In 1951, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon declared to the world that Japan’s was a complex and vital national cinema. In 1988, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira introduced to many Westerners the head-swiveling richness of anime. At the time it was the country’s most expensive animated film — and the year’s biggest hit. Adventurous Americans discovered the movie in the cult section of something called video stores, a curious artifact of the late 20th century. Akira finally got a big-screen U.S. release in 2001.
Boiling his 2,182-page manga multinovel into a 2-hr. epic, Otomo retained the books’ sprawling, darn near confounding narrative while bringing a kinetic kick to its sex and violence (and violent sex). Set in Tokyo in 2019 (the same year in which Blade Runner, one of many of Otomo’s influences, was set), the film traces the convergence of teen rebel Tetsuo and his gang with a government project known only as Akira. You watch it less for the nuances of facial detail, which aren’t much more sophisticated than those in Astroboy, than for its dark glamour and noir-ish camera angles. Call it Mad Max Space Odyssey, or a cyberpunk Godzilla, or a Peckinpah bloodying-up of The Matrix (Neo-Tokyo was the postapocalyptic name of Japan’s largest city), but Akira is its own grand and startling vision.
Next Happy Feet