Akira (1988)
February 15, 2024 1:40 PM - Subscribe

[TRAILER] In 1988 the Japanese government drops an atomic bomb on Tokyo after ESP experiments on children go awry. In 2019, 31 years after nuking the city, Kaneda, a bike gang leader, tries to save his friend Tetsuo from a secret government project. He battles against anti-government activists, greedy politicians, irresponsible scientists and a powerful military leader until Tetsuo's supernatural power suddenly manifest. A final battle is fought in Tokyo Olympiad exposing the experiment's secrets.

Starring the voices of Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama, Taro Ishida, Tesshō Genda, Mizuho Suzuki, Tatsuhiko Nakamura, Fukue Itō, Kazuhiro Shindō.

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. Screenplay by Katsuhiro Otomo, Izo Hashimoto. Based on the 1982 manga of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo. Produced by Ryōhei Suzuki, Shunzō Katō. Cinematography by Katsuji Misawa. Edited by Takeshi Seyama. Music by Shōji Yamashiro.

91% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Time is a blur so I'm not quite sure of the dates here.

But a bunch of us met at a comic book store (because of course) and then we sort of formed a group that would go out to dinner on Wednesday nights. Most of these people were 10ish years younger than me overall (and also much younger than the owner of the comic shop).

So a theater in the neighborhood was going to be playing Akira and it turned out a bunch of them had not seen it, so FIELD TRIP (which was just to the other side of the neighborhood).

I like this but I don't love it. I don't need to watch it a lot. I mean, it's cool as hell, don't get me wrong. The soundtrack is extraordinary (I own it!). But mostly I just remember the characters shouting each other's names constantly and all the Akira bike slide homages.

Anyway, I'm glad we took a bunch of twentysomethings to actually see this at the time when they were still twentysomethings.
posted by edencosmic at 5:39 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, there are still tracks that kind of blow my mind.
posted by Kyol at 6:48 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]

I cannot recommend rewatching this if you've not done so in a while. In the best quality and biggest screen possible. I've seen this at least a dozen times over the past three decades and it continues to improve as time goes on.

The animation and visual design of this is, even by any contemporary standard, incredible. There is not a single corner cut or compromise made in the production. The visual density of practically every shot in the movie is something else.

The story is a bit of a mess, making the whole movie a bit more about vibes and characters than strictly story and plot, but the whole thing is an audio-visual masterpiece. There's a reason so many shots from this have been replicated, referenced and parodied in other media for decades.

I'm drawn to films and media that evoke a strong sense of place and atmosphere, and this is up there as a gold standard. We see enough of Neo-Tokyo and its people to understand the city and you can feel the pressure roiling underneath, waiting to release the tension and anxiety that has accumulated since its destruction 30 years prior.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:48 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]

Missed a word and the edit window in my comment above: "I cannot recommend rewatching this *enough*..."

Please watch this movie. It is very good.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:59 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]

One of the nine billion versions on disc has a feature where a symbol pops up and you can push a button on your remote and it pauses to translate the written Japanese in the background for you. It's very distracting but worth doing once.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:35 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

A boy I liked invited me to a screening of Akira hosted by my high school's art nerd club. It was 1991 and I was 14 years old, with absolutely no context for anything I was watching. To say that it left an indelible impression is an understatement. That giant radioactive teddy bear will haunt me to my grave. (This boy also introduced me to Tori Amos and took me to my first Star Trek convention, so was responsible for a really mixed bag of formative influences. Thanks, Dave.)
posted by merriment at 5:11 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]

For a little while in the earlu aughts I tried my hand at writing a few TV scripts. Every one of them included a scene, either cutaway flashback or in the scene, where characters yelled "TETSUO!" and "KANADA!" back and forth at each other.

I should rewatch this soon. I don't think I've seen it since college.
posted by thecaddy at 6:46 AM on February 16

Dan Larsen just did The History of Akira a couple of weeks ago so this feels timely.

I grew up reading translated volumes of the manga (Japanese into French), and the cinema release was a huuuuuuge deal in France in 1991 but I had to wait for it to be shown on Canal + and was confused AF when the animé curtailed the story to just the first two volumes or so of the manga. Only years later did I find out about Otomo working on both concurently.
posted by Molesome at 7:17 AM on February 16

My three-word summary of Akira: Tetsuo! Kaneda! Kaboom!

I first watched this in high school, in like... 1989/1990. I had a friend who was a giant anime nerd, which was a really niche thing back then, and he had the Japanese laserdisc before there was even a US release. (He was also a Japanese culture nerd and had already taken a year of Japanese as a 10th grader.) He dubbed a copy onto VHS for me, and I watched it in the original Japanese with no subtitles, having no idea what anyone was saying. Talk about vibes!

Eventually I watched a English language version with terrible dubbing, but at least I could understand things. Haven't watched it in YEARS. I should show it to my wife, now that we have a giant TV and surround sound.

