Akira (1988)
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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The teenaged members of a motorcycle gang living in Neo-Tokyo in the year 2019, thirty years after the city has been destroyed by an enormous explosion, encounter a strangely aged child with mysterious powers. When one of the members of the gang, Tetsuo, is abducted by the military after this encounter, his friend Kaneda searches for him and discovers a government project to develop paranormal mental powers in a group of children. Meanwhile, Tetsuo himself becomes a subject of these experiments, with terrible results.

Katsuhiro Otomo has fashioned an entertaining adventure in his animated film Akira, but he has not created a great work of art. Visually, the movie is well crafted, even if it is not inspired, and, narratively, it is engaging, although it is never deeply affecting.

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>The film's animation is consistently accomplished technically but lacks any qualities suggesting some aesthetic sensitivity on the part of the director. When shown as dominated by vast skyscrapers, blazing searchlights, and colorful holographic signs, or as filled with decrepit, squalid slums, Neo-Tokyo is memorable and impressive, but such images frequently give way to nondescript backdrops like those that can be found in countless other animated films. What is more, the character designs are all remarkably ugly. Apparently, the explosion that destroyed Tokyo in 1988 caused everyone to mutate and to develop close set eyes, heavy brows, and a dolphin-like forehead.

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Fortunately, the story the director tells is generally nicely if never brilliantly realized. The narrative is sufficiently complex to hold the viewer's interest and is enlivened by protagonists whose roughness and brutality are not de-emphasized or explained away. The action sequences are also genuinely entertaining, even riveting, and the story's mysteries are nicely developed. The director has conjured up a harsh vision of the future, which, not being particularly different from the world in which we live today, is infused with a potent feeling of veracity. His crafty, manipulative bureaucrats, rough hoodlums, and idealistic youths are, consequently, able to involve the viewer in their lives and give him some sense of their fears, loyalties, hopes, and sorrows. While Otomo never manages to submerge the viewer entirely in his fictional world, he does provide him with a genuinely entertaining experience.

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Akira is one of the better science fiction films I have encountered. Regrettably, while the film is always competently made, it is never noteworthy.

Review by Keith Allen

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