Akira

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Akira

In spite of its increasingly daring and experimental visual stylings, the Japanese animation industry has yet to produce a film that truly rivals Katsuhiro Otomo's much-heralded animated film adaptation of his 2,000-page comic book Akira. The 1988 cyberpunk extravaganza—in which a weak, put-upon biker punk named Tetsuo is suddenly endowed with phenomenal psychic powers, and uses them to exact violent retribution on any and all perceived authority figures—certainly has its problems. Its script is crowded, rushed, and occasionally opaque; screenwriters Otomo and Izo Hashimoto tried to cram a sampling of the political and social complexities of the manga series into the film, with uneven results. While the central tragic conceits of Japan's familiar man-vs.-machine conflict are lucid enough, as is the more universal coming-of-age story, the motivations behind many of the bit players are far from clear. But the imagery remains incomparable among animated films. Post-apocalyptic Tokyo comes alive in Otomo's hands, both on the micro level, as bike gangs engage in an adrenaline-fueled duel in the film's opening segments, and on the macro level, as a massive urban area is laid waste in the finale. Otomo's masterful and creepy use of sound, music, and silence creates a variety of powerful moods without forcing them. And, in this latest version of the movie, both image and sound have been refurbished as part of a million-dollar restoration project. Pioneer Entertainment (which picked up the Akira release rights after the film's previous owner went out of business) digitally restored, remastered, and retranslated the film, with impressive results. The vivid colors sometimes seem likely to burn their way off the screen, while the new English soundtrack finally features normal speaking tones instead of shrill squawking. The special-edition DVD is only necessary for the true collector, as the extras mostly consist of dry 1998 making-of documentaries, a 1993 talking-head Otomo interview, a random collection of production art and storyboards, and brief, choppy video clips about the restoration projects. But the film itself is a landmark production that can be watched with equal satisfaction as a metaphorical psychodrama or as a sheer visual spectacular.