AKIRA (アキラ?) is a 1988 Japanese animated action film written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo based on his hit manga. The film is set in a futuristic and post-war city, Neo-Tokyo, in 2019. While most of the character designs and basic settings were adapted from the original 2182-page manga epic, the restructured plot of the movie differs considerably from the print version, pruning much of the last half of the manga. The film became a hugely popular cult film and is widely considered to be a landmark in Japanese animation and film.
On July 16, 1988, Tokyo is destroyed by an apparent nuclear explosion, leading to the start of World War III. Thirty-one years after Tokyo's destruction, Neo-Tokyo, a new megalopolis built on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, is gripped by political strife, anti-government terrorism, and gang violence. Shotaro Kaneda leads his bōsōzoku gang, the Capsules, which find themselves in a gang war with another group called the Clowns. As Kaneda and his best friend, Tetsuo, battle a pair of Clowns on a highway, the latter almost runs into a child with wizened features and is injured when his bike suddenly explodes. Tetsuo and the child, Takashi, are captured by armed soldiers. Kaneda and his gang are taken in for questioning, where Kaneda unsuccessfully flirts with a young woman named Kei, a member of the terrorist Resistance. Kaneda, Kei, and the remaining Capsules are later released.
Colonel Shikishima and Doctor Onishi, two members of a secret government project, discover that Tetsuo possesses mental frequencies similar to Akira, a little boy with essentially god-like mental abilities who was the real culprit behind the explosion that destroyed Tokyo decades before. Because Kiyoko, another one of supernatural children called the Espers, has had visions of a similar destruction of Neo-Tokyo, the Colonel orders the Doctor to kill Tetsuo should his power escalate beyond their control. Tetsuo escapes, meeting up with his girlfriend, Kaori, and stealing Kaneda's motorcycle. As they attempt to leave the city, they are attacked by Clowns, whom Kaneda and the gang defeat upon their arrival. As Kaneda helps the couple recover, Tetsuo begins to suffer a painful headache. On the Doctor's orders, a government van arrives and takes Tetsuo away. That night, Kaneda sees Kei at the scene of a terrorist attack, helps her avoid arrest, and accompanies her to the Resistance headquarters. Kaneda offers to help after the terrorists unintentionally reveal their plan to infiltrate a high-security hospital to rescue Tetsuo.
That night, the Espers–Takashi, Kiyoko and Masaru–attempt to kill Tetsuo before he grows accustomed to his new powers. This attempt on his life, however, backfires and fully awakens Tetsuo's abilities. He goes on a violent and bloody rampage through the hospital to the Espers' hospital room, where he learns that Akira is now in cryogenic storage below Neo-Tokyo's new Olympic Stadium. The Colonel, Kei, and Kaneda, arrive too late to find the Espers' room complete destroyed. They learn that Tetsuo is heading for the Stadium to meet Akira in the hopes he can give Tetsuo more information about his powers. Kei and Kaneda are detained, but Kiyoko–speaking through Kei as a medium–explains that Tetsuo must be stopped and helps them escape. Meanwhile, Tetsuo encounters Yamagata, Kaneda's right-hand man, and kills him. Another capsule named Kai is also there to witness Yamagata's death but is spared. Tetsuo travels to the Stadium, brutally dispatching soldiers who attack him. Arriving at the Stadium, Tetsuo battles and defeats Kei, who is voluntarily being used by the Espers.
Tetsuo finally unearths Akira's cryogenic chamber, only to discover Akira's organs, stored inside glass jars. The Colonel–who by now has taken over Neo-Tokyo and declared martial law–tells Tetsuo that Akira's remains had been meticulously analyzed after Tokyo's destruction and that he's been dead the entire time. Kaneda, having learned of Yamagata's death from Kai, uses Tetsuo's moment of confusion to fire on him with a laser rifle, but Tetsuo is able to block almost all the attacks but the initial one which manages to cut his arm badly. While Tetsuo is distracted by Kaneda, the Colonel tries to destroy Tetsuo using an orbital laser weapon but manages only to sever his right arm. Tetsuo takes off into orbit and destroys the weapon, then spends the night recovering at the Stadium, psychically forging himself a new arm from inorganic material while studying Akira's organs. His girlfriend Kaori arrives and tries to calm him down as his powers continue to create immense physical pain.
