Akira is a rated R film with mature content including graphic violence so viewer discretion is advised. This review contains mentions of this mature content.
If I were to make a list of ‘Must See Movies for Any Animation Fan,’ I would definitely include Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira on that list. While it is narratively messy, it is such an experience in visceral sound, movement, creativity, and imagination that it can’t be missed.
The plot in Akira is beside the point but, for the record, it is about two childhood-friends-turned-gang-rivals Shotaro Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima in the dystopian cyberpunk city of NeoTokyo in 2019. The world has gone into chaos after a nuclear bomb went off at the end of World War III. Tetsuo becomes exposed to a substance called AKIRA and develops strange telekinetic abilities that he struggles to control and that the government and organized crime want to use for various purposes. Most of the movie becomes a chase between Kaneda, Tetsuo, and those trying to hurt them.
I like to compare watching Akira with going on an amusement park ride. Perhaps the plot isn’t super interesting but there is an amazing image, sound, and/or sequence ready to dazzle you along every turn. Watching Akira, you get to see things you’ve never seen before and will never see again, like a giant teddy bear coming to life or a person’s organs and body expanding like a balloon to fill up a room. It’s dark and violent but, because it is so creative, it is a really fun experience. It’s like Inception but way more trippy!
I had the amazing experience last year of seeing Akira on the big screen, which is something I highly recommend if you get the opportunity. What stood out to me the most was the incredible way it uses music and sound. The score by Shoji Yamashiro is outstanding and evidently much of the animation was built around the music’s “sonic architecture,” where most movies work the other way around. With its electronic beat, the music ebbs and flows along with the insane imagery creating a deep intense experience.
If you take a look at this scene, notice the way every movement of the motorcycles is felt in a screech or vroom. The steel and grunts of the men are perfectly timed along with the tick-tock propulsion of the score. Meanwhile, the imagery of the city provides incredible backdrops with the light and colors of the motorcycles in the foreground. I love how the motorcycles leave behind a rainbow of color in their wake, and you can see the speed of the movement as they move along.
Akira is one of those great movies where every scene has layers to dissect and analyze. The music, imagery, sound design, and more are layered in every scene but there is also a lot to think about thematically. First of all, it has a lot to say about the anxiety Japan experienced after the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. It also has layers of allegory, including the problems of groupthink, unbridled religion/capitalism/socialism, unlimited power, quickly-burgeoning technology, and substance abuse.
But you don’t have to think about any of that. You can just flip it on and enjoy the pretty colors, music, and energy. It’s a great ride and a terrific film!
What do you think about Akira? Is it the classic everyone makes it out to be? Put in the comments section what you think and let’s talk about Akira!
Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic that has loved animation since she was a little girl belting out songs from 'The Little Mermaid'. She reviews as many films as she can each year and loves interviewing actors, directors, and anyone with an interesting story to tell. Rachel is the founder of the popular Hallmarkies Podcast, and the Rachel's Reviews podcast/youtube channel, which covers all things animated including a monthly Talking Disney and Obscure Animation show.