May 4, 2003
Like so many other cult phenomena, Manga is an exclusive club that you’re either into whole heartedly, or you avoid all contact with. This year marks the tenth anniversary of Manga and the occasion is marked with a double disc feature packed release of its flagship movie, Akira.
Akira is set some thirty years after the end of the third world war, a war that saw Tokyo destroyed. It is now 2019 and Neo-Tokyo is preparing to host the 2020 Olympic Games. The prosperity of the city is undermined by the rising crime and unemployment. The streets are owned by rival bike gangs, who engage in their own violent conflicts on souped-up ‘choppers’.
Kaneda is the leader of his gang, and his bike is a custom designed machine that no one else knows how to ride. He has spent his whole life coming to the rescue of his friend Tetsuo. Tetsuo, in his desperation to prove himself, gets badly hurt in a biker conflict and winds up in a hospital being experimented on by Government scientists. These experiments spark of supernatural powers in Tetsuo, powers that he can’t control.
Kaneda gets involved with a group of terrorists, not because of his beliefs but because one of them is an attractive female.
Tetsuo begins having horrific visions that may have something to do with the three supernatural children, each with a number for a name. These children are part of the same government experiments that affected Tetsuo, and presumably created Akira.
This is where Akira really gets going, and some of its viewers really get lost. Up to this point Akira is a very dark, ultra violent film noir with a deeply engrossing plot. Akira then delves deeper into itself, becoming a spider’s web of a film.
Until Akira I’d never seen a film that I just didn’t understand on first watching. Sure I’d seen many films that I didn’t understand why they’d been made, or why they’d been successful, but never have I just become confused by a film knowing it had beaten me. Akira is perhaps the most densely plotted movie I’ve ever seen, and it leaves the viewer thinking about its events, characters and overall meaning long after they’ve finished viewing it.
Don’t think that Akira is just confusing for the sake of it. It’s sure not one of those arty films that thinks it’s more intelligent than it really is and tries at every turn to mislead the viewer with unnecessary characters and plot devices. Akira’s characterisation is both clear and rich, with relationships between characters easily identifiable. Their goals and problems are clear at the outset, and how they strive to achieve them is within the boundaries of their characterisation. Akira’s complexities come from its storyline, just what is Akira and what does it mean? Will it bring about the end of the world or the beginning?
On the first watch the identity of Akira is part of the mystery, and Akira could be anything or anyone. It could be Tetsuo, it could be Kaneda, it could be the three supernatural children combined or it could even be Kaneda’s bike! It is supposed to be machinery and technology beyond man’s comprehension after all.
The revelation as to what, or who Akira really is and what it means takes place in the Tokyo Olympiad where Akira’s secrets were buried 30 years ago. Tetsuo’s supernatural powers have made him more powerful than even he can control, and the three supernatural children together with Kaneda attempt to stop him from destroying the city.
Akira isn’t the flagship of Manga and the most successful of the Manga movies because it’s the most palatable for the Western world. Far from it, Akira is one of the most stylishly violent and densely plotted movies ever made. If you’ve never tried Manga, this is the one to test the water with.
Akira is a must see film, not for those that like animation but for those that believe the medium of film should be both challenging and thought provoking.