Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama
Written by: Izô Hashimoto, Katsuhiro Ôtomo
Directed by: Katsuhiro Ôtomo
MPAA Rating: R for graphic violence and brief nudity
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 124
Date: 07/16/1988

Akira (1988)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Apocalypse Pow

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Not necessarily the first nor the best anime, but certainly the one that introduced most Americans to the genre. Katsuhiro Otomo co-wrote the screenplay and directed this 1988 adaptation of his much-loved 1980s-era manga (comic book); it was a huge production that paid off enormously. When it arrived in America, it became a cult classic and the genre as a whole remains popular to this day. Like many others, it begins a post-apocalyptic vision of Tokyo with various street gangs running wild.

In Neo-Tokyo of 2019, post-WWIII, old friends Kaneda and Tetsuo are members of a violent motorcycle gang. During a fight with a rival gang, a strange, small boy with a wrinkled face enters the fray. Tetsuo is hospitalized, where a colonel and a doctor discover that Tetsuo has remarkable powers, recalling a mysterious entity known as "Akira," that has lain dormant for 30 years. As the heroes navigate a complex plot filled with powerful beings, military, activists, and scientists, Tetsuo's powers grow stronger. Everything builds to an explosive, nightmarish showdown in which the future of the world hangs.

The movie is extraordinarily dense and enormously complicated, and things like story and characters tend to go out the window in favor of cosmic ideas and mysteries, bizarre imagery, and astounding levels of violence. It takes full advantage of the animated medium with its sheer imagination and intensity. Indeed, to attempt these same images in a live-action setting would have been far too expensive and disturbing. Time has not yet dulled the sheer breathtaking impact of the work, though, and the level of detail, movement, and fluidity is still highly impressive. It's still essential viewing for anyone interested in the genre.

DVD Details: Pioneer's two DVD set is a standout. Viewers can choose between English and Japanese tracks, plus making-of documentaries, trailers, and tons of other stuff.

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