What if an alien in the future stumbled upon Akira? Welcome to Earthling Cinema, where we examine the last remaining artifacts of a once-proud culture and try to understand what human lives were like before their planet was destroyed. I’m your host, Garyx Wormuloid.
Directed by: Katsuhiro Otomo
Stars: Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama, Mitsuo Iwata
Production Co: TMS Entertainment, Akira Committee Company Ltd., Bandai
Written by: Ben Steiner
Analysis & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Starring: Mark Schroeder (https://twitter.com/mark_schroeder)
Edited by: Ryan Hailey
Original Music by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Opening Animation by: Danny Rapaport
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon
Akira’s Hidden Meaning – Earthling Cinema
Greetings, and welcome to Earthling
Cinema. I am your host, Garyx Wormuloid.
This week’s artifact is Akira, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and based on his six-part mango of the same name.
The film takes place thirty years after World War III — the final war in the trilogy — and Neo-Tokyo is infested with biker gangs.
One of these gangs is led by a human boy named Kaneda. He and his pals go out for a harmless little joyride, when suddenly Kaneda’s friend Tetsuo crashes into a tiny old manboy who forgot to look both ways before crossing the street.
At first it seems like this dude just needs a little sun, but guess again. He’s actually an escaped government test subject with psychic powers. Before you can bat an eyeball, the government shows up to retrieve him, and they take Tetsuo too on account of the Patriot Act.
And it’s a good thing, because the head Army guy discovers that Tetsuo has also come down with psychic powers. Meanwhile, Kaneda just wants to creep on some honeys, and – – in keeping with human narcissism – – he finds a girl named Kei who has his same clothes and haircut.
The elderly manboy and his elderly friend-children try to kill Tetsuo, but can’t because of their arthritis and/or colic. Tetsuo discovers that Akira, another psychic who was responsible for destroying Tokyo, is being held in cryonic storage underneath the Olympic Stadium, so he figures why not head over and take a look.
Kaneda follows Tetsuo, vowing to give him the world’s biggest noogie. The elderly girlchild takes control of Kei to use her to fight Tetsuo, presumably because Kei had nothing else to do in the story. But Zombie Kei is no match for Tetsuo, who opens up Akira’s chamber, thereby opening up Pandora’s Bento Box. But it isn’t very filling.
All that’s inside are Akira’s remains, kept for scientific study and probably some weird fetish stuff. The army guy fires a big sky laser at Tetsuo, which for some reason only cuts off his arm. He fights back for a while, but that gets boring, so he decides to turn into a giant testicle instead.
The precog babies decide to stop lollygagging around and wake up Akira, who isn’t dead after all, he just became too cool for a body. Akira traps Tetsuo inside a big ball of light, which is so simple, how have I never thought of that for grounding my kids? The elderly manboy goes inside to rescue Kaneda since he seems like such a chill bro, and his buddies come along for emotional support.
After a brief collage of home movies, they pull Kaneda to freedom. Akira takes Tetsuo to another dimension where he will be safe, unlike the city of Tokyo, which he again destroys. On the plus side, there’s a lot more beachfront property. In the end, Kaneda may get the girl, but Tetsuo is the one who has a Big Bang.
At its core, Akira is an expression of post-World War II anxieties, mirroring Japan’s warped and disorientated state following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which America’s history books tell me weren’t even that bad. As in real life, the film’s Neo-Tokyo is suspended in a power struggle between new religious zealots, corrupt capitalists, and aimless, violent, oddly parentless youth.
More specifically, the character Tetsuo personifies Japan’s postwar struggles. Tetsuo’s psychic powers and bizarre mutations are reminiscent of the deformations the Japanese suffered due to radiation poisoning.
Additionally, Tetsuo goes from punching bag to omnipotence in a matter of hours. Similarly, Japan went from a country in shambles to one of the most advanced economies in the world by the 1980s, just in time for the cocaine boom. The grotesque nature of Tetsuo’s transformation juxtaposed with his enormous power suggests that although Japan took pride in their new position among world powers, they were also afraid of it — afraid it would completely consume their cultural identity and turn them into douchebags.
The film suggests that Akira takes Tetsuo to some kind of alternate dimension, where he creates his own universe — without even looking at the instructions.
This is the new beginning Japan yearned for, free from the burdens of the past. The final battle takes place at the Olympic Stadium, where Tokyo held the 1964 Summer X-Games. Traditionally considered a symbol for Japan’s incredible resurgence after the war, the stadium’s destruction seems to symbolize a rejection of all Western influence. Especially when you consider there was probably a Mickey D’s in there.
Akira is considered one of the seminal anime films of all time, paving the way for anime’s popularity outside of Japan, like at ComicCon in San Diego and EarthCon on Mars. It was a pioneer of a genre called “body horror,” which mixes images of the organic with the industrial. To illustrate what a fundamental effect technology had on humanity, these films depict it literally invading human bodies, often without even asking.
The body horror genre points the idea that Japan’s economic progress — due to rapid industrialization and becoming a giant in electronics — completely subsumed their national ethos. So let that be a lesson to all you industrialists out there: tread carefully, unless you want a microchip in your butt.