Blindsided by AKIRA – Review

~ Akira is the Blind Spot entry for January. Full listing here. ~

                           "I am Tetsuo."

Before heading into a film I usually find some middle ground of knowledge between an IMDB synopsis and a full review just so I’m aware of what I’m getting myself into. Kicking off the Blind Spot Series with a bang nothing could have prepared me for Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s anime classic, Akira.

Naïvely heading into the unknown I was accordingly surprised. There are mountains of theological, philosophical and mythological references that contribute to the plot but the dystopian vision of Neo-Tokyo appealed to my sci-fi cravings the most. The neon tinged vision of Neo-Tokyo is second to none, perhaps only re-invented in recent times by Lana and Andy Wachowski’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s Neo-Seoul in Cloud Atlas.

Following the devastation of the Old City, engulfed by a white dome-like explosion witnessed in the opening scene, “31 years after World War III” we’re advanced to AD 2019 and Neo-Tokyo. Necessary to the dystopian trope is an omnipresence of social and civil unrest, Akira‘s Neo-Tokyo is no different.

Following our jump to 2019 we’re introduced to our main characters, Kaneda and Tetsuo. As members of a known biker gang that operates throughout the old city, the film fulfils it’s belligerent promise of violence with an iconic biker chase through corrupt and riotous streets. Tetsuo, eager to prove his worth to his peers chases down a member of the Clown gang and in true Mortal Kombat style finishes him. Regaining concentration Tetsuo spectacularly crashes into our first of many mysterious characters Takashi, a psionic under the protection of the Army.

Aware, or at least wary, of the consequences Tetsuo’s interraction with Takashi could have, the army lead by Colonel Shikishima take him away for analysis and testing. Tetsuo’s psychic abilities are slowly realised through a torturous hallucinatory process that spells a word of caution to the scientist tracking his development. The first mention of Akira comes soon after when the data from the two subjects are compared, Tetsuo’s showing an inverse yet equally powerful version of Akira’s psychic potential, hinting at the Yin and Yang reference of Tetsuo and Akira.

As Tetsuo’s power snowballs to a point where he has perceived control, the mystery behind the eponymous Akira is pursued. With a powerful desire to uncover the truth behind Akira’s existence Tetsuo leads the army, Kaneda, Kaori, members of the freedom revolution, as well as the three Espers; Masaru, Kiyoko and Takashi to the construction site of the Olympic Stadium where Akira rests. In a final showdown too good to ruin there isn’t much more I can say regarding the plot.

The legacy of Akira‘s cyberpunk style has proved a landmark in Japanese animation rivalled only by Studio Ghibli’s pastel universe. Half expecting something similar to Miyazaki’s mythological visions I’ve already expressed my surprise at Akira‘s shocking tendency toward violence but more alarming is it’s prescient verisimilitude of 2019 culture. Only four years away, ignoring the philosophical subtext there’s no reason why a city as great as Tokyo couldn’t breakout in civil unrest. The student protests in Hong Kong just last year lament to the state of social antipathy possible.

However, Akira is more than just a message on discontentment and corruption. It’s theological and philosophical leanings give the film a purpose beyond your stereotypical ‘bringing the system to the ground in revolutionary fervour’ narrative. Akira is more about second chances and transcendent enlightenment than who rules who. Only a few characters in the film know this to be the case which plays into the enigma right up until the last scene.

Akira‘s magnetism is hard to avoid. Committing to the Blind Spot Series has forced me out of my comfort zone with this one. On some levels it represents a similar challenge to reviewing The Matrix but if I can encourage one of you to find a copy of Akira then I can’t recommend it enough. Certainly a Must-see for it’s artistic vision and philosophical narrative, embrace it’s rampaging psychopathic violent brio and come out the other side bemused and entertained.

* * * *

For a fan-made analysis for those who have seen Akira head over to; http://www.reddit.com/r/TrueFilm/comments/11b589/ive_seen_akira_1988_probably_over_a_dozen_times/ for a good breakdown of plot points and depth of analysis that I had to avoid in this review.

~ Happy Viewing ~

Next up in the Blind Spot Series is February’s Natural Born Killers.

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