By Jade Bonus
This edition of MediaBug film was going to be all about anime, but to be honest, despite the eight rows of it at my local Tsutaya and perhaps because many of them don’t have English subtitles (not even Death Note), I’m not much of an expert. So rather than wax lyrical about the breadth of anime, I’ll just wax lyrical about one, but don’t worry…it’s worth the words… it’s Akira.
Go on, don’t wait until the end, watch the trailer now.
To say this anime has been influential is something of an understatement. Produced in 1988, Akira spawned new markets for anime outside of Japan, and given the fact that it’s awesome, has assured itself of cult status ever since. Sadly this cult status has also assured the film of potential American remakes for just as long. Let us all do our best to ensure this never happens.
Aside from the fact that Akira is stylistically gorgeous and is worth a watch for the sheer spectacle that only old school animation can provide, it is also one of those films that film theorists get huge, throbbing, intellectual boners for. This is evidenced by the fact that I have spent more time reading essays about Akira than actually watching it… and I have seen Akira a few times.
Based (somewhat loosely owing to the constraints of putting six volumes of manga into two hours of film) on the original work by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed, Akira tells the story of Tetsuo, a teenage member of a biker gang who finds himself the subject of government testing (and if you want more plot points, see wiki). Set in Neo-Tokyo some 30 or so years after an explosion that devastated Tokyo and subsequent nuclear war, Akira offers not only a complex and engaging story (don’t be perturbed if you don’t quite understand it the first time around because I didn’t either), but also striking insight into the morality of controlling an individual’s free will. This aside, what I find most interesting about Akira, potentially because I was there and you probably weren’t, is how it elicits the zeitgeist of the 1980s.
(If you aren’t that big on intellectual wankery for intellectual wankery’s sake, it’s fine to tune out now, thanks for reading this far, and I’ll talk to you next month. We’re still cool brah.)
For those who didn’t live in it, the 1980s wasn’t all acid-wash jeans and fluorescent leg warmers. While the fashion was hilarious, the worldwide political climate was not. With the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the constant threat of mutually assured destruction should leaders on either side of the iron curtain get an itchy finger, the 1980s was a time of deep seated fear.
Not surprisingly, the films of the time reflect this. From Back To The Future’s plutonium powered DeLorean (‘You mean this sucker is nuclear?’), to the post apocalyptic landscapes of Terminator (1984) amongst others, the 1980s produced a phalanx of films detailing the horrors of the world after we have fucked it up.
As a quick guide, thanks to Kiss, here is how the post-apocalyptic world looked in 1980s western film-making. Somehow spandex and hairspray survived the nuclear winter.
For reasons that should be obvious, it didn’t take until the 1980s for Japan to start making films dealing with nuclear fallout. Getting the jump in 1954, Godzilla sprang to life from radioactive primordial soup to terrorize the living shit out of Tokyo (although the words nuclear and atomic bomb are never mentioned throughout the film), while the country tried to come to terms with their own annihilation.
Why the preamble? Stick with me, because Japan started on the post apocalyptic film making earlier, and by the 80s was an economic powerhouse (and if you need evidence of that, check out Towada’s billion yen toilet), Akira shows a different side of nuclear fallout (one that Hollywood film hasn’t gotten to yet… for obvious reasons). Hollywood film’s version of nuclear destruction was that of chaos, disorder and leather-clad baddies on motorbikes with questionable haircuts, while Japan’s view of nuclear destruction was that of rebirth and regeneration.
The Japan shown in Akira has been reborn and remade with all its faults and glory – a perfect facsimile of what it was…right down to its potential fate. Is it an exultant expression of ‘Hey, guess what, we survived and now you are funding our billion dollar toilets, jerks’, or is it a cautionary tale against continuing destructive historical cycles or is any such conjecture either way, simply joining in on an intellectual circle jerk? It could be none or all of these things, but what remains true is that Akira is not only worthy of the conjecture but also of your time… watch it now so we can get drunk and argue about it at SDC.
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