The Colonel pleads with Tetsuo to return to the lab, but Tetsuo attacks the Colonel. The Colonel fires back, with Kaneda (protected by the Espers) joining the fight. Overwhelmed by his emotions and the pain in his body, Tetsuo loses control of his powers and his body begins to transform into a gigantic cyborg-like monster that crushes and kills Kaori. The Espers, watching from afar, realize the only way to stop Tetsuo is to call forth Akira, his life force contained in the body parts in the glass jars. Akira's manifestation causes another explosion, and the Espers teleport the Colonel to safety. In spite of Kiyoko and Masaru's insistence that trying to save Kaneda alone would be futile, Takashi jumps into the ever-expanding psychic field. Kiyoko and Masaru agree to join Takashi, aware they likely will not be able to return, and help save Kaneda. Kaneda experiences Tetsuo's and the Espers' memories, including how much Tetsuo trusted Kaneda as a friend and how the children obtained their powers.
The Espers remove Kaneda from the field and tell him that Akira will be taking Tetsuo "away" and to find somewhere safe to ride out the explosion. The explosion engulfs much of Neo-Tokyo, and when it shrinks and, finally, vanishes, leaves a void that is quickly filled by the nearby ocean. Doctor Onishi is caught in the implosion this causes, crushing his van and killing him. Kaneda wakes up to find that Kei and Kai are safe, and they drive away from the ruined stadium into the city. The Colonel walks out of the tunnel The Espers teleported him to and watches the sun rising over the destroyed city. The credits begin with a Big Bang with Tetsuo saying, "I am Tetsuo."
- Akira (アキラ, codename #28) – The eponymous, principal subject of the story. Akira was a young boy who developed transcendent psionic, god-like abilities when serving as a test subject for secret government ESP experiments in the 1980s. He subsequently lost control of this power and the ensuing blast completely annihilated Tokyo in a horrifying explosion in 1988. After the apocalyptic event, Akira was recovered and subjected to every test known to modern science, which proved unable to solve the mystery. He was placed within a cryonic chamber underneath the Neo-Tokyo Olympic Stadium.
- Shotaro Kaneda (金田 正太郎 Kaneda Shōtarō) – The anthology's main protagonist, Kaneda is a carefree gang-leader who boasts a custom-modified motorcycle. He and Tetsuo have been best friends since early childhood. He is brash and not above teasing Tetsuo despite feeling affection for him as a younger brother. Upon rescuing Kei, Kaneda becomes involved in the activities of her group of anti-government guerrillas in hopes of locating Tetsuo.
- Tetsuo Shima (島 鉄雄 Shima Tetsuo) – Kaneda's best friend since preschool and the second principal subject of the story's theme. Tetsuo is shown as a black sheep in the gang he and Kaneda are part of, and quietly suffers from a deeply rooted inferiority complex. He admires his friend yet at the same time strongly resents his own reliance upon him. After his psychokinetic abilities manifest, Tetsuo quickly becomes Kaneda's nemesis; he desires Kaneda's motorcycle (a symbol of status and power) and seeks to prove himself supremely powerful, without need of protection. Eventually, his power overwhelms him.
- Kei (ケイ) – A young female revolutionary whom Kaneda meets and becomes enamoured with on his quest to find Tetsuo. She is a member of an anti-government faction that Ryu and Nezu are also involved in. Although she does not possess preternatural abilities, Kei is used by the Espers as a type of medium on several occasions.
- Colonel Shikishima (敷島大佐), also known as simply The Colonel – The head of the ongoing government project which was responsible for inadvertently unleashing Akira's power thirty years earlier. Appearing tough and ruthless, he is nevertheless pragmatic enough to recognize the danger Tetsuo's fledging powers pose and cares for the three Espers under his supervision. Amongst the other government figures depicted in the film, he is shown to be the most principled, eschewing the corruption and hedonism that typifies Neo-Tokyo.
- The Espers – Masaru (マサル, codename #27), Takashi (タカシ, codename #26) and Kiyoko (キヨコ, codename #25) – Akira's fellow psychic test subjects. They exhibit a variety of paranormal powers which they use to influence the course of events to the best of their ability. While individually of lesser strength than Akira or Tetsuo, their combined effort proves decisive in the story's final confrontation. Physically, they resemble children with wrinkled faces, white hair and blue-green skin.
