dyr #58 : Akira

Akira_1You my friend are like Bob Dylan. You are the spokesman (or perhaps spokes-anime?) of your generation. And such a fitting title to boot. Akira. It’s short, sweet, bold and makes you wonder what the movie is about? And for several years, if not a couple decades and change, I still ask myself this same question. And from all the viewings I have come to my own meaning since I am not all that familiar with the original manga. In any case, Akira stands as one of the quintessential definitions of what anime can become… huge, epic, thought provoking and awesome red motorcycles. For many otaku of a certain generation here in the west, it stands as one of the first anime that either: a) made us anime fans or b) solidified our love of Japanese animation to a level we had no idea that could be reached or even existed.

Akira_2Epic, sublime and down right dangerous… this is the world of Neo-Tokyo in the aftermath of a devastating war. Politicians and the military try to fight for power to control the masses and yet let the society kind of deteriorate at the process while they greedily grab cash and power at any quick moment. Remember the scene where the counsel member who tried to escape with his briefcase of money only to die in an alley from a heart attack? And it is in and on these streets that have gone to waste we find our main characters. They are street punks, juvenile delinquents, who ride motorcycles and fight rival gangs. And two of them will be our heroes so to speak. A small, quiet, insecure yet angry young man named Tetsuo and a cocky self assured leader who has quite possibly one of the most iconic motorcycles to appear on any screen, Kaneda.

Akira_3Eventually these boys will come into contact with the military authorities and their lives will be changed forever. Either through contact with what looks like old children who have esper type abilities or perhaps awakening a power within himself (could it be possible to awake this in all of us?), Tetsuo begins his journey of becoming a power beyond control as he is carried off to be examined. The struggle begins now as Tetsuo, who only wants to be left alone, is constantly being controlled. And much like school shootings of recent history in our ‘real world’, Tetsuo is a textbook example of allowing a potentially good kid go bad. He is to blame for the eventual destruction he lays out on the city, but that blame belongs to us as well as we let potential young people rot away into self pity and depression. His responsibility is ours and ours is his.

Akira_4My view of Akira is that no matter the environment or circumstances, we are the creators or destroyers of our world be it within the confines of the body or what we perceive to be the outside world. The more we try to control the outside environment, others around us or use the gifts given to us to harm or disconnect us from the natural surroundings, we are doomed to failure. But from failure and destruction much like a phoenix, there is great potential to start again. All endings are beginnings and likewise all beginnings are endings (the constant cycle of life and time). It is how we adapt to these changes that will show the results.

Go big, or go home. Such is much of the work of original creator Katsuhiro Otomo, as all hell will break loose and get out of control if we allow the weeds to permeate the garden so to speak. Akira is also a hallmark of the quality of one of the best studios in Japan, TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsa). You can see this as an action film, a fluid piece of animation, or an allegory to what potential we have in all of us. I cannot deny the awesome power of what Akira is for me as a fan; it is required viewing to truly appreciate the power of what anime truly can express. No matter what, I will always cheer GO! GO! Akira! 

…Now I need to find a dealership that has Kaneda’s bike. Any idea what make or model it is?

dyr #54 : Neo-Tokyo

Short collections are always welcome in my world. Anime often becomes a system of stereotypes… Shonen fighters, magical girls, mecha, Ghibli films. All are great, but is this all that there is to Japanese anime? And of course the answer is absolutely not. There is always something of an alternative. Something more artsy, a little bizarre and uniquely it’s own thing. Art for arts sake and without compromise. A true hallmark of that awesome studio known as Madhouse, welcome to the trilogy Manie-Manie Labyrinth Tales, better known here in the west as Neo-Tokyo.

NT_1We begin with my personal favorite, The Labyrinth. Directed by Rintaro, this a feast of visual delight. Rintaro has always been known for being excessive with visuals to the point that what you are watching becomes more important that the story itself. The story is simple here, an imaginative girl who while playing with her lost and found cat gets sucked into a surreal psychedelic ‘labyrinth’ that leads to a circus via a clock. It just goes to show, watch the invitation you receive from Pierrot-type clowns around grandfather styled clocks. I don’t know if this segment has a meaning or point and I don’t care. It’s pure Rintaro and often when I watch his work I just want to bask in it like a painting in a museum. Plus having the music of Erik Satie is a plus for me 🙂

NT_2The second part known as The Running Man is perhaps the most recognized of the trilogy. I believe this had some play on MTV back in the day and it was in the promotional material of Streamline Pictures. This film looks and feels like its creator, Yoshiyaki Kawajiri. He is best known for a lot of seinen action, think Ninja Scroll, but you cannot deny his talent as a character designer. Top notch, meticulous detail exudes in this tale about a reporter who has followed an unbeatable professional racer throughout his career. How has this man survived for so long in this dangerous sport and how long will he last at the top? The action is fast paced, but the sections where it feel that time or movement slows to a grinding halt is where the real drama begins.

NT_3Now to the final segment, I present Construction Cancelation Order. I can sum this one up with one name, Katsuhiro Otomo. It’s Mr. Akira essentially and yes this is a tale where the societal conditions have gone wrong, except this one has a bit more humor. A nerdy salaryman inspector is to visit a construction site in the remote region of South America to essentially shut it down. And that is a tall order as the machines have total control of the situation. And even though the site is in effect falling apart at the seams and abandoned, the worker robots still continue as programmed. Can our faithful inspector do anything to stop this insanity, or is their a way to just get out alive? This reminds me a lot of Otomo’s later work Roujin Z where he shows how letting technology thrive to solve our everyday problem without a safety net can bring disaster and a chuckle or two.

Hold on… we are going back to the first segment again to finish off as a sort of coda. The labyrinth doors closes… The end. Lets gives a round of applause for our three directors everyone.

NT_4So… what does this trilogy of shorts have to do with a title like Neo-Tokyo? Honestly, I can’t see one, except… except that it was most likely borrowed from that contemporary hit film, Akira. As stated, Akira was a license to print money here in the west back in the early 1990s and it’s creator and director Katsuhiro Otomo was associated with the film right off the bat. I am sure the consensus was… we need to find more work that features this guy to cash in on this Akira trend. And of course Neo-Tokyo was prime for the taking as there was not much else out at the time that had Otomo’s name as director on it. Too bad this film is nothing like Akira and that is neither good, nor bad.

A distant cousin to another all time favorite of mine, the beautiful Robot Carnival, Neo-Tokyo is for me darker and perhaps more streamlined. Helmed by three of Japan’s best directors and produced at Madhouse, Neo-Tokyo stands as one of the best examples of how far Japan stretched animation in the 1980s. I often have forgotten about how unique this one was in the past, but that is true no more.