February 17, 2003 -- If you were to ask fans of Japanese animation to list their top 10 favorite anime feature films, "Akira" would probably be on the list. It is a groundbreaking film that taps into the Japanese distrust of technology, science and the military, as well as a fondness for nature and the essential goodness of children. It is very violent, but there is also a rather weak love story.
The film starts out fast with a sequence of battles between members of rival motorcycle gangs in a dystopian future Tokyo. It appears these gangs have no purpose but to kill everyone. One of the bikers, Tetsuo Shima, crashes into a young child so hard that his brainwaves begin to match those of the child, who has mental powers enhanced by genetic experimentation. The child uses his mental powers to save himself from the effects of the crash. Scientists get their hands on Tetsuo and decide to experiment on him, giving him vast mental powers. This is a mistake, since Tetsuo is a homicidal sociopath. He turns into a killer with superhuman powers.
The idea behind the film is similar to that expressed in the American films "Lawnmower Man" and "Altered States." The idea is that there are vast, ancient powers inside the human mind that can be reawakened, and that there is energy and knowlege locked inside the genes that goes back to the earliest forms of life. These powers are unleashed in Tetsuo, but he is ultimately unable to control them. The military had hoped to control these powers for military uses, but when Tetsuo gets out of contol, the military tries to kill him. It ulitmately falls to Tetsuo's old friends in the motorcycle gang, and other gentetically-altered children, to deal with the situation.
In addition to the two films mentioned above, there are also overtones of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Blade Runner" in the story, along with all those old "Godzilla" films. Japan, as the only nation ever to suffer an attack by nuclear weapons, has a unique perspective on the perils of technology and science gone crazy. Echoes of that primal techno-fear, loathing and distrust, can be seen in "Akira." The visual imagery of the film is stunning, with fantastic images of destruction and creation. It is wildly imaginative and daring. The only problem is, that the story is very incoherent (a common problem in anime). It would take multiple viewings to analyze all the philosophical layers in the film, and one would also need to read the manga on which it is based. Also, the animation is jerky, typical of older anime films. I watched the English dubbed version of the film. Presumably, the Japanese language version of the film is more coherent, if you can understand Japanese. English subtitles might be better, but most good dubs, like this one, generally provide the same information as the subtitles. It is pretty much the same translation either way. On bad dubs, as in many Hong Kong action films, it is a whole different story. This film rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.