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Review: Akira – “Still one of the best anime of all time”

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Thanks to my good friend, Paul, I was lucky enough to see Akira on the big screen last night over at FACT, Liverpool. I have seen the film many times, but it has been a good few years since I last watched it and it was always the dubbed version. The film was made way back in 1988….let that sink in….where has the time gone? Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo the film was written by Otomo and Izo Hashimoto, and based on Otomo’s manga of the same name.

I was made up that the screening was the original language version and I wish I had seen it that way sooner. It gives so much more emotion and takes away from the repetitive “Kaneda…Tetsuo” exchange that could sometimes cause you to laugh at the end and lesson the impact of the terrible events the protagonists are going through.

Seeing it on the big screen I felt like I noticed more. The rubbish and battered desks in the school, the faces in the many crowds of Neo-Tokyo, and the various bits and pieces that make up the giant toy avatars of the numbers. Kaneda’s constant mention that Kai is his girlfriend, something which is news to her, and so many more moments just blossomed on the cinema screen. The level of detail and design is still incredible.

The manga has been collected into six huge volumes. The film , focusing mainly on the first half of the story, does give you the feeling of huge events taking place off camera but never to the detriment of the main story. The unseen government try to remove the Colonel, but he is having none of it. There is a living breathing world out there even though events are confined to just a few individuals. It is something that more “event” movies should try and capture. We are often meant to feel that it is world shattering events only to have it feel that only a few people will be affected. Akira, partly due to it being animated, has people, innocent bystanders, perishing at the hands of a child who suddenly has unimaginable powers thrust upon him. Actually, one of the small faults I have always had with the film is the sudden onset of Tetsuo’s abilities. One moment he is being treated and the scientist with the moustache says they’re going to use the whatever it is, psychic activation meds, and the next Tetsuo is painting the walls with the blood of nurses and soldiers. I can overlook it, but personally a little bit more of what he had gone through would be appreciated. A minor point, especially as it is all in the pursuit of a more existential investigation of the mind and the creation of new universe.

Then we have the poor Numbers, their faces aged an wizened by the treatment that makes them more than human, at first appear To be monsters but they are the most human, the most compassionate out of all the characters. They say that with this incredible power comes a choice. Peter Parker has mentioned that choice on many occasion. While it my have corrupted their appearance, within they are pure and beautiful but still children. They try and scare Tetsuo with monsterous toys, yet near the end decide to sacrifice themselves to save Kaneda, that one boy.

The standout moments that have always been a joy to watch are enhanced on that giant screen of light. The tracers of the bikes in the battle against the clowns during the opening are always a sight to behold. SOL raining down ultimate destruction and Tetsuo’s journey into space to destroy it are simply breathtaking. His subsequent mutation into a fleshy mass is even more nauseating, but in a good way!

The sound or lack of in particular moments was the most astounding. The absence of sound can be one of the most dramatic effects at the hands of a filmmaker if used wisely. Then there is the music, that hypnotic beat of a Japanese instrument whose name escapes me and the unearthly sound of the choir, punctuate the events on screen to great effect.

Akira is and always will be a masterpiece. Even after all these years it is still on the best anime of all time. Seeing it on the big screen is one of the purest cinematic experiences I have had in a long time.

5-out-of-5

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