Viking Night: Akira
By Bruce Hall
September 2, 2014
I’ve had very few experiences I could characterize as “mind blowing”. There was the time I attended the Super Bowl as a guest of the winning side. If you’ve ever wondered how ancient Roman aristocracy lived, or what Hugh Hefner’s life must be like, I believe I have an answer for you. Then of course, there’s the time I engaged Osama Bin Laden in a kung fu match, atop a 200 story building in a driving rainstorm - wearing sunglasses. One of those things is real and the other happened when I ate some maraschino cherries that were not maraschino cherries.
Maybe that’s a good description of Akira - good story, better trip. It was the experience, and not the substance of it - that made it so memorable.
So, it was exciting to revisit something like this so many years on. Usually, one of two things happens. I discover it hasn’t aged as well as I’d hoped. I waste an entire afternoon watching a fine actor like David Hasselhoff get blown off the screen by an $8,000 car. Or, I find the passage of time has granted me the ability to see a film with new eyes, and learn to appreciate it for more substantive reasons than I did before. And so it is with Akira, a movie that’s actually less narratively complex than I remember. The shine has definitely worn off, but the one thing that has made it such an affecting film for millions is largely intact. Akira is absolutely crackling with passion and whether you like the film or not, that’s hard to ignore.
The story takes place in a universe where a mysterious explosion destroyed Tokyo in 1988, triggering World War III. Decades later, what remains of Japan is in turmoil. A new city – Neo Tokyo – has sprung up, and it’s a brightly lit, densely crowded, very expensive place to live. Basically, it’s everything that was already wrong with Tokyo - on steroids. Rising taxes and years of government austerity have brought civilization to the breaking point. Plus, it’s been rumored that the war started due to a secret government program that went wrong. Public disorder has caused the military to crack down, which in turn has led to the birth of an armed Resistance. Note to law enforcement - beating the shit out of people does not make them respect you nearly as much it makes them want to set everything on fire.
But not everyone has such lofty concerns. While all this is happening, a pair of ordinary bike gangs is acting out their own version of West Side Story with tire irons and tow chains. The Capsules, led by a surly teen named Kaneda (Mituso Iwata), are at war with a rival gang called the Clowns. During the brawl, Kaneda’s best friend Tetsuo (Nozomu Sasaki) nearly runs down a child named Takashi (Tatsuhiko Nakamura), who happens to be a government test subject freed by the Resistance. In the confusion, both the child and Tetsuo are recovered by the military. The Capsules are rounded up by the police, but smooth talking Kaneda manages to secure their freedom, along with Kei (Mami Koyama), a pretty young member of the Resistance and Kaneda’s obvious love interest.