The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Challenged by Akira

with 28 comments

akiraAs a movie watcher it’s easy to fall into habits. We don’t want to spend our time and money on films that we hate, so most of our picks come from familiar territory. Better safe than sorry.

It takes a little push from the outside for us to get out of the circle. This month a group of Swedish movie bloggers and podcasters decided to do this, so we gave each other a challenge.

My secret challenge came from Markus at the movie podcast Har du inte sett den?. After making an investigation of my blog, he came to the conclusion that the café suffered from an anime deficiency. So he gave me the task to watch Akira, a cyberpunk action film that depicts a dystopian version of Tokyo in 2019.

At loss about the plot
As for the plot of this film I’m honestly a little bit at a loss. I thought I had it for a while, but over the course of the two hour long movie I lost it somewhere. I found this description at IMDb that wraps it up pretty well:

“Kaneda is a bike gang leader whose close friend Tetsuo gets involved in a government secret project known as Akira. On his way to save Tetsuo, Kaneda runs into a group of anti-government activists, greedy politicians, irresponsible scientists and a powerful military leader. The confrontation sparks off Tetsuo’s supernatural power leading to bloody death, a coup attempt and the final battle in Tokyo Olympiad where Akira’s secrets were buried 30 years ago”.

Wikipedia has a more detailed version, which made me nod as I read it: “Oh, right, that’s what happened? Sounds cool!”

Recommended for the visuals
Frankly I wouldn’t recommend anyone to watch Akira for the story. Apparently it’s based on a 2000 page manga tale. I can imagine that it’s clear enough for someone who is familiar with the source material, but to me it could as well have been randomly chosen pictures from the comics that they had put together without putting a lot of thought into it.

This sounds terrible, but actually I would wholeheartedly recommend Akira, but only because of the visuals. They are outstanding, especially considering that it’s 25 years old.

I loved the dark, shadowy Tokyo, one of the best dystopian cities I’ve seen on screen. I loved the crazy bike rides and the skyscrapers that fell apart, were put together and then fell apart again. And as much as they freaked me out, I loved the creepy giant toys and the human bodies that were transformed into monsters beyond any description. The final 30 minutes of explosions and psychedelic patterns had a level of imagination and surrealism that could compete with 2011: A Space Odyssey.

There was one thing that bugged me. All the way through the film the characters kept shouting each other’s names loudly:  “Kaneda!” “Kaneda!” ”Tetsuo!” ”Kaneda!!!!” ”Tetsuo!!”, “KANEDA!” Over and over and over again. Once you start thinking about it, it grows on you and becomes like Chinese water torture, you’re just waiting for the next one to come.

But despite this hang-up about name call-outs and despite the fact that I had no idea of what was going on most of the, I thoroughly enjoyed this outing to a place where I haven’t been before. I definitely should do more of those.

Akira (Katsuhiro Ohtomo, JA 1988) My rating : 4/5


filmspanarnaAnd for those of you who understand Swedish: here are the challenge posts by my fellow bloggers in the network Filmspanarna:

Johan & Markus
Moving Landscapes
Except fear
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord
Movies Noir
Mode och film
Fripps filmrevyer
Fiffis filmtajm

Written by Jessica

September 18, 2013 at 8:00 am

Posted in Akira, Filmspanarna

28 Responses

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  1. Whenever I watch Akira, I always think ‘Now I understand!’ but then something happens or I notice something else and I have to start questioning things all over again! I love it for that though – makes me think 🙂 And yes, completely agree on the visuals – outstanding! It’s one of my favourite films.
    If you’re thinking of watching another cyberpunk themed anime, then try Ghost in the Shell!


    September 18, 2013 at 8:44 am

    • Aha, I shouldn’t make any hopes about understanding more of it next time I watch it. Good to know. I could easily see it again though, thanks to the beauty. Thank you for the tip about where to go next!


      September 18, 2013 at 11:18 am

  2. Akira seems more like an experience than a really “good” Movie. I haven´t seen it myself but perhaps you can have it in the background while cleaning since you don´t understand the plot anyway 😉


    September 18, 2013 at 9:19 am

    • Hm… It depends on how you do your cleaning. Either you listen to the original sound or go for a dubbed version, it’s not a movie you watch for the sound (though it makes some interesting use of it, it’s actually surprisingly silent at times). You need to see it for the visuals. So if you can clean without losing the screen out of sight, sure!


      September 18, 2013 at 11:20 am

    • A movie can be good without understanding the movie. You should definitely see it on an as large as possible screen as loud as possible with no twitter, facebook or mobile in the room. The regular world becomes boring after spending time in Neo Tokyo. Its a lot like cocaine.


      September 19, 2013 at 12:27 am

  3. You know, I couldn’t agree more. The story is not very well structured, but visually it’s a freakin’ masterpiece. When I did watch it again, for the second or for the third time, it was solely for the atmosphere.


    September 18, 2013 at 10:50 am

    • I can definitely see why you can go back to it even if you don’t understand much of the story. I might very well do that.


      September 18, 2013 at 11:20 am

  4. Akira has been my favourite film for about 10 years, so I always feel pleased when I see something pop up on my feed where someone has reviewed the film, or if there is an article about it.

    The first time I watched it, I too, had no idea what was going on story-wise. It is a film that takes a while to get on the front of what is actually going on, but it is completely worth it, and I’d recommend it both for story and visuals.

    The comic is completely different to the film, Akira is actually in it, The Joker is a main character, Tetsuo destroys part of the moon, etc. – it definitely shouldn’t be compared to the film at all; they’re both completely different entities but some of my favourite works that are extremely under appreciated. Also has one of the best scores of all time. (I could really go on, but I LOVE Akira and everything related to it.)

