Sometimes a movie comes around that absolutely defines a movement in cinema and changes it forever. For the French New Wave, it was Breathless (Godard, 1961), for the Film Brats’ revolution, it was The Godfather, (Coppola, 1978), and for anime, it is Akira (Otomo, 1988).
Akira is a 1988 film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the movie was a critical supernova and is all over top lists of critics top animated films, sci-fi films¹, and just top films period, coming in at #440 on Empire magazine’s top 500 films of all time.
Similar to the way that in 1978, Coppola’s The Godfather bounded onto the screens of cinemas everywhere and announced to the world that the film brats were running things now; Akira sprang into theaters and announced that anime was a legitimate cinematic movement.
The film tells the story of a pair of young men in a motorcycle gang who live in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo where society brink of collapse. When one of them, named Tetsuo, develops psychic powers and goes on a quest to find an incredibly powerful psychic named Akira. The other, named Kaneda, must team up with a group of resistance fighters in order to stop his childhood friend, and save the world.
Obviously the plot seems a little all over the place, but I wanted to omit certain spoilers to make your overall viewing enjoyment more pleasureable. But let me tell you, this film is a masterpiece, with a spectacular conclusion that is brutal and guttural and beautiful, all rolled into one experience. (It’s definitely NOT for kids.³)
Akira’s story is captivating, and has managed to engross and inspire Hollywood filmmakers throughout the industry. Akira has also been cited as a major influence on live-action films such as The Matrix (Wachowski Sisters, 1999), Chronicle² (Trank, 2012), and Looper (Johnson, 2012), as well as television shows such as Stranger Things.
Side note: If you haven’t noticed from my posts at this point, the Wachowski siblings took a LOT of inspiration for The Matrix from films throughout the medium of anime.
Akira, is, in a sense, the most important anime film in existence, for a couple of reasons. It had a tremendous impact on the industry, by displaying the true potential for spectacle and quality in the anime industry.
It established the fact that a big budget anime film is not only worth investing in, but pushing as the future, because after Akira anime films soon became a massive part of the Japanese film culture.
Akira isn’t just a great anime film.
It’s simply a great film.
End of story.
I love this film so much that I could go on all day about it, so I did. If you click the link below, it can take you to a podcast that I filmed with a friend and fellow cinefile.
Don’t let the 40 minute length of the talk scare you, after about 15 minutes we start to delve into a spoiler-filled discussion of the content and I mention that you can stop listening in order to avoid them. So you can feel free to exit out of after that, or you can stay if you don’t mind having the film spoiled for you!