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'Akira' Re-Viewed: Anime classic still darkly relevant 25 years later

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A total of 25 years after its release, legendary animated film Akira remains as beautiful and relevant as ever. With promises (or perhaps threats) of a live action remake always on the horizon but never quite managing to emerge, Digital Spy looks back at the original landmark movie as it returns to UK cinemas today (July 13).

Akira was adapted in 1988 from the earlier volumes of Katsuhiro Otomo's then-ongoing manga series of the same name. The film is set in 2019's Neo Tokyo, a futuristic metropolis built on the ruins of the old city, which was destroyed by a mysterious incident decades earlier. Set against a backdrop of civil unrest, a group of delinquent bikers are drawn into a plot that encompasses secret rebellions, military coups, powerful psychics and, at the heart of it all, the mysterious being 'Akira'.

Akira stills

© c.20thC.Fox/Everett/Rex Features

Akira stills



The movie is known for its high budget and unusual attention to detail, which has kept it looking fresh and modern where lesser productions have dated badly. Akira is still at least on a par with the best that Studio Ghibli has to offer. There are no lazy, static background and body parts in Akira - the film has a kinetic energy in every shot. The level of detail is fantastic, with something new to notice with each viewing.

The design is stunning, offering up unforgettable shot after unforgettable shot. The towering skyscrapers of Neo Tokyo, the brash hero Kaneda's motorbike and matching jacket, victim/villain Tetsuo's improvised imperial outfit, the shrivelled psychics with their youthful manners and wrinkled faces, the explosions that devour Tokyo time and again - many have graced posters and artwork, and all certainly could (just ask Comme des Garcons).

But the film is more than just a visual spectacle. It builds a dark parable about the thin veneer that separates us from societal breakdown, and the ineffectuality of violence and domination as a means of control. Neo Tokyo is bright on the surface, but it only takes a small disturbance to turn out the lights and bring the shiny fa├žade down in broken pieces. People go about their business, somehow ignoring the constant threats of being blown up by terrorists or shot to pieces by the police.

Akira is rooted in cold war paranoia and the spectre of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it remains disturbingly prescient today. The modern skyscrapers bloom like tumours over the forgotten, decrepit buildings of the poor. Bored and violent kids languish in run down schools, while the shining Olympic stadium stands empty nearby. It doesn't take much to induce rioting in the streets, where people worship Akira, the agent of their destruction.

Akira stills

© c.20thC.Fox/Everett/Rex Features

Akira stills



The film certainly is not for everyone. It revels in an energetic violence that will delight or disturb depending on your tastes. The casual brutality holds up a dark mirror to classic boys' adventure stories, where youthful exploits and troublemaking are part of what it is to be a member of the gang. But in this case, attempts to keep up with and impress friends result in murder, revolution and death on a citywide scale.

There are aspects of Akira that work to keep its audience at arm's length. Perhaps it is a result of the abridged adaptation, but we are never truly privy to the secrets of Akira, or the true workings of the despised government and the revolution. Perhaps this gives the story a universality it would otherwise lack, but certainly it makes for a challenging if not frustrating experience at times.

The resistance to a proposed remake of Akira - rumoured to be set in the US rather than Japan - is evidence of the continuing regard for the film among movie fans. Akira is an action movie with a brain, and it has as much to say about our society and its future as ever.

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