A cult classic cannot be denied. I remember watching anime for the first time, scrawny teen, flipping through the channels on a Friday night looking for
soft core porn something interesting to watch and coming across the Action channel. Anime. The blood, adult themes, the intense portrayal of movement, lithe and the calm that comes briefly before hit with the impetus of a sudden bloodlust explosion like an IED under a school bus filled with nuns. I was dumbstruck that something like this existed and I was only discovering it then. I was consumed by that world, briefly. I remember seeing a part of Ghost in the Shell. Then Akira. For as long as we had cable. At the time I thought, they are making some really cool animations in this here 1999. Only to find out years later, Akira was made in 1988, over a decade before I saw it, barely 3 years after I was born.
And recently, during my customary film trailer binge, I saw the trailer for Lucy (2014). And instantaneous I got a weird ‘Simpson’s done it” vibe after just seeing 30 seconds of footage. But where? A few minutes rocking my brain and it hit me. It had the silage of cyberpunk and the drug-induced potential of the human mind- Akira.
It’s in instances like this you realise how much of an impact that Akira has had on cinema over the years. Whether it’s Chronicle, the Matrix (the good one, and the bad ones too) or that crappy Kanye West music video, Akira has left it’s mark on us Westerners. Even the classic Neo-Tokyo skyline rivals with ease the landscapes that defined sci-fi Hollywood tour-de-forces like Blade Runner (1982) (which in any case is inspired by the Tokyo cityscape).
There is always something to be said about innovation. The heralds of it are passionate to the point of obsession. Katsuhiro Otomo’s storyboards were detailed blueprints that left nothing to question. A total of 270 shades of red (give or take) were used in creating the piece, a lot used in t the infamous rival clown biker-gang night sequence. Akira successfully utilised a traditional animation technique absolutely bereft of any technical aid or 3D technology, despite it’s flawless representation of it. A virgin pristine. A soundtrack that was defiant, lower-chakra-vibrating and powerful. All that culminating into one of the greatest masterpieces of anime- no, world cinema- ever created.
So it’s understandable that Hollywood would take notice. But as infamous as Hollywood is for making remakes of creative World Cinema, there is always the risk that certain elements that don’t translate easily or well to western thinking may be overlooked. Or Hollywood will just be insensitive like a American bull in a Japanese China shop. We all remember that piece of news that started circulating about a (possible?) Akira live-action remake that would sport what seemed to be an all-white cast. Thanks DiCaprio. Even though Akira, at its narrative core, makes social commentary on Hiroshima and the detrimental effect such an extinction level event can have on a nation’s psyche years after, physically and psychologically. Or we could just say WWII never happened. That’s a lot easier.
But it doesn’t matter. An Akira remake has never been on our screens, but it doesn’t mean it has never been present. Everybody seems to want to build a functioning version of that ultra cool deathtrap on wheels aka Kaneda’s motorcycle, closest was on exhibit at the 2004 Tokyo Motorcycle Show. Telekinetic ability, psychedelic drug-use to unlock the precarious potential of the mind are similar narrative stands that have appeared in Akira-inspired Hollywood films. Chronicle (2012), Looper (2013), Limitless (2011) and Lucy (2014) are examples of this. The detailed cyberpunk landscapes of The Matrix (1999) and another anime classic Ghost In the Shell (1995) also lend itself to the tropes birthed by Akira. And to top it off, Akira was the wests first, true introduction to the rich tapestry that is anime.
Emulation (or was it imitation?) is often said to be the best form of flattery. Which is fine, so long as homage is given. Publicly. And the works that follow the original should draw on the themes and tropes whilst adding new perspectives. Not regurgitating whole plot and themes. And that was in no way a stab at say (grabbing-random-Hollywood-company-and-film-out-of-the-air) Disney’s Lion King.
In any case, Akira certainly set the stage for cyberpunk and sci-fi film on a grande scale. And understandably, Akira still has yet to be effectively challenged by any remake or subsidiary influence.