• U.S.

A Pulp-Style Pop Epic

3 minute read
Jay Cocks




THE BOTTOM LINE: Berserk graphic imagery and a tempering idealism make for a real sci-fi skull buster.

With the very first scene, all the huggy-warmy feelings usually associated with animated features take a nose dive. This futuristic movie on laser disc is a virtuoso piece of speculative fiction, a violent adventure tale, a head- bending sci-fi morality play and a venture into the higher realms of animation art that kicks all the squishier conventions of the genre right in their well-upholstered butt.

There are no handsome princes or yearning princesses, no talking-animal sidekicks or lovable syncopated props in Akira. This is the stuff of nightmare, closer in theme and ambition to so-called graphic novels like Watchmen than anything that’s ever been drawn for an American screen. In fact, ^ Akira was derived from director Katsuhiro Otomo’s graphic novel series of the same name, and the movie, even at 124 minutes, has the densely packed sweep and go-for-it pep of a pop epic.

Tokyo, pulverized in 1996 by an amuck scientific experiment (Is there any other kind?), is in 2019 a place of repressive political reactionaries, marauding radicals and pill-popping motorcycle freebooters who do motorized combat with each other on the ramps of the city’s elevated roadways. In this story, the motorcyclers are the good guys, mainly because everyone else is worse. The technocrats capture one teen and try to turn him into a human receptacle for some kind of higher-energy field (Is there any other kind?). Things go haywire. He menaces his old buddies, threatens to reduce the entire city to rubble and generally set the earth spinning sideways on its axis. Only one person can stop him: his best pal and main rival in the motorcycle gang. The guy with the coolest bike.

Akira demands a certain tolerance for the more hyperbolic aspects of pulp storytelling, but it always repays, never tries your patience. The movie is a visual dazzler. Tokyo is imagined down to the last noodle shop and intersection, a place of deep night and lurid neon that looks like Blade Runner on spoiled mushrooms. It’s no wonder that Akira, first released in Tokyo in 1988, is still playing the midnight-movie circuit in U.S. theaters. So far, it’s not available on videotape either, which is fair enough. Laser disc — with its superior sound and resolution — can put Akira right behind your eyes. Watching it on tape would be like trying to get the full experience from a flip-book.

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