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It's 2019 - thirty-one years after World War III. The high-rise buildings of Neo-Tokyo have risen up on the ashes of the destroyed older city. Riots and terrorism are widespread, the government is divided and preachers predict the coming of the mysterious Akira. In this turbulent environment Tetsuo, a member of one of the city's teenage motorcycle gangs, is kidnapped by the military after a mysterious encounter with a strange, frightened child. Taken into custody, he discovers that he has paranormal powers that will change him forever.

This is either the best or the worst of times to revisit Katsuhiro Otomo's animé classic, now released on DVD in a restored version with a fine collection of extras including storyboards, an interview with the director, and a documentary on the making of the highly eclectic soundtrack. It's not hard to see why Akira struck a chord with a worldwide audience in the late 80s: like the cyberpunk science fiction novels of the same period, it's in love with the glamour of apocalypse. Riots, terrorist attacks, doomsday cults, crumbling buildings, corrupt politicians, post-nuclear mutations, atomic explosions...they're all here, present and correct. Not everyone will be in the mood right now (late 2001) to relish such spectacular images of destruction, but few could honestly deny their powerful appeal.

One of the advantages of animation is its built-in distance from realism, allowing the viewer to contemplate traumatic imagery without becoming too directly involved. Modern Hollywood cartoons rarely exploit this opportunity, tending toward sanitised whimsy and naive attempts to simulate live-action. By contrast, Otomo uses stylised comic-book-style representations as an efficient way to sketch in the details of an intricate, violent and relatively plausible future society. If the movements of the characters are sometimes stiff, the spectacularly detailed backgrounds ensure that Neo-Tokyo itself plays the central role: the dispersed narrative systematically covers the terrain of this invented world from top to bottom, leaping from skyscrapers to sewers and from meetings of government officials to brawls between teenage gangs.

As this suggests, Akira is an extremely ambitious and conceptually dense film, one that only gains with multiple viewings. The first time round, the early scenes in particular can be hard to follow. Only gradually do the plot threads converge on a couple of especially ambiguous beings, the mysterious and unseen Akira (described both as a human and as 'pure energy') and the hapless Tetsuo, an initially timid youth who becomes an almost tragic figure after he acquires powers he's unable to control. As the narrative builds toward a series of cataclysms that literally shake Neo-Tokyo to its foundations, it becomes clear that this movie is using spectacle as a complex and potent form of thought: the disintegrating city is a psychic battlefield where any number of hidden energies and conflicts can erupt and be played out. It's worth stressing that such fantasies of large-scale mayhem are indispensable to the art of cinema - and that animation is a useful medium for such fantasies partly because it keeps us aware of their difference from real life.
Jake Wilson

Published: November 15, 2001

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia



VOICES: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama, Tessho Genda, Hiroshi Otake

DIRECTOR: Katushiro Otomo

RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes


DVD RELEASE: November 14, 2001

Million Dollar Restoration Includes New Film Interpositive, Hd-5; High-definition Mastering With Digital Restoration, Thx Certification, Re-mixed Dolby Digital Ac3 Surround Sound And Brand New English Dub; Extras; Akira Production Report (subtitle Option And Chapters Approx 20 Min) Akira Sound Clip By Geinoh Yamashiro Gumi (with Narration Option And Chapters - 20 Mins); Katsuhiro Otomo Interview (subtitle Option)/ Approx 30 Mins Trailers
Production Materials 4,500 Still Images; Akira Glossary Over 100 Stills
Also Including - 332 Unused Story Boards - 11 Unused Backgrounds - 28 Initial Character; Designs - 70 Comics And Mags Incl Onscreen - 18 Stills Of Promotion For Original Release - 26 Images Of Vcd And Music

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