AKIRA REVIEW — The 1st Viewing

Every month Talkies follows a monthly theme! Today we’re going to talk about our first film with the theme of “ animation”.

AKIRA is one of those films that I feel I must rewatch to develop a more thought out review. For now here are my general thoughts.

AKIRA was co-written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo based on the author/director’s seminal manga of the same name. AKIRA the film is a classic that changed the face of modern animation when it was released and is partly accredited for the increasing popularity of Japanese style animation in the North American market. AKIRA is chaotic, bloody and cerebral. With a runtime of 2 hours 6 minutes, let’s get into the setup of AKIRA.

Talking about AKIRA’s story is a bit tricky. The film revolves around a diverse set of characters, with the bulk of the film focusing on Kaneda and Tetsuo. Both of these characters are part of a biker gang who roam the streets of NEO TOKYO in “2019”. During one of the battles with the biker gangs, Tetsuo runs into someone special and that’s where AKIRA really takes off.

As the film progresses it confidently uses chaos and blood as a buffer to talk about its more cerebral themes. So how does filmmaking push these themes forward?

As I’m a writer by trade, we will start every film with it’s story. AKIRA’s world, its setting and its structure are all well developed and intriguing. Some may complain about the lack of interesting characters in the film, I didn’t really have that issue. My issue with the story was mostly a pacing issue. The film is two hours long and in some sections it drags, even though it does a fairly great job at giving subtle hints of deeper themes. I’m sure if i watch the film again i will learn more, however, a film must also be judged on it’s premiere viewing.

From the beginning AKIRA is confident in its visuals, its color and its story. The title card with the big red classic letters spelling the film’s name gives you a sense that the filmmaker knows what he’s doing. As I watched the film, I wasn’t aware of how bloody the film would be, but the first aspect that stood out to me in the film was chaos. From random explosions, to the decrepit streets to the moral fall of NEO Tokoyo’s people, the city is one that none of us would wish to live in.

The cinematography of the film is wide and expansive, trying to take in and communicate everything the film can communicate. This approach is in line with the fact that the film is based on a manga, an artform that must precisely draw each frame with utmost care. In AKIRA each frame is a juxtaposition of the last, one second we see the shining lights of the NEO-TOKYO’s skyline the next second, we see cult like fanatics protesting on the streets. There are terrorist groups and biker gangs on the streets, while the government sits filling its pockets. This chaos and blood follows the film as it gets more and more into its deeper themes of rebirth, life, death and identity.

In terms of music, one aspect of the film that stuck out to me was its score. The score consists of music from traditional Indonesian gamelan as well as Japanese noh music. Coming from Blade Runner’s Cyberpunk world (and music), AKIRA surprised me with its intense and grounded musical score. You can say you don’t like AKIRA, but I don’t think you can ever say that it is not a well made film.

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AKIRA’s ending mirrors its beginning, much like the cycles of life and death there is much AKIRA has to say about the symmetry and asymmetry of life and death through its structure, story and filmmaking. AKIRA further talks about universal concepts of moral depravity, corruption, the thirst for knowledge and the fear/reverence of the unknown. In the end AKIRA and that red speeder bike live up to the hype.

FOUR STARS out of FIVE.

Film reviews and recommendations with a monthly theme. Every Wednesday, made and curated by Shariq Babar.