- Nezu (根津) – A government mole responsible for Takashi's kidnapping.
- Yamagata (山形) – One of the most prominent members of Kaneda's gang. He often derides Tetsuo, which ultimately leads to his death at Tetsuo's hands.
- Kai (甲斐) – Another member of Kaneda's gang, Kai plays an important supporting role in the eventual battle against Tetsuo. He is close friends with Yamagata and they remain together when the gang breaks up, being one of the only members to survive.
- Kaori (カオリ) – Tetsuo's girlfriend. She stands by Tetsuo even though he treats her rather harshly sometimes, which ultimately leads to her death.
AKIRA Committee was the name given to a partnership of several major Japanese entertainment companies brought together to realize production of AKIRA. The group's assembly was necessitated by the unconventionally high budget and ambitious scale of the cinematic project, in order to achieve the desired epic standard equal to Otomo's manga tale. AKIRA Committee consisted of publisher Kodansha Ltd., Mainichi Broadcasting System, Inc., Bandai Co., Ltd., Hakuhodo Incorporated, distributor Toho Co., Ltd., Laserdisc Corporation, Sumitomo Corporation and animation producer Tokyo Movie Shinsha Co., Ltd.
Most anime is notorious for cutting production corners with limited motion, such as having only the characters' mouths move while their faces remained static. AKIRA broke from this trend with detailed scenes, lip-synched dialogue – a first for an anime production – and super-fluid motion as realized in the film's more than 160,000 animation cels. The teaser trailer of this movie was released in 1987.
The film was completed and released in 1988, two years before the manga storyline officially ended in 1990. Otomo had immense difficulty completing the manga; he has stated that the inspiration for its conclusion arose from a conversation that he had with Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1990, but Jodorowsky cannot recall what he said to Otomo.
Katsuhiro Otomo is a big fan of Tetsujin-28. As a result, his naming conventions match the characters featured in Tetsujin-28: Kaneda shares his name with the protagonist of Tetsujin-28; Colonel Shikishima shares his name with Professor Shikishima of Tetsujin-28, while Tetsuo is named after Shikishima's son Tetsuo Shikishima; AKIRA's Ryūsaku is named after Ryūsaku Murasame. In addition, Takashi has a "26" tattooed on his hand which closely resembles the font used in Tetsujin-28. The namesake of the anime, Akira, is the 28th in a line of psychics that the government has developed, the same number as Tetsujin-28.
The sound of Kaneda's bike engine was produced by compositing the engine sound of a 1929 Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a jet engine.
Katsuhiro Otomo decried his fame and said that his conclusion of AKIRA was false in both the Japanese and American editions, and that he could never truly finish his epic. Nevertheless, Otomo's AKIRA (1988) is widely considered a masterpiece of graphic storytelling.
The original July 16, 1988 release by Toho in Japan set attendance records for an animated film. Fledgling North American distribution company Streamline Pictures soon acquired an existing English-language rendition created by Kodansha (originally dubbed for the Hong Kong market) which saw limited release in North American theatres from late 1988 throughout 1989. Streamline is reported to have become the film's distributor when both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg labelled it unmarketable in the U.S. In the UK, AKIRA was theatrically released by ICA Projects on 25 January 1991. In Australia, AKIRA was theatrically released by Island World Communications and distributed by Satellite Entertainment, later on by Manga Entertainment, then Madman Entertainment after Manga Entertainment's Australia branch merged with Madman. In Canada, the Streamline dub was released by Lionsgate (at the time known as C/FP Distribution) in 1990. In 2001, Pioneer released a new dub which was produced by Animaze and was presented in select theaters.
VHS releases included the initial Streamline Video offering (May 1991), later wider distribution by MGM/UA Home Video, and a subtitled edition from Orion Home Video (September 1993). In the UK, AKIRA was released on video by Island World Communications in 1991. The success of this release led to the creation of Manga Entertainment, who later took over the release. The original VHS release of AKIRA started up Manga Entertainment Australia and VHS distribution was handled by Ronin Films and Polygram until 1994 when Siren Entertainment took over all of Manga Entertainment Australia's distribution including AKIRA under a special license from Polygram, who handled Island's video distribution. AKIRA was re-released on video in 1994, and again on DVD in 2001 and distributed by Madman Entertainment and The AV Channel. The Criterion Collection released a laserdisc edition in 1993. Pioneer Entertainment issued a DVD and a VHS with a new English dub in 2001. In 2002, Manga released a two-disc DVD featuring the new Pioneer English dub followed in 2004 by another two-disc set containing the original Japanese as well as both the Streamline and Pioneer dubs. This version did not contain standard English subtitles, only closed captioning subtitles. In 2005, Manga Entertainment and Boulevard UMD released Akira on UMD for the Sony PSP using an entirely new English dub, in place of the original Streamline and later Pioneer dub.
