Saturday, November 14, 2009

Akira (1988)
JAPAN --- science fiction

Dir: Katsuhiro Ôtomo

After the so-called "Golden Age" of anime struck the U.S. in the 1960's through such television series as "Speed Racer", "Astro Boy", or "Kimba: The White Lion", the imports kinda slowed. Americans still received t.v. series, but we seldom got Japanese animated films. If we did get them, they were re-edited, renamed, and dubbed over to horrendous porportions such as Hayo Miyazaki's "Nausicaa".

When films like Akira (which I might add was much tamer than most stuff) came along in the late 1980's, they completely changed the landscape. Blockbuster Video actually made a section for their flood of Anime films and series being released on VHS. We were getting all the violence and sexually oriented fare that we just didn't get in the resurgent days of Disney-ized America. Film critics also took notice, and Akira was one of the hallmarks.
Based on his award-winning manga series of the same name, director Katsuhiro Otomo adapts his post-apocalyptic tale of a delinquent teen biker gang caught up in a government conspiracy of tampering with psychic research. The film takes place in the year 2019, thirty-one years after a nuclear explosion that causes World War 3. The motorcycle gang known as The Capsules, are in a gang war with a rival biker gang called The Clowns. During a high-speed brawl through the streets and on the highway, best friends Kaneda and Tetsuo get separated. Tetsuo, nearly runs down an elderly looking little boy, and crashes his bike. Surviving the accident, Tetsuo and the boy are spirited away by soldiers in a helicopter. The rest of the Capsules are arrested and taken in for questioning by local authorities.

Meanwhile, in a covert government facility, Tetsuo is found to be very special by a Colonel Shikishima and Dr. Onishi. He happens to possess extra-ordinary mental faculties, above and beyond ESP. They also happen to equate his power to another boy named Akira, who apparently had nearly omnipotent mind powers.
At the police station, Kaneda falls for a girl named Kei who is involved with the terrorist group. The two eventually strike up a friendship that leads to him uncovering what happened with his friend Tetsuo. Testsuo escapes from the government facility to see his girlfriend Kaori and steals Kaneda's bike as they plan to leave the city, but are ambushed by the Clowns, until Kaneda and the gang show up to rescue them. Tetsuo is captured once again by the government, and eventually begins to display and discover his new found powers, to which point he goes power mad. It leaves Kaneda in a situation where only he can attempt to rescue him.

Akira is a complex character study with visually arresting scenes. As an Anime film, it is one of the first more adult ones I've seen which left me with a feeling of something great just happened and I was too young to get it. Anime films have since followed in the tradition to keep up with the mature adult subject matter, even surpassing it in some instances. It, however, remains a visual masterpiece in animation.