Extraordinary animation, powerful vision breathe life into 'Akira's' violent future


September 13, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Akira" is not to be confused with the upcoming "Akira Kurosawa's Dreams," though art film fans may be forgiven for thinking so; but it is definitely somebody's nightmare.

The two-hour animated Japanese feature, which is showing tonight and tomorrow night at the Baltimore Museum of Art in the Baltimore Film Forum's Premiere Series, is a blast and a half, a twisted dystopian parable of violence and rock and roll, Japanese-style. It's Disney on PCP, mean, rotten, psychotic, but incredibly vivid.

When I say "animated," don'tthink "cartoon," as in ducks in spats or mice in white gloves. No, no. Think bullets smashing into faces in a gummy, gelid smear of plasma; think of a genetically twisted boy mutating into a multi-tentacled glob of ectoplasm threatening to absorb or gobble the whole world. Think of dope-popping teens on motorcycles whistling down the byways of Neo-Tokyo like the masterless samurai of the other Akira's great movies. Think Ralph Bakshi's "Wizards," think "Blade-Runner" as animated by Peter Max; think about the whole urban-punk thing, spun out in the sado-masochistic purple haze of "A Clockwork Orange" into "Road Warrior," the cartoons of the French visionary genius Moebius, heavy metal music, bad van art and pulp nihilism. The style might be called la belle apocalypse.

The film is an epic fable about the lovable violent hopefulness of the young as opposed to the oppressive unlovable totalitarianism of the old; it values anger and action over politeness and reserve. It must drive Japanese parents absolutely nuts.

It is derived from a giant comic-book serial by Katsuhiro Otomo which ran in the Japanese magazine Young for nearly a decade, and was then serialized into several comic-book novels. Otomo himself has directed the movie, said to be the most expensive animated feature ever done in Japan; it's certainly the most elaborate.

What is it about? Hmmm, very interesting question. Here's my shot at it. Tokyo having been destroyed in a mysterious nuclear blast, it is now 30 years into the life of "Neo-Tokyo," the new city built on the crater. A secret government project is seeking children with unusual ESP powers.Meanwhile motorcycle gangs of thrill-seeking kids are out raising hell each night.

Three plot strains play off each other involving the government beef heads, the strange and growing powers of Tetsua, and the adventures of his pal Kaneda. There's a huge cast of revolutionaries, soldiers, other punk gangs, scientists, and so forth. I could say, "You need a scorecard to tell them apart," except that I have a scorecard and I can't tell them apart.

After the incoherencies of the plot, what's left is some extraordinary animation and a vision that, if not quite whole and not particularly wholesome, is nevertheless impressive in its range and power. Otomo and the legions of animators working for him create a world with incredible, gaudy detail.


Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo.

Screened by the Baltimore Film forum, 889-1993.



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