Look, we know it’s been mooted for a number of years but we’ve been hearing renewed rumours of a live action version of Akira.
Supposedly, Justin Lin has been approached to direct and after his work on the Fast and Furious franchise, he could be the perfect fit. With that wonderful news, I decided to make Akira my Sunday night movie followed by the promise of a review. So here it is!
While I was watching Akira, I started to get a bit nervy as to how this review was going to pan out. It’s not an easy movie to keep track of and understanding what’s going on takes a few watches and even a read of a few opinions on Reddit.
Either way, I think I have it summed up enough to write something coherent.
The premise of Akira is something we’ve seen before. The evolution of the human race, psychic abilities and gang warfare is something that we’re accustomed to in various forms and for a Manga movie, those kinds of themes are staple.
For something that has biker gangs in it, Akira needed to avoid the slickness of Studio Ghibli and keep it believable. That’s been achieved and you truly get the sense that we’re in a city that’s come out the other end of a World War. The fact that anarchy reigns (almost) free is supported by the grittiness of the images we’re seeing and it really supports the themes Akira is shooting for.
As for the story itself, it’s not the easiest to follow so I hope, if you’ve watched it and don’t quite get it, I can help a little bit. Don’t be fooled though, I had to do the whole Reddit thing and watch it a few times so you’re not alone.
Essentially, it’s a bit of a mix bag of bits and bobs that come together really well. To start with, you’re led to believe that it’s a West Side Story type movie that’s set in Neo-Tokyo, on bikes. We know that won’t be the case though as its Manga and Manga has a love of everything a little exotic. To reinforce that theory, early on in the movie, you catch a glimpse of an elderly looking child that hints at something much bigger than biker gangs.
From here, things develop slowly and build your understanding at a pace that we’re not used to in animated movies. With a running time of 2 hours, Akira allows you the time to get to know its characters and understand the story as best you can. Something that’s rare in animation.
From that glimpse of the elderly child (one of three Espers – psychic children), Akira starts to move its pieces into place. Once Tetsuo is taken to the facility, you start to see the real theme of the movie. The Espers, in essence were children that were experimented on to release psychic abilities and advance human evolution. Seemingly, that’s worked and Tetsuo is the next subject.
Tetsuo is the embodiment of the themes that Akira aims for and his decline into (almost) madness is borne of his rebellious nature and his need to be treated as an adult or someone that’s simply taken seriously. His story highlights just how easy it is to fall into the role of the villain when you’re hit with the right probes at the right time.
Towards the end of the movie, there is some redemption for Tetsuo but by that point, it’s a little too late. Akira has awoken and as Tetsuo has become too powerful, he has to take him to another dimension. That’s pretty much where it ends and I don’t want to give too much away because it’s a movie you’ll enjoy if you sit down and watch it.
To touch on Tetsuo once more, he’s not a villain. He’s more of an anti-hero that despite committing acts you find difficult to support, it’s hard not to feel for him as you understand what his actions have been borne from. Something summed up wonderfully in Kaneda’s visions of Tetsuo’s past.
It’s one of those films where I’ve only just scratched the surface and there are so many more aspects to it that I want to leave untouched. Themes of messiahs and false messiahs, sacrifice, government control and un-breakable friendships. It’s all there in spades.
All I can say is, if you have two hours, it’s a brilliantly put together movie that deserves your time.
4* - Manganificent