Akira: Foreseeing the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo
Sci-fi films are great for a number of reasons: firstly, they tend to be quite imaginative; secondly, they aren’t afraid to be experimental; and thirdly, witnessing (and experiencing) the technological innovations first featured in them can be very interesting. Understanding how far we have taken Earth compared to the expectations of these films can be both promising and depressing. For example, 2015 has been and gone, but those Back to the Future hoverboards are far from being a common item anytime soon.
We may have already lived through the time frame of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Back to the Future, but 2019 is the year of The Running Man, Blade Runner, and classic Japanese anime film, Akira. In this article, we will be reviewing Akira and considering how its 2019 differs from our own.
Akira: The Premise
Akira is set in a dystopian Japan heavily inspired by cyberpunk. The film drives the audience through a polluted city called Neo Tokyo. At the centre of this city are a gang of teenagers who menace the city in brutal motorcycle fights, but elsewhere, hidden away in the vast metropolitan maze, a group of dangerously powerful child psychics prophesise that further tragedy awaits their city.
The film was released in Japan in December of 1988, but the manga on which it was based began in 1982 – the same year that Blade Runner was released in the West.
A Brief Discussion of the Film’s Opening Scenes – No Spoilers!
The film opens on a scene set in 1988 where Tokyo is destroyed by a white singularity – an allusion to nuclear warfare that is both momentous and terrifying. From this point onwards, the story switches to its 2019 setting where we learn that the explosion was the beginning of World War III. Since then, peace was achieved, and Tokyo was rebuilt as Neo-Tokyo.
The film quickly cuts to the lives of the two protagonists, Kaneda and Tetsuo, two young boys who grew up together with unresolved tensions. Kaneda leads the gang with his childhood friend, Tetsuo, and before long they are out to attack their rival gang, The Clowns.
Some of the most notable aspects of this film are the uncanny similarities it shares with Blade Runner (1982), also set in 2019. Shots of holographic advertisements mixed with imposing and smoggy high-rise buildings are – thankfully – not entirely in line with our world today, but disturbingly not too far off either.
One of animation’s strengths is its ability to shape the entire screen to the mood of every scene. Every colour can be specifically chosen, and it is accepted by viewers that shapes and characters may be unrealistically enlarged or caricatured for dramatic effect. This occurs at various intervals in Akira, such as when vibrant blood spatters ignore the scene’s lighting restrictions to capture the viewers’ attention. The clip below features the opening scenes and the fight against The Clowns:
Watching the headlights trail along behind the bikes is like watching stars fall onto Earth, especially against the rest of the film’s desaturated colour scheme. While Akira is largely very gritty, it does have some rare moments of beauty.
This opening scene is effective at quickly introducing the main players of the film and their relationships. For example, Tetsuo feels overshadowed by Kaneda and is jealous of his position, shown through his obsession with Kaneda’s bike. Kaneda fails to realise this, which causes a dangerous tension between the two that he can’t recognise, never mind solve
If you are considering watching this film having read this, we suggest watching the subbed version; dubbed anime at this point in time regularly fails to properly sync the dialogue with the images on the screen, making for a rather distracted viewing experience. Sadly, this trend remained true in Akira.
2019: Akira Vs Earth
There are many differences between Akira’s world and our reality. To begin with, we never experienced World War III, Tokyo still exists and espers (the child pyschics) aren’t worshipped as the world’s potential saviours.
And yet, there are some creepy similarities – metropolitan areas are soaring higher and higher, so perhaps Akira’s dusty skyscrapers aren’t too far-fetched. On a similar note, Akira’s Japan is preparing for the 2020 Olympics just as in the real world. Below are some screen caps from the film which show Akira’s 2020 Olympic stadium.
The end of Akira takes place in this imagined Olympic stadium, so it’s worth watching right through if you too are excited for the Olympics. Below is a picture of the current construction progress of the Tokyo Olympic stadium, bearing some similarity to Akira’s design which was also undergoing construction in the film’s events.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium was around 40% complete as of September 2018, and it’s still on schedule to be completed by November 2019. Let’s hope that the stadium fares better than it’s anime counterpart! The construction of the stadium has successfully been hyped through use of Akira’s popularity:
If you liked Akira, then you should consider reading the manga which explores the characters far more thoroughly than the film could within its time restrictions.
If you’ve seen Akira and have been inspired to learn more about Japanese culture, then perhaps you could read the six volumes of manga that preceded the Akira film. These six volumes tell a deeper story with a greater emphasis on side characters such as Kei and the child psychics. If you’re hungry for all things Japanese, then we also recommend that you visit our sushi restaurant in Liverpool, or taste our Japanese food in Manchester.
We hope that you enjoyed Akira!