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Akira: The Most Influential Anime Film Ever Made


Akira: The Most Influential Anime Film Ever Made




Akira is a 1988 Japanese animated cyberpunk action film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, based on his 1982 manga of the same name. Set in a dystopian 2019, it tells the story of Shōtarō Kaneda, a leader of a biker gang whose childhood friend, Tetsuo Shima, acquires incredible telekinetic abilities after a motorcycle accident, eventually threatening an entire military complex amid chaos and rebellion in the sprawling futuristic metropolis of Neo-Tokyo.



The film was released in Japan on July 16, 1988, by Toho; it was released the following year in the United States by Streamline Pictures. It garnered an international cult following after various theatrical and VHS releases, eventually earning over $80 million worldwide in home video sales. It has been cited as a masterpiece and is widely regarded by audiences and critics as one of the greatest films ever made, especially in the field of animation and in the action and science fiction genres. It is regarded as a landmark in Japanese animation, and the most influential and iconic anime film ever made.


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The film had a significant impact on popular culture worldwide, paving the way for the growth of anime and Japanese popular culture in the Western world as well as influencing numerous works in animation, comics, film, music, television and video games. An iconic motorcycle maneuver from the film, known as the "Akira slide", has been widely referenced and homaged in many works of animation, film and television.


Plot summary




In 1988, Tokyo is destroyed by a mysterious explosion that triggers World War III. In 2019, 31 years after the war, Neo-Tokyo is a violent and chaotic city plagued by corruption, anti-government protests, terrorism, and gang violence. Kaneda is the leader of a biker gang called the Capsules, who are rivals with another gang called the Clowns. One night, during a clash with the Clowns, Kaneda's friend Tetsuo crashes his bike after encountering Takashi, a young boy with psychic powers who has escaped from a secret government facility. Tetsuo and Takashi are captured by the military and taken to the facility, where they are experimented on by Colonel Shikishima and Doctor Ōnishi.


Kaneda meets Kei, a member of an underground resistance group that aims to expose the government's experiments on psychic children known as Espers: Takashi, Masaru, and Kiyoko. The Espers have powerful abilities but also suffer from physical deformities and premature aging. They are kept under sedation and are connected to a giant machine that amplifies their powers. The resistance group plans to rescue Takashi and infiltrate the facility with the help of Nezu, a corrupt politician who is also part of the group.


Meanwhile, Tetsuo begins to develop his own psychic abilities, which grow stronger and more unstable as he suffers from headaches and hallucinations. He escapes from his hospital room and kills several guards before being confronted by Kaneda, who tries to reason with him. Tetsuo ignores Kaneda and leaves to find Akira, a legendary figure who is said to be the source of the explosion that destroyed Tokyo. The Espers tell Tetsuo that Akira is located beneath the Olympic Stadium, where the government is preparing to host the 2020 Olympics.


Tetsuo breaks into the facility and steals Kaneda's bike, which he modifies with parts from other bikes. He then heads to the stadium, killing anyone who tries to stop him along the way. He encounters Kei, who is possessed by Kiyoko's spirit and tries to stop him. Tetsuo defeats Kei and reaches the stadium, where he finds a large cryogenic chamber containing Akira's remains. He opens the chamber and releases Akira's energy, which triggers another massive explosion that engulfs Neo-Tokyo.


Kaneda arrives at the stadium and witnesses Tetsuo's transformation into a grotesque giant creature that absorbs everything around him. He tries to save Tetsuo but is caught in his flesh. The Espers use their powers to rescue Kaneda and transport him to a safe place. They then decide to sacrifice themselves and join Akira's energy, which creates a new universe. Tetsuo is also taken into the new universe, where he regains his human form and declares that he is Akira. The film ends with Kaneda reuniting with Kei and his surviving friends, while Neo-Tokyo begins to rebuild itself.


