Tuesday, May 24, 2011

#71 – Akira

(1988) Rated R

Genre: Psychic psychological horror anime

Trend: Slightly rising on the list

The plot: So there’s these Japanese kids driving futuristic motorbikes through the city of Neo-Tokyo. It’s Tokyo number two because a fifth grader (Akira) detonated it with his mind and started World War III. Hormones, I tell you. But this biker punk (Tetsuo) has the same psychic powers and, before he can start World War IV, gets kidnapped – I mean, “confiscated” – by the government.

Tetsuo decides manslaughter is small potatoes and seeks out the Akira to learn how to disintegrate entire metropolises by blinking. Akira’s dissected, frozen body parts have nothing to teach, besides “don’t get dissected and frozen.” Tetsuo’s arm is blown off by a cannon… in space. Tetsuo becomes the first self-propelled astronaut and rips it to shreds.

Tetsuo furthers his career by becoming a psychic-astronaut-surgeon-engineer-ballerina and bonds random mechanical debris to form a new hand. A young man with psychic powers who used to be good but lost hold of his sanity and turned murderous, losing an arm in the process and replacing it with a mechanical one? That was a Star Trek plot, right?

The movie ends with a giant monstrous blob baby, the big bang, and heavy doses of symbolism. Watch or Wiki it for yourself!

So why is it on my list?

It has a history. Akira was very influential in raising American attention to Japanese anime. I myself am more of a manga fan than anime, but as that old song about the horse and carriage goes, “You can’t have one without the other.” Where anime goes, manga follows, and vice versa. (Akira itself is based off a series of manga.) Thus, I owe Akira for being a gateway drug paving the way to many other Japanese delights.

The storyline gripped me. Akira begins in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Things only get crazier from there! Between burgeoning psychic powers and cyberpunk machinery, there are more than enough breathtaking scenes to satisfy any fan of anime and/or sci-fi. In fact, a major theme is if the biological and technological can coexist or are, by nature, at odds. The ending raises further questions about life finding new ways to propagate itself… and whether that brings hope or horror.

It was a work of art. Akira begged audiences at the time to see that cartoons can tell serious stories, too. Furthermore, great care was obviously taken in animating both the characters and environment – quite groundbreaking at the time. To this day, it looks a bit dated, but has aged surprisingly well. Akira is so well crafted, that it still manages to revolt viewers with its unashamed graphic imagery, yet mesmerize them with sleek and just plain cool futuristic wonders.

In conclusion: If you like adult anime, pay your respects to one of the great elders. If you can’t stand images such as fingers with mouths or kids with old people’s faces, you might want to stick with Ponyo.


Hello, I am a lover of the cinema. I am also a lover of lists. Do the math, and you have both this blog and an impossible (or at least, improbable) equation.

What I'm attempting to do is list my top 71 (it's a numerology thing) favorite movies in reverse order, saving the best for last. I'll do my best to explain why I like each one, and hopefully inspire any poor soul stuck reading this to seek the films out for either a first time viewing or rewatch.

Why should you care what I have to say? You have no reason to. I'm no authority, and only an amateur critic at best. But then again, movies are made for their audiences, so even casual viewers such as you (unless you professionally critique, by which I mean someone pays you for it) and I can play our parts in reflection and discussion. What did the filmmakers intend to convey (and did succeeded or failed, in our humble opinions)? What did that flick mean to us personally?

We may even learn something - about motion pictures, about ourselves.