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JTurner's Review of Akira

rated it: posted: Oct 28, 2008
Reviews: 9 | Fledgling Reviewer
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This ambitious, multi-million dollar animated adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo's best-selling graphic novel series is spectacular, both on a technical and visceral level. A lot of effort was obviously put into making the animation as fluid and lively as possible, with stunning results that rivals Disney's finest. Most Japanese animated films tend to have a somewhat stilted frame rate (for economical reasons), but there's no denying that AKIRA is one of the more smoothly-animated features to come from the Land of the Rising Sun.

That said, this is NOT a Disney/family-friendly kind of film. Neither is it for the squeamish of viewers (or the shallowest of minds, for that matter). This is a gritty, futuristic, post-apocalyptic tale involving juvenile delinquents, corrupt government politicians, and a cautionary message about the misuse of supernatural powers. Trying to describe the plotline may be a bit of a challenge, because at times it comes across as convoluted and difficult to follow. (This can mainly be attributed to the fact that Otomo was trying to compress his 2,000+ page graphic novel into one two-hour film.) It will take more than one viewing to make any sense out of this labyrinthine story.

AKIRA is marketed as an "adult" film, for it contains an extreme amount of intense violence (very graphic at that) as well as one brief but very disturbing scene where a female character is almost raped. The really gruesome stuff occurs in the last thirty minutes in which a young teenager (who happens to be the angst-ridden anti-hero of the story) has his arm amputated by a space satellite (with bloody results), gets a metallic replacement, and transforms into a gross, indistinguishable mass of flesh and gore. The latter sequence is one of the multiple "bizarre" set pieces present in the movie (others which include a nightmare in which cuddly, innocent-looking toys grow to enormous size and threaten a medical patient). The obviously frightening aspects of such moments will obviously alienate family-friendly audiences, yet at the same time explode with imaginative, grotesque visuals rarely matched in other films (unless you count Hayao Miyazaki's works).

Also worthy of mention is the background music by the Genioh Yamashiro Gumi, an eccentric concoction of percussion, electronics, chimes, and chanting. Like the movie, it thunders through the speakers with an aggressive, fast-forward pace and bizarre, surreal tones, ranging from energetic to mellow. It sounds like an unconventional accompaniment to such a movie, but it works.

The film is considered the pinnacle of Japanese animation, yet, as with many of the greatest films of our time, it has had its share of detractors. In particular, it took me more than one viewing to finally accept AKIRA. I first saw the movie when I was thirteen, totally unprepared for such a violent, confusing yet beautiful animated movie. To be honest, I disliked it. When I saw the movie again five years later, it wasn't the bloodletting or the plot that offended me, but the dubbing (not produced, but released by Streamline Pictures), which grated on my ears and ranks as the worst English Anime dub I ever heard. (To those of you who are fans of that dub who may be reading this, I'm sorry, but I absolutely can't stand listening to it again.) But after obtaining this more polished, professional sounding version by Geneon, I at last came to accept AKIRA as a remarkable achievement in animation with strong, universal messages resonating within its turbulent, gory nature and multi-layered storyline. Even so, I wouldn't recommend this movie for the casual fan, but for animation buffs and as an exercise in artistry, action, and morality for adults, few films match AKIRA as a worthy contender in that category.

animated movie Akira © Dragon / Nakamura / Telecom Animation
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