Aaron V.F. PICAR!!!!!!!!
      Analysis of AKIRA
My paper for LI/205    
In the watershed moments of film, both at home and abroad, AKIRA  stands tall as one of them.  Otomo Katsuhiro has created a ?masterpiece of stark visceral beauty thematic power,  sheer kinetic fury,  and unparalleled visual effects? (McCloud).  AKIRA changed the way film was viewed, especially animation. With brisk editing and through a cryptic plot told at breakneck speed, ?Otomo launches an intense all out, relentless, cut-throat assault on the senses and does not pull back until the viewer is begging for mercy? (Ellis).   Although animated AKIRA has more in common, and is easily at the same level as Blade Runner, or Citizen Kane than it could ever be with The Lion King or Fantasia.                  
          So just what makes AKIRA such a masterpiece?  After all it is merely animation.  AKIRA  was one of the first features to showcase animation as so much more than to tell kiddie tales.  AKIRA deals with such sensitive issues as war, and humanity?s place in the world.  Another theme which Otomo covers, is how easily we has humans can become enslaved. 
          AKIRA  was originally produced as comic.  It ran in 1983 in Japan?s Young Magazine.  It spanned about 1400 pages.  Brought over to American audiences in 1988 by Epic Comics, AKIRA helped to secure a beachhead for other far eastern works to come ashore.  The comic essentially tells the same tale, it has more time to develop characters and add to the magnitude of Otomo?s undertaking.  Also, Akira appears about 1/3 of the way through the story, and the destruction of Neo-Tokyo takes the place about half way into the story.
Kenada on his bike
          AKIRA tells the tale of a post-apocalypse world that hovers on the brink of World War IV. Civil unrest plauges the city, and political factions seek to usrurp power. AKIRA starts out in 1987 where a nuclear bomb strikes Tokyo.  World War III commences quickly there after.  29 years later in a Neo-Tokyo plagued by civil unrest and social uprisings, a young cyberpunk biker gang called the capsules, led by Kenada, is waging a cycle war with the rival Clown gang.  Tetsuo, one of the Capsules is severely injured by an escapee child, with strong psionic abilities, who is part of a government project.  Tetsuo is taken along with the child to a military facility where tests are run on him.  Tetsuo soon becomes a tool of the government to harness the power of Akira, a 7-year-old boy, who has been dissected and kept in cryonic suspension since World War III, which he started.  What follows is an intense rush by Kenada to stop Tetsuo from being consumed by the great power he has been given. 
          Otomo applied a very brisk style of montage editing combining his own with the styles of Kubrick, Kurasawa, Bergman, and several others to create a unique film.  Through the uses of character shots thrown against the backdrop of a city being torn apart, Otomo is able to establish a sense of awe in the viewer.  From the beginning cycle wars to the jet bike chase in the sewers and the cataclysmic grand finale, Otomo establishes continuity.  
Neo-Tokyo at night
          In the beginning cycle battle between rival gangs, continuity editing is employed.  Shots that focus in on the characters? eyes, followed by quick cuts to show the entire body, show the animosity between the gangs.  Long shots of entire lengths of city streets, surrounded by a sprawling mega polis give the viewer the dark mood that shrouds the film.  Details as minor as a trembling exhaust pipe, and a jacket flagging, and the sound of an arm being crushed as a motorcycle run over it, details that most film makers overlook, enhance the scope of the film. 
Is this the great Akira??
          At the beginning of many sequences, Otomo starts off with a long establishing shot that shows the vastness of the setting.  He follows this up with a shot at the worm's view. After this a medium shot is taken to show the characters dwarfed by the massive setting. To conclude the sequence, Otomo returns to a long shot of the setting.  This establishes continuity by bringing sequences full circle.  He also shows how miniscule the humans are when compared to the world about them. 
          The music in AKIRA also contributes to the scope of the film.  The score was actually recorded before the shooting of the film.  Some sequences were actually redone to better suit the music.  Throughout the film, the music is very intense and cacophonous.  During the cycle wars, the music pulls you in and keeps you on edge.  When Tetsuo begins to lose control, the music made you do so as well.  It adds to the franticness and chaos that dominates the narrative.  It is at times as insane as the movie itself (Ebert).
          All of the elements I discussed, music, editing, sequence; all contribute to the themes of AKIRA. By manipulating us with these, we get a feeling of how small as people we are, and how we are easily enslaved by our own devises. The film itself can be interpreted in many ways.  One possible interpretation is that AKIRA is a parable of Japanese history. 
Showdown in rubble
Neo-Tokyo after the cataclysm
IN this case, Tetsuo represents Japan.  Akira was the emperor who introduced Japan to the West.  By doing this, Emperor Akira put Japan on the road that lead to the Hiroshima bombing.  The power that Tetsuo obtains is the western influence.  At first, Tetsuo hates that power, but the more he uses it, the more intoxicating it becomes until he is nearly destroyed by it.  At the conclusion, Tetsuo reaches a higher level of existence.  Before Japan met the West it was pretty well a primitive nation.  The more it dealt with them the more it, fascinated they became, until the bomb was dropped.  After which Japan rose to new levels economically, socially etc. 
Tetsuo upon his broken throne
          Another possible interpretation of AKIRA parallels Christianity.  IN this case, Tetsuo represents humanity, and the power represents sin.  He uses and abuses the power much as we sin, until it nearly destroys him.  Akira represents Christ.  Akira returned from the dead so to speak to deliver Tetsuo from the power, which was consuming him, much as Christ conquered death to free us from sin, and give us a better existence. 
I could go on for volumes about how awesome I think AKIRA is.  Otomo employs cinematic techniques that the mouse would never dream of touching, to tell a tale of how fragile we are as humans. Another theme Otomo relates is the need that we all have to fill ourselves.  Overall AKIRA is not only the finest narrative that animation has to offer, but stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of all fiction.
Kenada with what's left of Tetsuo
Back cover of a comic
Otomo, Katsuhiro: AKIRA Epic Comics 1988
Otomo, Katsuhiro:  AKIRA Volume 1 Trade PaperBack  Dark Horse Publishing 2000
McCloud, Scott. Reinventing Comics.  2000, Warner Bros. New York
Ellis, Warren.  An Interview with Warren Ellis http://www.warrenellis.com
Eisner, Will.  On-line statements http://willeisner.com
Giacomi, Matt.  Dark Horse Extra, June 2000, Dark Horse Publishing.  http://dhorse.com
Anime Web TurnPike http://anipike.com
Internet Movie Data Base http://imdb.com