Upon hearing of the remake, and being slightly aware of the influence and fanbase of this film, I finally made a conscious decision to watch it. It’s the Anime that non-Anime fans like, up there with Spirited Away, a massively popular piece of cyberpunk/science fiction/nihilistic/post apocalyptic cinema that transcends most genres and becomes a work of it’s own. Not just an excellent Anime, but an excellent movie: one that anybody with an appreciation of good movies can enjoy.
Akira is a masterpiece.
Seemingly telling three stories at once, of a young biker, Kaneda, his friend who gets caught in the mysterious schemes of the government Tetsuo, and the power-hungry colonel trying to keep a tag on all of it, Akira is a busy, complex, and layered film with many philosophical nuances. Set in the year 2019, 31 years after a bomb went off and destroyed Tokyo, we join those three characters in Neo-Tokyo, a crumbling shell of a city which houses gangs who run rampant and get into motorcycle battles for no real reason. But when Tetsuo falls off his bike and meets a mysterious old child in the middle of the road, things take a turn for the weird…
Needless to say, plot-wise, this is certainly unique. But the plot is not necessarily the point. I spoke of philosophical nuances: this film has much to say, for example, on the concept of power, and what it does to you: all three main characters are after power of some description, and when they get hold of it, it leads to results that are far beyond their expectations. There are many meditations on the idea of control and power over other, and in the most detailed, explosive sequences imaginable, their outcome is presented.
And at the same time, it works as a spectacular, volatile, blockbuster, on in which you leave your brains at the door and watch the sparks fly. It works on both levels, and this is genuinely a film where you can pick and choose what you take from it: if you want to focus the Droog-esque gang culture, you can. If you want to focus on the 50m high monster laying waste to a stadium, you can. It crams so much into its two hours and ten minutes running time that you probably won’t even know where to begin with “getting” this film. The plot itself arguably remains unfathomable (some would say it simply is) until you’ve seen it twice. If ever there was a film that leant itself to repeat viewings, this was it.
It is also impossible not to mention how influential this film was: it is often said that if it weren’t for this, The Matrix wouldn’t exist. That isn’t all. Touches of this film can be found in IRobot, Avatar… So many films can be said to have been influenced by Akira, because it did something new. In being fantastically drawn, it can’t simply be consigned to the Anime subgenre: this is as much a live-action blockbuster as Transformers 3.
It really is something different. It’s awesome, thought-provoking, shockingly violent, powerful, visually breath-taking, and massively influential. If you’ve never seen it, watch it before the remake (starring Garrett Hedlund) swarms into view. And then just watch it anyway. It is incredible, and the kind of film that changes cinema in some small way. You owe it to yourself to watch this film.