The manga is also pretty bonkers. They blow up Tokyo like 2 or 3 times? It just gets crazier and crazier and is so insanely detailed.
posted by mrphancy at 7:44 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]

I like this but I don't love it. I don't need to watch it a lot. I mean, it's cool as hell, don't get me wrong. The soundtrack is extraordinary (I own it!). But mostly I just remember the characters shouting each other's names constantly and all the Akira bike slide homages.

Not to mention all the bad things that happen to poor Kaori.
posted by Gelatin at 8:18 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

I only ever watched Akira once: I was 11 years old, at a friend's house, with minimal supervision, and we excitedly put it on knowing it was age inappropriate.

I mostly thought it was pretty awesome, up until near the end. My feelings about the movie are dominated by one moment, which if I recall correctly, was as follows: Tetsuo is turning into an expanding mound of flesh, and his girlfriend gets caught in it, and she gets crushed to death. What I remember most were her shrieks, followed by a popping sound and a vanishing chamber of blood.

Saying it traumatized me is too strong, but that image still pops (!) into my head every once in a while. I'm not particularly sensitive to gore, etc, but if I were to ever rewatch Akira I'd have to leave the room for that whole sequence.
posted by Alex404 at 8:19 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

Not to mention all the bad things that happen to poor Kaori.

posted by Alex404 at 8:20 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


She also gets smacked around and her blouse torn off by a rival biker gang.

I was aware that anime showed things that Western animation often didn't (and I'd also seen Heavy Metal by that point, I think), but that scene was remarkable for a depiction of animated female nudity that wasn't titillating in the least, but clearly designed to evoke shame and pity for the character.
posted by Gelatin at 8:27 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]

I've bothered to sit down and watch Akira just once. It was alright. Not as mindblowing as the ubiquious commercials on cable in the 90s made it out to be.
posted by Stuka at 9:34 AM on February 16

Neo Tokyo is about to explode!

and if you like Neo Tokyo exploding, definitely read the manga... it explodes at least 2 more times
posted by kokaku at 12:03 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]

I tried watching this for a the first time a year or two ago, and didn't make it very far, and my kids -- who watch a lot of anime -- weren't into it either. I wonder if it's something you have to have grown up with decades ago in order to appreciate? Are there young people today watching it for the first time and loving it on its own, and not as a historical document?
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:04 PM on February 16

I'm not expert enough to say, but certainly tone and style in anime is a lot different than it used to be (esp. for the rare pieces that made it to pop culture knowledge in the U.S.). Like, occasionally I ask myself why, as a wee nerd, I wasn't into this stuff at the proper age for it. Then I watch something like clips of the student council meetings in Revolutionary Girl Utena and...the material is legit bonkers, but there's something so inert and stagy about the art style. Maybe it just works better with modern animation techniques.

(smash the world's shell, though)
posted by praemunire at 2:39 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]

+1 poor Kaori.

Yeah, I still have very fond memories of this movie. I saw both Akira and Ghost in the Shell (1985) on VHS or laserdisc in the same summer month, and they set my expectations for all anime unrealistically high. And then someone recommended I rent Grave of Fireflies (1998)... which I don't I could ever withstand rewatching again.
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 10:04 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

I wonder if it's something you have to have grown up with decades ago in order to appreciate?

I'm going to say maybe something like the opposite of this is true. A large part of it is being an adolescent or younger and more easily impressed, but with basically no previous anime exposure, it was mindblowing at the time. I reckon if you have grown up with anime, you probably have different expectations & it doesn't have the same effect.
posted by juv3nal at 10:34 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Thinking on it some more, I think part of it is like a Citizen Kane effect wherein many of its technical innovations filtered into the stuff that followed it as a matter of course, so people accustomed to what came after might not see what was special about it. There's a lot of stuff in Akira that is kind of like emulating a virtual camera, motion blur, shifting focus from something in the foreground to something in the background (or vice versa) and the out of focus stuff becoming blurry, etc. that felt new for animated stuff at the time, though of course probably it wasn't first to do any of them, but just in terms of the stuff that managed to make it's way over to the west.
posted by juv3nal at 12:02 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]

I like this but I don't love it. I don't need to watch it a lot. I mean, it's cool as hell, don't get me wrong. The soundtrack is extraordinary (I own it!). But mostly I just remember the characters shouting each other's names constantly and all the Akira bike slide homages.

Did you get to watch the "new" dub or the original? Well it's not really new anymore, but its a much improved dub versus the original which had 3x more "KENEDA!!!" and "TESTSUO!!!".
posted by WaterAndPixels at 6:19 AM on February 22

I saw the 4K release in cinema in one of the years near the end of lockdown, it's impressive for all-handcrafted work & also complicated by the story that was told and the source books overlapping in development.

I also listened to the soundtrack on the recommendation of an Ask post. Separated from the movie, it's not for me.

When it came to playing Cyberpunk 2077, I couldn't find the way to get the Tetsuo ending, maybe there's not enough Akira-spirit there.
posted by k3ninho at 4:05 PM on March 16

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