Movie Review | Akira
Movie summary: A secret military project endangers Neo-Tokyo when it turns a biker gang member into a rampaging psychic psychopath who can only be stopped by two teenagers and a group of psychics. (IMDb)
Just to open with a statement of how good Akira is: it wasn't as good as I remembered, but is still one of the best animated movies I've ever seen in my life. Or, to put it another way, Akira set the standards for adult animation (meaning not for children, not pornographic) so high, that other movies are slowly closing the gap, but still aren't there quite yet.
The main thing that classifies this movie as not being for children is the level of violence and portraying the horrible, bloody outcomes of those on the receiving end. People are torn to pieces by gunfire, crushed to a bloody mush, limbs are severed, bodies are splattered against walls and ceilings - not to mention significant body horror at the end.
So, it's definitely not for kids despite the fact that there's only mild swearing, minor references to recreational drug use and no sex - one girl, Kaori, does have her top ripped off to expose her breasts, but it's as a result of her and her boyfriend, Tetsuo, being attacked and she's punched in the face almost immediately after, leaving her features puffy and swollen.
If violence that's disgusting and bloody puts you off, then it may be best to give Akira a miss, although you will be missing out. That violence and the results of it being inflicted on others is simply a part of how seriously the movie treats its subject matter. There's some brief moments of levity, but this is effectively a science-fiction drama for the most part.
It's also weird now to think that Akira is set in 2019, which was just over three decades into the future when the movie was originally released. Even in this fictional world, civil unrest features from start to finish with huge crowds protesting an increasingly militaristic government, with religious fanatics not exactly helping to calm things down either.
Even then, that stuff is all background matter that helps to flesh out the world as the story mainly follows a group of teenagers, Tetsuo and Kaneda primarily. Tetsuo is constantly trying to prove himself as a worthy member of the bike gang he and Kaneda are part of, resenting that his long-time friend always has to come to his rescue.
It's only after an accident that awakens the dormant, and soon to be overwhelming, Akira energy inside of him where things take a turn for the worse. It seems like he is suffering at first, but his strength grows and grows to the point of him becoming a nigh-invincible super-villain - although 'villain' is a little harsh as it's made clear that Tetsuo can't really control what's happening to him.
That detail is what stops Akira from being a simple 'power corrupts' story and elevates it to something more. The movie very much leads you into thinking that's all it is, especially as Tetsuo undeniably enjoys his new-found strength to begin with, even taunting Kaneda repeatedly that his friend is now the one that will need saving, not him.
There are other plots and character arcs that weave in and out of this central story-line, but there's simply too much that would need delving into in far greater depth and detail than is appropriate for a review. Akira is a densely-packed movie with a large number of characters with lives and personalities of their own, even as everything eventually comes together.
As for the look of the movie, it is simply stunning and a true master-piece of hand-drawn animation that looks better and has a far greater sense of visual style than most animated movies that have come out since. The sheer scope of events in the city of Neo Tokyo is breath-taking and, even with modern CGI capabilities, you can completely understand why Akira is proving so hard to turn into a live-action movie.
It's not just the animation either, with a truly incredible score will stay with you long after the movie is over. I hadn't seen Akira for comfortably over a decade before watching it again for this review and just hearing some of the music again was an absolute treat. Every single piece is perfect for the occasion when it's used and what more can you ask of a score for a movie?
I will admit that I can't really speak for the performances, having only ever watched the subtitled version and not understanding Japanese. Actually, I'll amend that: I can't speak for the line delivery or how clear it might be for Japanese speakers, but the required emotion certainly seems to be there - I'm pretty sure you'd be able to tell any character's feelings without looking at the screen.
I simply can't stress just how much I love Akira and how wholeheartedly I recommend seeing it - yes, even if you're squeamish about blood and/or violence. It's not a movie you can just put on in the background, thanks to the sheer number of characters and inter-weaving plots and arcs that run the length of the story, but I can't imagine you'll lose interest watching anyway.
Akira remains to this day one of the best animated movies ever created, cramming so much into two hours without ever feeling like there's too much to take in that it's a miracle.It looks stunning, with what is still world-class animation; the score is flat-out incredible; and the movie doesn't shy away from some gruesome images either. An absolute must-watch.