cityh causing trouble (much like Alex and his Droogs in A Clockwork Orange). One night, while out running, Tetsuo, one of Kaneda's buddies, crashes into an odd boy named Takashi and finds himself affected by the boy's paranormal powers. Tetsuo is soon found by the government, who put him in a military hospital to study the effects of the accident. A power hungry colonel and a doctor discover that Tetsuo has his own power and start performing experiments designed to trigger a reaction from fifteen year old Tetsuo. Kaneda, meanwhile, meets up with Kay, a member of the resistance fighters, during an anarchist riot. He travels with her to try and rescue Tetsuo from the government. Tetsuo by this time has acquired almost unlimited power and begins to lose his self-control. This power is discovered to be a manifestation of the Akira force (hence the title), a evolutionary experiment that inadvertenty caused World War III. Kay, Kaneda, the Colonel and Tetsuo battle it out in the Olympic stadium to decide the fate of Neo-Tokyo.
The most engaging thing about the movie is not the story however, it would have to be the highly-stylized animation. Almost every frame is to itself a detailed picture, and when combined, they managed to create some of the smoothest animation I have ever seen. The opening scenes are some of the bvest, with the young biker punks riding through the streets terrorizing the denizens of the city. EAch of the characters has their own look, and some are images with biting social commentary. The billowing smoke or the attacking toys, each scene is fascinating and infused with quality high energy animation. The movie is worth viewing by all, if only just to see the animation techniques and the animation skill of the best of the Japanese Anime-Film makers.
In some parts of the movie, the animation and the plot come together to form scenes both incredible and bizarre. There is a scene where young Tetsuo is attacked in the hospital by a few stuffed animals that comes off so gracefully, you forget that what you are watching is animated. In fact, this is the nature of the rest of the film. After the first few minutes, I found myself just watching and enjoying it. The story is engaging enough, but the city itself, with its own student anarchist riots, crazy new wave religions, terrible school system, drugs running rampant, all these things are fascinating independent of the story line. And all are handled with Mr. Otomo's brilliant post-apocalyptic vision that is a joy to watch in action.
Done originally in Japanese and dubbed over in English, the movies suffers nothing from the translation and the music remains intact. After wataching the film, I was fascinated by the soundtrack and managed to find that also. The soundtrack, composed by a Mr. Shoji Yamashiro and performed by the Geinoh Yamashirogumi, is a collection of traditional Japanese Buddhist Chants with Modern Choir selections, traditional drums withsynthesizer effects, that come together in a conglomeration of music both modern and traditional, beautiful and quite entracing to say the least.
The main problem I have with the film is simply its availability. I have heard that it's at Tokyo Video (a video store specializing in Japanese animation), and it may still be at the Music Box every once in a while. I found a cideo copy (and the soundtrack too) at Moondog's, the comic book store near school. I expect that there may be other places to buy it, but I haven't seen it anywhere else. Katsuhiro Otomo, the film's creator, is only 36, and has another video release to be expected soon in the States. Called "Robot Carnival" it is a collection of short stories involving robots, and I have been told that he created the first and last segments. Expect a Thanksgiving release.
When the film was over, I really felt most in awe of this man's vision. The film was a complete movie, with all the best elements of a real-time motion picture, but dominated by Mr. Otomo's "feelings for new wave cinema and modern jazz." After watching it, I'd say that to call this a visual jazz performance probably would be too far off the mark.