Akira, the film that presented the dystopia of the third millennium

Akira, the film that presented the dystopia of the third millennium


We have to go back to 1988, or rather 2019, to talk about a dystopian world and engines that have marked the history of entertainment, not only in the world of cinema. Let's now retrace some salient features and peculiarities of Akira, the film by Katsuhiro Ōtomo which debuted in Japan on July 16, 1988, largely inspired by the manga of the same name which has become a title widely considered by critics as one of the greatest animated and science fiction films ever. made, as well as representing a milestone in the Japanese animation sector and in the cyberpunk genre. As anticipated, the film had a significant impact on popular culture around the world, paving the way for the growth of attention towards anime and Japanese popular culture in the Western world, as well as influencing numerous works of animation, comics, films, music. , television and video games. Let's find out together some details of this timeless title in international pop culture, still celebrated today with Akira - New Edition (of which you can find the first volume on Amazon) and with the launch of the Kaneda leather jacket starting from 13 July on Funimation.

Akira, or of the Third World War and an alternative 2019

Let's start by briefly reviewing the plot together, for those unfamiliar with this film: the story is set in the dystopian world in 2019, in a historical moment following the Third World War, a conflict that broke out following a violent explosion that destroyed the city of Tokyo. Thirty years later, on the ashes of the old Japanese capital, the so-called Neo Tokyo rises, but general discontent persists in the city's slums, where rebellions are unleashed and the return of Akira, the savior, is clamored. But who is he? It seems to be a mysterious being that, if on the one hand it could be the cause of the outbreak of the world war, on the other hand it is also considered the one who should eliminate from the face of the Earth the individuals not worthy to inhabit it, which is why it is called " the savior ”in fact. | ); }

The story, however, focuses on the character of Shōtarō Kaneda, leader of a gang of motorcyclists, whose childhood friend, Tetsuo Shima, acquires telekinetic skills following an accident in motorcycle, colliding with a ghostly child with a face much older than his age, and with the number 26 on the palm of his hand. Furthermore, following this occasion, the boy discovers that he is an esper capable of killing thanks to the power of his gaze alone. Meanwhile, the government must also face the very serious crisis in which the country has fallen and Colonel Shikishima, head of the army, fears there is an imminent risk of a violent revolt.

Finally, there are several groups of religious fanatics preaching the return of "Akira the savior", whose name has also been attributed to a project to which the colonel was headed, however, relieved of this post, despite was a convinced supporter. The project in question involved the preservation of the results of the experiments carried out on the body of the child involved in the Tetsuo accident, with the aim of understanding what the powers of this absurd creature are.

From manga to film

Starting with the American edition, the publisher Glénat then took a cue to publish the manga two years later in France, Spain and Italy. In 1988, however, the work on the manga was suspended while the fourth volume was approaching, as Otomo had concentrated on the making of Akira's film, in the role of director and screenwriter, alongside Izo Hashimoto. Speaking therefore of differences between manga and films, we cannot notice graphic discrepancies, as most of the character designs and settings in the film have been adapted from the manga, while the plot has significant differences, starting with the elimination of most of the last half of the story told in the manga.

The film cost seven million dollars, a budget obtained by bringing together the most important Japanese majors and thanks to the creation of over one hundred and fifty thousand drawings, thanks to the work of 1300 workers from fifty animation studios. While the manga had come to an end in the mid-1990s, with over 2000 pages, the film is making the rounds of the world, offering a totally new vision in the eyes of the general public of Japanese animation.

A different representation of the contents

This series of catastrophes, atrocious deaths and clouds of dust and gas pour into about one hundred and twenty-five minutes of film, generating an evergreen title that is still talked about today , although the film version, in addition to being different from the manga, was also less risky, narratively speaking, and less visionary than the comic. The feature film, in fact, is based on the atmospheres that Otomo has developed in the comics only up to the processing of the film, and this product also adapts to the specificity of the medium, giving up dozens of plot pieces and leaving only the narrative sci-fi system in the background. .

In the same way, and for the same reason, characters with a complex role are subjected to a work of simplification, including Miyako: backbone of the spiritual dimension in the manga, in the film the character becomes a grotesque street preacher, a variation on the theme perhaps dictated to conceal a reference to the psycho-cults that were arising at the time in Japan. Nonetheless, little Akira is missing from the film, at least in the forms and ways in which he appears in the manga.

The film therefore focuses on physicality and on the world we know, on which only the mute sky of Neo Tokyo opens, remaining anchored to the first part of the comic and omitting all the more meditative content. In this way, a plausible image of our reality is returned, showing it as it falls apart, and without too many explanations in detail. Understanding the plot fully, therefore, is not the primary goal: it is instead to give the audience a story that is willing to be translated and interpreted over time.

Adolescence and adulthood in the film

One of the themes most present in the story is adolescence, shown in two opposite forms in the two protagonists: Tetsuo embodies the possibility of being anything, the drive that eliminates all forms of control, making it impossible to establish whether in Akira the anthropological leap towards the unknown involving Tetsuo is a metaphor for adolescence, or if adolescence as an irrepressible drive is a metaphor for the transformation of the mankind. On the other hand, Kaneda is a bundle of muscles and nerves who, riding a motorcycle, with a laser rifle, stands up to his old friend, and above all he never dies. The young bikers in Akira are strong, down-to-earth, wild, they treat everyone badly, and Kaneda is the first among them to shine.

But opposed to them there are clearly the adults, who destroy everything that happens to them: the esper children, including Takashi, who entering in contact with Tetsuo awakens its potential, they have undergone manipulation by adults, who have developed their telepathic and telekinetic powers, and it is no coincidence that they have remained children and aged together: they have skipped adolescence. In the manga, the Colonel tries to contain the power to safeguard society, Miyako tries to make Tetsuo acquire the awareness necessary to build the new self, but they leave room for the power of Tetsuo, who, in a story already lightened by the presence of Akira, it becomes everything.

Attempts to control the powers of Akira and Tetsuo by the institutions are doomed to fail, not so much because the psychic powers are completely out of scale with respect to the means available, but above all because the struggle is a misunderstanding radical, a problem of homonymy between power, understood in a military and political sense, and the cosmic and primordial power that emanates from gifted children. Between one and the other, the perfect image is created of the disproportion between the old schemes, flattened on a static image of the human being, and the absolute anthropological novelty of which Tetsuo and Akira are manifestations.

Other media derivations of the film

Various derivations in the entertainment world have originated from the film Akira, including an adventure videogame of the same name, Akira, developed by Taito and distributed in 1988 , but also for Commodore Amiga and CD32 in 1994 following the western success of the film.

Not only video games, but also live action, never made but created by Sony with Kodansha, and two films announced on February 22, 2008 by Warner Bros. and Appian Way, a company belonging to Leonardo DiCaprio. The producer, Andrew Lazar, after some postponements had later declared that the live action was a "priority project for Warner Bros" and in March 2011 the names of the actors were disclosed, sparking a lot of controversy due to the hiring of Western actors in the role of characters with Japanese names and for their age, very different from that of the protagonists.

In May 2011, after Keanu Reeves' rejection of the role of Kaneda, Warner Bros blocked pre-production of the film and Hughes abandoned the project to away from differences with production. In July of the same year, negotiations began with director Jaume Collet-Serra to direct the film and allocate a budget of 90 million dollars, however, the following year, in January, Warner again suspended production due to casting and budget problems. A much darker and more difficult fate, that of the products following the first Akira film, compared to the evergreen blockbuster of 1988, which remained on its pedestal as an undisputed Japanese cyberpunk work.

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