A Blu-ray Disc edition of the film was released on February 24, 2009 with 5 additional minutes in North America. A Blu-Ray edition of AKIRA was subsequently released in Australia. The Blu-ray release is the very first to use the highest sampling rate currently possible (Japanese Dolby TrueHD 192khz because of its analog roots) and is also the first to use the hypersonic effect (only available in this track and via a high-end audio system).
Reception and legacy
Roger Ebert selected AKIRA as his "Video Pick of the Week" in 1989 on Siskel & Ebert and the Movies. For its wider 2001 release, he gave the film "Thumbs Up." In February 2009, the film had an 88% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As of October 2010, it is ranked #44 on IMDB's Top 50 Animated Films. Channel 4's 2005 poll of the 100 greatest cartoons of all time featuring both cartoon shows and cartoon movies, AKIRA came in at number 16. On Empire magazine's list of the 500 greatest movies of all time, AKIRA is number 440. It showed again on Empire's list of The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema, coming in at #51.
However, not all critics had a favorable opinion of AKIRA. Makigumo gave the film a 47% rating, noting that the film's weakness is that it tried to condense six volumes of manga into one two-hour film. "AKIRA is rich with ideas, but lacking in expression. It’s just not possible to cram in so many thematic elements, and then dilute them to fit a moviegoing audience and still make everything work.
Still, AKIRA is regarded by many critics as a landmark anime film, one that influenced much of the art in the anime world that followed its release with many illustrators in the manga industry citing the film as an important influence. The film led the way for the growth of popularity of anime outside of Japan. AKIRA is considered a forerunner of the second wave of anime fandom that began in the early 1990s and has gained a massive cult following since then.
The Akira anime also made TIME magazine's list of top 5 anime DVDs.
The film made Terry Gilliam's top 50 animated movie list.
|Source||Reviewer||Grade or score||Notes|
|Anime News Network||Bamboo Dong||Overall (dub): A
Overall (sub): A-
|DVD/Movie review of Limited Edition Metal DVD Case|
|AnimeOnDVD||Chris Beveridge||Content: A
|DVD/Movie review of Special Edition|
|THEM Anime Reviews||Raphael See||4 out of 5||Movie review (1 of 2 reviews)|
The film explores a number of psychological and philosophical themes, such as the nature of corruption, the will to power, and the growth from childhood to maturity both in individuals and the human race itself. Elements of Buddhist and Christian symbolism are also present in the film. Notable themes in the film include youth culture, cyberpunk, delinquency, psychic awareness, social unrest and revolution, the world's reaction toward a nuclear holocaust and Japan's post-war economic revival.
AKIRA: Original Soundtrack was recorded by Geinō Yamashirogumi (芸能山城組). The music was composed and conducted by musical director Shoji Yamashiro. It features music which was additionally rerecorded for release. "Kaneda", "Battle Against Clown" and "Exodus From the Underground Fortress" are really part of the same song cycle – elements of "Battle" can be heard during the opening bike sequence, for example. The score is generally sequenced in the same order that the music occurs in the film. The North American version featured extensive production notes by David Keith Riddick and Robert Napton.
A second soundtrack was released featuring the original music without rerecording, but also including sound effects and dialogue from the film; the recording was probably a direct transfer from the film.
