DVD Review: Akira
What do I know about anime? Not much. I know it's a word used to describe a distinctly Japanese style of animation (at least according to Wikipedia
), and I know that what I've seen of it has been stuff that I don't like.
Now, what I've seen of it
consists of the television shows our kids watch. Pokemon
, Dragon Ball Z
... Oh, and the Teen Titans
, which, from what I can tell, is anime as well.
Most of it has always confused and confounded me. For one thing, I don't like the way the animation itself
is done. It looks cheap and clumsy. I don't like the stories, either, because they seem to be simultaneously convoluted and silly. And, as far as the characters go, there just seemed to be nothing there. So, from what I could tell, I didn't like anime.
The thing is, I have a friend at work who has told me a thousand times that I just think
I don't like anime because I haven't seen any good anime
. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but until last night I never bothered to take the time to watch the movie that my friend always said was the anime by which all other anime should be judged. That movie, according to my friend, is Akira
. This eighteen year old film is, from what I hear, the masterpiece of Katsuhiro Ôtomo
. And, to be fair, my friend at work wasn't the only source of praise I'd heard for the film. Akira
it seemed, was the film that I'd have to see before I could really say if I liked Anime or not.
Well, after having watched it last night, I still can't say if I like anime
in general, but I can say that I enjoyed Akira
quite a bit. It was absolutely unlike anything
I'd seen before.
It's not that there aren't any movies
I can compare it to. In fact, a number of very good movies crossed my mind as we watched Akira
. At times I found myself reminded of Blade Runner
, at other times A Clockwork Orange
popped into my head. I was also reminded briefly by one sequence of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
, and another sequence reminded me of one of my all time favorite films, Jacob's Ladder
. Yes, there are a number of popular films that I can compare Akira
to. The hell of it is, none of these films are animated
. In fact, it's fair to say that I've never seen any
animation that was quite like this.
Well, maybe the animated sequence of Kill Bill Volume 1
came close… but nothing else is comparable. This was not the cheap, silly animation that I'd seen before and thought was the sum total of "anime." This was really something else; something remarkable.
I am sure of this much, if Akira
is the template by which anime should be judged, then the anime that I see when the kids watch Cartoon Network
is utter garbage. I've never seen anything on any
of those shows that could compare to the animation in this film. The backgrounds were the first thing to strike me as outstanding. The movie is set in a bleak future-vision of Tokyo, and it features cityscapes that are jaw-dropping. Other elements of the film really stood out on a scene by scene basis. Much of the visual design of the movie hinges on the power of hallucinatory elements. One sequence in which toys come alive inside of a hospital room and grow to gargantuan size really
had my jaw on the floor. I actually found myself feeling the same tension… the same kind of action-movie anxiety… that I associate with movies like Jaws
and The Bourne Identity
And this was an animated
movie! Not only that, but it's an eighteen year old
I'm still not sure if anime is my cup of tea or not. I found the plot of Akira
to be quite hard to follow, but there came a point where I just happily abandoned my efforts to follow the plot and I just sat back and enjoyed the visuals and the apocalyptic overture that was unfolding in front of me. After all, who needs to really understand what's going on when you've got motorcycles and space-ships and covert government agencies and giant godlike monsters and creepy, ghostly children all fighting for the rule of Earth? Just take it in and let it do it's thing. Because I wasn't able to follow the story, I have no idea how to judge Akira
in terms of story. I can say this, though… it is a feast
for the eyes.
A brief warning: Don't assume that just because it's animated that it's a family friendly film. This movie is rated R, and with good reason. There is a great deal of harsh language, a few scenes that involved drug use, and some downright-upsetting animated violence, including an attempted rape. This ain't Yu-Gi-Oh!
. It ain't for kids.
Wait for the kids to hit the sack for the night and save this one for mom and dad's viewing only.
It isn't going to be the kind of movie that everyone will enjoy. The end sequences are pretty extreme and the movie presents a dark and pessimistic view of the future. Nonetheless, it creates it's own world and inhabits it completely. Nothing that I saw in this movie struck me as implausible because I was sucked into it by the fifteen minute mark. Be careful with this movie. You might not enjoy it, you might even find it down-right troubling… but once you start watching it, you won't be able to take your eyes off of Akira