Akira (1988)

115.

★★★★★

Directed by: Katsuhiro Otomo
Written by: Katsuhiro Otomo, Izô Hashimoto
Starring: Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama and Mitsuo Iwata

Originally produced as a serial in 1982, manga-artist-writer Katsuhiro Otomo brings Akira to the screen with the kinetic energy and stylistic sophistication that makes Japanese anime dominate our movie collections. Set in a post-World War III Neo-Tokyo, Akira not only impresses in its cyber-punk sensibilities, but also in its timelessness – the story, characters, and visual execution will impress for generations to come.

Tokyo suffers the devastation of a nuclear explosion in 1988. Fast forward to 2019 and we find Tokyo run by bike gangs, anti-government activists, violent demonstrations, and a gaggle of scientists, politicians, and military leaders working on a secret project. Two teens – a broody Tetsuo (Sasaki) and effortlessly confident Kaneda (Iwata) – find themselves in the eye of this storm as a biking accident leads Tetsuo to the dangerous psychic abilities the government is experimenting with, while Kaneda follows an underground activist, Kei (Koyama), in a mission to stop a power that could end the world.

While the plot often skims the surface of big themes and ideas, Akira stacks up sequences and chases that are mind-bendingly awesome. From flying machines to flashbacks and nightmarish toys that ooze milk, Akira displays some of the most captivating and imaginative scenes to be seen in sci-fi film. Against the backdrop of a Neo-Tokyo that may as well be considered a major character itself, Otomo pumps the energy of Tokyo into a post-apocalyptic feel that echoes images from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and even Blade Runner.

Even with mutations of obese proportions, arresting graphic violence, and uniquely Japanese ways of exclaiming, Akira has a very grounded sense of intimacy and intricacy in telling an essentially tragic and personal human story. In boiling an eight-year serial into a 2 hour film, Akira is nothing short of legendary.

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