“Akira” begins with a shot of a nuclear blast in Tokyo, but it’s not the end of the world. Thirty or so years later, Neo Tokyo is alive and well, though with normal city problems. One of those is Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata), a member of biker gang. During a typical show-off fest with their rival gang, Kaneda’s friend and second Tetsuo (Nozomu Sasaki) is injured, and Tetsuo’s captured by some shady government types who were trying to recapture a little boy on the lam.
Being the good friend he is, Kaneda tries his damndest to find his friend, and he gets involved with a lovely girl, Kei (Mami Koyama), who is part of an anti-government group. Her group has every reason to be anti-government, especially considering that they’ve kidnapped Tetsuo so they can imbue him with loads of supernatural powers just to see what he’ll do.
Watching “Akira,” the seminal anime flick from 1988 directed by Katsuhiro tomo, I was a bit reminded of those Classical epics I read last year in the midst of my “Battlestar Galactica” withdrawal. (Yes, it’s true; everything in my life goes back to that show.)
At various points in “The Illiad” and “The Aeneid,” the gods themselves swoop into the action and force the humans to do things they shouldn’t, such as fire a shot that ends a cease-fire or burn ships in an effort to force the travelers to stay put.
The easy explanation is that the gods want the humans to act this way, the gods take over the minds of the humans, and the humans then act accordingly. However, I think the more interesting interpretation is that while the gods have infinite power, they can’t control people; what they can do is heighten feelings and thoughts that are already there and give a human a push to do what, deep down, they want to do anyway.
Tetsuo is always second, always the one denied the spotlight. He gets his first taste of power and wanton destruction and death follow; is this the ‘real’ Tetsuo or has a monster taken over him? No easy answers here and a stellar piece of characterization in a genre that is too easily dismissed.
It’s a complicated film, with lots of characters coming in and out of the frame during any given scene (my recap here is just the A plot). “Akira” is a good story, even if that final battle is waaay too long, but it does fall into what I call the anime trap; I’ve liked just about every anime film I’ve seen, but I’ve never loved one. They are all interesting, with compelling plots to ruminate on, great animation, good acting, etc., but I always feel a bit cold at the end. I’m not sure why, but I never get that must-watch-this-movie-forever kind of feeling.
There’s a lot to love here; shame I don’t, but give it a shot. Maybe you will.
Directed by Katsuhiro tomo
Written by Iz Hashimoto
Starring: Mitsuo Iwata (Kaneda)
Nozomu Sasaki (Tetsuo)
Mami Koyama (Kei)