Being from Japan, Mamiko had a thing about presenting Japanese films (it’s OK, we were cool with it!)  And when she decided that she wanted to show a film that was both Japanese and animated, one very obvious selection was 1988’s Akira, a landmark film in anime which was not only adapted from Katsuhiro Otomo‘s manga of the same name, but directed by Otomo himself.  I’ve seen it twice, and I can never quite remember what it’s all about, and I can never quite forget the ending.  But it’s trippy, and it’s time to live-review it!


1988 Tokyo.  A nuclear blast.


Neo-Tokyo in 2019, 31 years after World War III.  Apocalyptic biker gang wars carried out in Star-Wars-like motorway trenches, with excellent perspective buildings. Kaneda and Tetsuo face off against the Clowns in senseless death matches.

Akira biker gang

Revolution in the streets.  German Shepherd head shots carried out by a wounded man escorting a small, blue, elderly-looking alien child thing.  The escort killed by police; the elderly blue child’s screams wreak psychic destruction on the nearby skyscrapers of Neo-Tokyo.


Tetsuo, knocking the head off a Clown with a crowbar, barely sees the elderly blue child in the street before having his bike destroyed by the child’s force field.  The army, in giant helicopters, tracks down the elderly child, and collects Tetsuo as well.  Drag him to their grotesque kindergarten.

pink polo

Secret Army scientists, with three-dimensional gyroscopic scanners, suspect that Tetsuo and his aura may hold the secret to controlling the mysterious Akira. Tetsuo, escaped, joyrides Kaneda’s bike.  Attacked by the clowns, Kaneda arrives to rescue him with a pink-polo-shirted fender vault and kick.


Tetsuo’s visions – a boy, a voice calling Akira, his own intestines falling out, scooping them back into his belly like so much pasta.  The army snatched Tetsuo from Kaneda again.


A sewer chase.  Kaneda resuces a girl, a revolutionary, Kei – or she rescues him with a vicious head shot to a cop.


An elderly blue girl dreams in precog of Akira, of a shadow descending on Tokyo, of Tetsuo and his power.  Frozen rooms, ice falls as the vault doors are open.  Room 28, 0.000005 kelvin, tolerances normal.  Contents: Akira.


Revolutionaries fervently praying for the awakening…of Lord Akira.  Akira, the ghostly cause of World War III.


The toys dance for Tetsuo in his hospital bed, forming a giant teddy bearwith a crocodile claw, a rabbit, a milk-excreting car.  They dissolve in fear at the sight of his blood into elderly blue children, they vanish to their grotesque kindergarten.  Tetsuo’s psychic powers.  Orderly blood dripping from the ceiling, limbs plastered to the walls.


Sewer Wars II: Kei, Kaneda and the revolutionaries vs. Sewer Speeders as they come to rescue Tetsuo.


Tetsuo, in psychic battle against the three psychic grotesque kindergarteners.  Akira, in Tetsuo’s head.  Kaneda arrives for the rescue, but Tetsuo, his powers now fantastic, no longer needs him.  Tetsuo, the cold-blooded killer.  Yamagata, why?

tetsuo on Akira

What is Akira?  Akira is ultimate energy, power, knowledge.  The government failed in its attempt to control it.  The people accept Tetsuo as Lord Akira.


Laser weapons deflect, bridges fall to the power of Lord Tetsuo.  Electricity pulses on the rising globe of Akira’s containment chamber, risen from the depths.  It crumbles away, a six-foot sphere remains.  Open NOW!  Akira, a collection of disintegrated organs, frozen for scientific posterity.  Tubes of Akira.


Tetsuo and Kaneda battle in the rubble.  A giant beam of light from space, a military satellite.  Tetsuo coopts and destroys it, grows a bionic arm.  (Tetsuo, the Iron Man?)  The fleshy, uncontrollable bionic arm of doom.

bionic arm

“Akira’s here.”  Bursting out of the bionic arm, a giant pulsating flesh baby, the avatar of Tetsuo, swallowed in a dome of light, with Kaneda, with the three grotesque kindergarteners, into Tetsuo’s dreams and memories.

flesh baby

To a church organ, the birth of the universe happens in Neo-Tokyo, 2019.  To the fading sound of a sepulchral choir Kaneda grasps the birth of the universe in his hand as it shrinks away to nothing.

“But someday, we ought to be able to…   …because it has already begun…  …I am Tetsuo.”

It’s not hard to realize why I can never remember what this film is about. The whole thing is like a fever dream – a beautiful, violent, grotesque, senseless fever dream.  The Droogs of the motorcycle gangs give way to the greater violence of the face-ripping bullets of the miltary, but even these must bow to Tetsuo’s limb-rending telekinesis. The final half-hour is perhaps the most transcendentally psychedelic sequence ever put to film.  It makes no sense.  It is beautiful.  It is horrible.  It haunts the psyche like twenty million Japanese screams issuing from fusion’s luminous sphere, spectral and ominous.  Then it dissolves into a moment of calm reflection and rebirth amid the rubble.  I’ve never seen anything like it, probably because there is nothing like it.

The creepiest thing is that the final showdown takes place in the construction being done for the 2020 Olympics.  And the real-life 2020 Olympics will be held in?  Tokyo.


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