Symphonic Suite AKIRA is the same version as AKIRA: Original Soundtrack, but without the voices and sound effects
Symphonic Suite AKIRA & AKIRA: Original Soundtrack track listing
- "Kaneda" – 3:10
- "Battle Against Clown" – 3:36
- "Winds Over Neo-Tokyo" – 2:48
- "Tetsuo" – 10:18
- "Doll's Polyphony" – 2:55
- "Shohmyoh" – 10:10
- "Mutation" – 4:50
- "Exodus From the Underground Fortress" – 3:18
- "Illusion" – 13:56
- "Requiem" – 14:20
AKIRA: The Original Japanese Soundtrack track listing
- "Kaneda" – 9:56
- "Tetsuo 1" – 12:36
- "Tetsuo 2" – 12:33
- "Akira" – 7:56
In 1988, Taito released an Akira adventure game for the Family Computer exclusively in Japan. Another AKIRA game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was being developed as well, but was canceled during development. International Computer Entertainment produced a video game based on AKIRA for the Amiga and Amiga CD32 in the 1994. To coincide with the DVD release in 2002, Bandai released Akira Psycho Ball, a pinball simulator for the PlayStation 2.
Live action film
In the early 1990s, Kodansha Ltd. was in negotiation with Sony Pictures to produce a live-action remake of the film. Talk circulated again a decade later, but the project has yet to materialize. Rumors circulated that the project was canceled in both instances when the projected budget for the film was upwards of $300 million.
Talks began again as Warner Brothers signed on to produce the movie with Stephen Norrington (writer) and Jon Peters (producer). Akira was to be developed into two live action films; the first was to be scheduled for a summer 2009 release. Warner Brothers and Appian Way planned to adapt the two movies from the manga, with each one covering three volumes. Ruairi Robinson signed on as director, Gary Whitta wrote the script and Andrew Lazar, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Davisson were to produce the film.
Andrew Lazar has stated that the film is not dead and is in fact a priority project for Warner Bros. Pictures and when it does go into production, it will be very high budgeted. Screenwriters Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby are currently working on the script. Gary Whitta has revealed that he has no idea whether they are re-working his script or starting from scratch. The film is still on course to be released in 2011.
NY Magazine has recently stated that Warner Brothers is in negotiations with the Hughes Brothers to direct the film.
On June 17, 2010, Lazar said that a new writer had been hired and that the movie was being fast tracked. He also stated that the first movie would be based on volumes 1–3 and a second movie would be based on volumes 4–6.
- Ranked #51 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.
- Japanese films of 1988
- Production insights, Akira #3 (Epic Comics, 1988).
- Interviews with Streamline Pictures' co-founders Carl Macek and Jerry Beck in Protoculture Addicts #9 (November 1990), and company spotlight in Protoculture Addicts #18 (July 1992).
- "Otomo Takes Manhattan", MARVEL AGE #100 (Marvel Comics, May 1991).
- Akira on Blu-ray.Bandai Announces Akira Blu-ray .Retrieved on 14-10-2008.
- "Akira comes on Blu-ray this Summer – I4U News". I4u.com. 2007-03-23. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- Madman Entertainment release of Akira on Blu-Ray. Madman.com.au .Retrieved on 19-11-2009.
- "Best/Worst "Animation" Titles". Imdb.com. Retrieved 2010-04-16.
- "Channel4 – 1q00 Greatest Cartoons". Channel4.com. Retrieved 2009-06-27.
- "Empire: Features". Empireonline.com. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema".
- "Review – Akira". Makigumo. 2007-07-12. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- "Akira – Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Uk.rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- Review of the NES/Famicom game by Mobygames.com
- Review of the AmigaCD game by Mobygames.com
- Review of the Akira pinball simulator by Tothegame.com
- Linder, Brian et al. Akira (Live Action)", IGN, April 12, 2002. Retrieved October 24, 2006.
- Jason Brice. "Western Adaption Of Akira Planned". Silverbulletcomicbooks.com. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- Warner, Leonardo DiCaprio to Produce Live-Action Akira
- Exclusive AKIRA Movie Update
- Gary Whitta Provides Akira Update
- Hughes Bros Move From 'Book Of Eli' To 'Akira'
- Exclusive: Producer Andrew Lazar Video Interview JONAH HEX; Plus Updates on AKIRA, ONE FINGER SALUTE, GET SMART 2, More
- "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema - 51. Akira". Empire.
- Akira Japan official website (Japanese)
- Akira North American official website
- Akira at the Internet Movie Database
- Akira at Allmovie
- Akira at Rotten Tomatoes
- "ＡＫＩＲＡ". Japanese Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-07-19. (Japanese)
- BlueBlade Akira (English-based fansite)
- Akira 2019 (English-based fansite)
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