Akira Review

Film Still
  • Akira film still


Another big screen run-out for Katsuhiro Ôtomo's jaw-dropping 1988 anime lodestone.

In what almost feels like its become an annual jamboree, Katsuhiro Ôtomo's 1988 lodestone — a film which is credited as bringing anime to western audiences — is released once more in UK cinemas. What remains interesting about this dazzling picture is that its scale and scope are always even grander than you last remembered, and while it's typically convoluted sci-fi plotting and sprawling ensemble of characters occasionally lead it to border on the incoherent, it's hard not to be in awe of the giant hand-drawn cityscapes that make up the backdrop for the eye-popping action.

Initially a film about teen cyberpunk biker gangs doing battle on the snaking, raised highways of Neo Tokyo (rebuilt following an apocalyptic nuclear blast), this plot strand swiftly converges with a more mystical tale of an omnipotent being seeking to return to the land of the living through a human conduit. Each set-piece is more astonishing and unbelievable than the last, with this strange, singular work climaxing in a glorious bout of sicko Cronenbergian body horror that could never, ever be replicated as a live action spectacle. It's a bit like the blubber-fest finale of Brian Yuzna's Society, but on an Olympic scale.

Strangely, Ôtomo was never able to creatively capitalise on the success of Akira, having produced a couple of second-string animes in the interim years which, while similarly epic in scale, don't quite spirit us to an entirely new world. 2004's Steamboy riffed on Victorian-era steampunk, but felt like the sort of whimsical tale that Hayao Miyazaki has been quietly perfecting over the past 20 years. 2006's Bugmaster heralded an awkward move to live action, as Ôtomo spun the eccentric period yarn of a strange man with a supernatural connection to the insect life of Japan. Few would argue that Akira remains his greatest work.


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