Still A Unique Vision Of The Future
Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows casts his eye over Otomo’s Akira, available to buy as a restored 4K version now…
Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo
Voices: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama
After a limited UK and Eire cinema release in the autumn, Otomo’s Akira comes to home entertainment.
Based on Otomo’s seminal manga of the same name, which ran in Young Man magazine from 1982 to 1990, Akira is arguably one of the most important Japanese anime films of the modern era. Set in Neo Tokyo in 2019, it’s a city that was decimated by a third world war, populated by biker gangs and delinquents. The Akira of the title is a mysterious figure imprisoned by the Japanese government, who are bent on harnessing the psychokinetic powers of a group of children they have been keeping prisoner in a secret location. Enter Kaneda and Tetsuo, a pair of orphan ne’er do wells who are part of a biker gang who spend their time drinking, taking drugs and generally stirring up trouble. The gang find themselves part of the government’s web of intrigue when Tetsuo manifests strange powers of his own and he is taken prisoner by the powers that be who want to use them for their own ends.
When it first came out, Akira was a bold and imaginative slice of Japanese sci-fi. So over thirty years later, how does it hold up and how impressive is the 4K restored version of it? The answer is that it still feels very much like a film with a lot to say. The cold edifices of Neo Tokyo and the grand urban canyons of the old city, prospective site of the Olympics, crackle and fizz with even more cinematic life thanks to the new restoration. Watching it on a TV at home is a slightly different experience to catching it at the cinema but it is still a very immersive two hours at home.
The look of Akira plays a huge part in making it such an important animated feature and the animators bring Kaneda’s super-sleek bike and the city in which all the action takes place to life with such pizzazz and style. They imbue the film with such raw power and invention that it manages to capture the essence of the long-running manga series in just two hours thanks to the sterling work of Otomo and his collaborator on the screenplay, Izô Hashimoto. The restored version offers extra clarity and impact for the viewer, even on a home cinema system.
The music and editing also play a major role in this film, offering a muscular counterpoint to sequences like the iconic bike chase between Kaneda and Tetsuo and the malevolent rival Clown gang. The music composed by Shoji Yamashiro and the cinematography by Katsuji Misawa and film editing by Takeshi Seyama come together to create a compelling whole. The extras here on restoring the sound for the new version and a short that showcases the storyboards for the film are fairly interesting too and add a little extra to the package.
There continues to be talk of a live action Hollywood remake of this but the original Akira is still head and shoulders above any other Japanese animated feature and it is wonderful to have this restored version which gets us closer to Otomo’s vision of the future. Recommended for fans of sci-fi, anime and cyberpunk and even people who have seen this before.
Akira 4K is out now to buy