Akira is one of the most visually stunning movies I’ve ever seen. I didn’t get everything about the plot, but I mostly didn’t mind because the images were so impressive and amazing that every frame is worth admiring. It’s also a fearless movie, willing to go any place it wants to go, no matter if it’s violent or nightmarish or apocalyptic or sleazy. Again, I’m not sure about the story exactly but the movie is never boring and always astonishes you with a new set piece. Its world is complete, so fully fleshed out, that it is very easy to fall into it. Sometimes you don’t know exactly why the characters are acting the way the do, but you don’t care as long as you can follow them through this world of Neo Tokyo, with its fascination for technology and brain power. It is no surprise to see Akira was very influential for many filmmakers. It’s impossible to watch this now and not think of The Matrix, to name just one. It is simply an impressive movie.
Being a dystopia, Akira shows us a world of decay and doom. After the incredible opening shot of Tokyo being blasted away the title card has a crater in the background. The world is full of dirt, sewers, broken cars, graffiti, rubble, smoke and fire. It is clear that this is not a world of hope and as with any good dystopia this feeling is supposed to feel familiar to us. Added to that is the fascination of the shiny skyscrapers, the skyline that makes people forget about the dirt underneath it.
The government offers no salvation. Early on we get scenes of protesters being beaten up by the police. Religious cults roam the city. Its rulers sit around a table to debate endlessly and that scene makes it clear that they are not interested in change. They enjoy their place up in their ivory tower (complete with a golden warrior angel) and that’s all they care about. They are angry that the General spent some money on his own, but it never leads to more than some shouting matches and paper throwing. The general and his army control the city and he convinces some of the police force to join him by saying that the politicians are capitalist fools. It’s fascinating that the government, portrayed as capitalists, is helpless and has to be balanced by the military, who, in the end, are equally helpless. None of the state systems of authority work out.
Eventually, this story is about the young people. In the beginning, we see they have not much hope for the future and waste their time in bars, with illegal motorcycle races and gang fights. These seem exciting but only because they are exciting to them. They have nothing else left in this world, the adults don’t care about them and there is nothing to look forward to. What happens over the course of the movie, is that the young ones take over the world. Tetsuo, a troubled boy who always feels neglected, uses his power to take revenge on this unjust world. He is deeply traumatized not so much by the superpowers, but by everything that happened to him as a kid (as shown in heartbreaking flashbacks toward the end). His rage is understandable. The superpowered kids, including the mythological Akira, show this cruel treatment of kids even more. They have been abused by the government for experiments, who pretended they were living in a dream world. But behind the curtains they are strapped to tables as lab rats. The kids are the ones who stand on top in the end. They have become the new hope again.