I've had 'Akira' recommended to me twice, once by a poster and once by a person. The first case was at university, on the wall of a friend called Neil. Now, he and I disagreed significantly on some key issues (crucially he did not hold back on branding my Christianity, anybody's indeed, 'stupidity', with an agitated regularity), but it was apparent that his aesthetic suggestions were greater and more generous than his theological ones. It's thanks to him that I discovered Peter Greenaway, Michael Nyman, Apple Macintoshes, 'MacGyver', 'Garth Marenghi's Darkplace' and port (the beverage, not the nautical direction) all of which have brightened my life this last decade. So I was always confident that 'Akira', which he advocated from his wall, would be worth my attention. I never sought it out until a rather more recent friend, a young filmmaker named Charlie, suggested it as anime worth the watching when I commented that The Penciltonian hadn't yet touched the cinema of Asia. As you may recall (clue: you probably won't) I once expressed a desire to watch a film from every continent. It really shouldn't have taken me this long.
It's a handsome film, its animation far above what little anime I've seen on television. At times it can almost look real - but heightened, with the lights of fast motorbikes blearing and ghosting long after the vehicles have left the screen. The pseudo-realism of the animation style gives director Katsuhiro Otomo greater control over framing and lighting, and on when, to the split second, characters or objects enter the screen. The style allows for calculated depictions of violence - bullets hitting dogs, or gang-members falling from bikes - slow or fast, but perfectly rendered, things that would be too horrid or simply unconvincing using actors and special effects. Rumours have abounded for a decade about a proposed live-action remake, but I don't think it would retain the visceral flair. It would divide the world into real and CGI - two things that still don't quite blend, one always knows which is which - rather than the single, consistent but visually beautiful style presented here.
|Urghh! There's some of that blood right there. There's quite a bit of it. And explosions.
I don't want to say too much about the film. As I've mentioned, it was commended to me without any clue as to its contents, and I feel you'd do well to go in without too much of its plot spoiled for you. What's more, I hardly feel I've absorbed the film on my one viewing. Since I was offered the option to watch it dubbed or subtitled (I chose the latter) I'd like to see it again, taking the other option, before I'll really feel confident about what I've seen. The only other things I'll note are (firstly) that I'm always thrown by anime's habit of putting comedic lead characters, prone to all manner of slapstick, in otherwise fairly humourless films, and (secondly) that the film's climax is physically disgusting, but attractively so, and was unlike anything else I've seen in the year's viewing.