Production and reception




Akira was directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Izo Hashimoto, based on Otomo's manga of the same name. The manga was serialized in Young Magazine from 1982 to 1990, and spanned six volumes totaling over 2,000 pages. The film adaptation covers the first half of the manga, with some changes and omissions. Otomo was involved in every aspect of the production, from storyboarding to casting to editing. He wanted to create a film that would be faithful to his vision and appeal to a global audience.


The film was produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, with a budget of 700 million (about $5.5 million at the time), making it the most expensive anime film ever made at the time. The animation was done by over 2,000 animators, using 327 colors (50 of which were created for the film), and 24 frames per second. The film consists of over 160,000 animation cels and 2,212 shots, which is two to three times more than a typical anime film. The film used a technique called pre-scoring, in which the dialogue was recorded before the animation, rather than the other way around. This allowed for more natural and realistic lip-syncing and expressions.


The soundtrack was composed by Shōji Yamashiro and performed by Geinoh Yamashirogumi, a musical collective that specializes in traditional and experimental music. The soundtrack draws heavily from traditional Indonesian gamelan as well as Japanese noh music, creating a unique and atmospheric sound that matches the film's futuristic and dystopian setting.


Akira premiered in Japan on July 16, 1988, and was distributed by Toho. It received critical acclaim and was a commercial success, grossing 750 million (about $6 million) in Japan and becoming the highest-grossing anime film of 1988. It was also screened at various international film festivals, such as the Fantasia Festival in Montreal, where it won the Audience Award for Best Animated Feature.


The film was released in North America by Streamline Pictures in 1989, with an English dub directed by Carl Macek. The dub was heavily edited and altered from the original version, changing some of the dialogue, names, and sound effects. The dub also featured celebrity voice actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio as Kaneda, Johnny Depp as Tetsuo, and Angelina Jolie as Kei. The dub received mixed reviews from critics and fans, who praised the voice acting but criticized the changes from the original version.


In 2001, Pioneer Entertainment released a new English dub of Akira, directed by Kevin Seymour and featuring different voice actors such as Johnny Yong Bosch as Kaneda, Joshua Seth as Tetsuo, and Wendee Lee as Kei. The new dub was more faithful to the original version, restoring the original dialogue, names, and sound effects. The new dub also featured a remastered soundtrack and improved sound quality. The new dub received positive reviews from critics and fans, who praised its accuracy and quality.


In 2009, Bandai Entertainment released a Blu-ray edition of Akira, featuring both the original Japanese version and the 2001 English dub. The Blu-ray edition also included various bonus features such as documentaries, interviews, trailers, and galleries. The Blu-ray edition received rave reviews from critics and fans, who praised its high-definition visuals and audio.


Legacy and influence




Akira is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, especially in the field of animation and in the action and science fiction genres. It is regarded as a landmark in Japanese animation, and the most influential and iconic anime film ever made. It has been cited as a masterpiece by many filmmakers, critics, and scholars.


Akira has had a significant impact on popular culture worldwide, paving the way for the growth of anime and Japanese popular culture in the Western world as well as influencing numerous works in animation, comics, film, music, television and video games. Some of the works that have been inspired or influenced by Akira include:



  • The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003), which borrowed many elements from Akira, such as the concept of a simulated reality, the use of bullet time, and the visual effects of the characters' powers.



  • Stranger Things (2016-present), a Netflix series that pays homage to Akira in its plot, characters, and aesthetics, such as the telekinetic girl Eleven, the secret government experiments, and the alternate dimension known as the Upside Down.



  • Kanye West's music video for Stronger (2007), which recreates several scenes from Akira, such as Kaneda's bike chase, Tetsuo's hospital escape, and the final explosion.



  • Inception (2010), a film that explores the idea of entering and manipulating people's dreams, which was influenced by Akira's depiction of psychic powers and subconscious realms.



  • Chronicle (2012), a film that follows three teenagers who develop telekinetic abilities after encountering a mysterious object, and how one of them becomes corrupted by his power and turns against his friends.



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