    Despite you not feeling the story, I’m glad you liked it past that and, as I said, it’s always great to see someone else giving it a go.

    I agree with Ruth about Ghost in the Shell; without that film The Matrix wouldn’t have existed, and without Akira there definitely would have been no Ghost in the Shell and a lot of other works.


    September 18, 2013 at 11:13 am

    • Awww! What a lovely comment. It’s so great to hear someone speaking with love and passion about their favourite movie! I liked it quite a bit and if I watch it a few more times and get to understand it better I probably will like it even more.


      September 18, 2013 at 11:24 am

      • Thanks Jessica! And it actually took me until the 2nd time round of watching it to fall in love with it! Wasn’t such a happy viewing the first time.


        September 18, 2013 at 2:10 pm

  5. Interesting choice, I like it! I haven’t seen Akira yet so I’d rather not read your review for now. This kind of anime interests me, but I haven’t seen much of the genre.

    Glad to see you liked it, even though you don’t usually watch this kind of movie. That’s always a good sign.

    Movies - Noir

    September 18, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    • I don’t think this review is all that spoilerific; I can’t really spoil something I understand so little of. But you should give it a try!


      September 18, 2013 at 2:17 pm

  6. Nice choice and it seemed to be a very apt challange for you: Especially since it went down so well. It has been too many years since I saw Akira, but the lasting impression is on par with yours. A bit confusing but visually and atmospherically stunning.


    September 18, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    • It wasn’t super challenging to me; after all I’ve seen a few anime films and loved them all. But I’m not by any means a completionist and it would have taken me a long time to get to Akira – if I’d gotten to it at all. So I’m really glad I got the push to see this.


      September 18, 2013 at 9:05 pm

  7. Glad you liked the movie Jessica! And to be honest, I’m not sure i fully understand Akira, I always take away something new every time you watch the movie. But it’s funny that you remarked that the characters shouts each others name over and over again. And that is something I also get annoyed by when I watch anime shows, it seams to be a tradition in anime to do that =)


    September 19, 2013 at 10:23 am

    • It’s a tradition? Well then they must be pulling it further in this film than they usually do. I’ve seen a few more anime films and I’ve never noticed this before. In this case it turned painful pretty soon.


      November 3, 2013 at 1:47 pm

  8. As you write, the story is confusing, and yes if you’ve read the manga it’s probably easier to understand what’s going on. What’s great about Akira is the atmosphere and the visual. Neo Tokyo is amazing. You mentioned the scene where the toys become larger creatures. I love that scene! And the smoke and explosions in the film. Didn’t they seem like almost living beings? Akira was actually one of the first animes I saw when I dove in to the genre almost ten years ago.

    Glad you liked it and a good choice by Markus. 🙂


    September 21, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    • Thanks for linking to that review! I really don’t have much to add, agreeing so much.


      November 3, 2013 at 1:45 pm

  9. “Challenging” is certainly a good word for Akira. The plot is, frankly, a muddled mess. The visuals are definitely striking, though, even if I didn’t entirely find them to my liking at all times. On the other hand, it was my first exposure to Japanese animation as well, and so I don’t know how I might take it today.

    Morgan R. Lewis

    October 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    • I’ve seen a few other anime movies. This one was a bit different in style, but it worked for me anyway. I don’t know how I’d feel about it if I had seen a lot in the genre.


      November 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm

  10. Many years ago I went on an Akira-bender, trying to watch it enough times to actually find a point to it all. Suffice to say, I was not successful. I think Akira’s a film that just defies logic, convention and understanding. There are so many differing opinions on what it all means! Which, if I’m honest, is perhaps Akira’s greatest legacy; it provides critics like us with so much fodder to chew on!!

    The Hot Rod

    October 14, 2013 at 9:07 am

    • I could definitely agree on that. That’s probably one of the reasons why it holds up so well.


      November 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm

  11. “There was one thing that bugged me. All the way through the film the characters kept shouting each other’s names loudly: “Kaneda!” “Kaneda!” ”Tetsuo!” ”Kaneda!!!!” ”Tetsuo!!”, “KANEDA!”

    Ha! This was my my main reaction to Akira. I was intrigued by it for a while, but it got to be too much by the last 30 minutes or so. It was hard for me to finish, despite an interesting story and great visuals. I felt like it was pummeling me by the end.

    Dan Heaton

    October 25, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    • Hehe yeah it starts to get at you after a while. I actually liked the strange 30 minutes. I just let go of understanding and enjoyed the visuals.


      November 2, 2013 at 1:33 pm

  12. A few years ago, I’ve also seen Akira as I wanted to find out if manga is something for me. The answer seems to be: not really. Sure, it was a decent to good movie but it didn’t leave me wanting for more.


    November 3, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    • Ah what a shame. But we can’t agree on everything.
      I think you shouldn’t judge the entire genre from this one. There are others that are easier to follow.


      November 3, 2013 at 8:59 pm

      • You’re right of course. Anything to recommend?

        Mmm, those pictures now remind me of Blade Runner and Screamers (recommended though I seem to be in the minority regarding that movie). The dystopic skyline of Tokyo reminds me of Blade Runner. And screamers has an evil robot-teddy bear. They’re probably both influenced by the comic books.


        November 4, 2013 at 12:04 am

        • I’m by no means an expert in anime, but if you haven’t seen Spirited Away, I strongly recommend it. Princess Mononoke is also wonderful. The Howling Castle and My Neighbour Totoro are other great pics. Don’t bother with From Up on Poppy Hill. Boring stuff.


          November 4, 2013 at 11:49 pm

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