Japanese promotional poster
Kana アキラ Rōmaji Akira Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo Produced by Ryōhei Suzuki
Screenplay by Katsuhiro Otomo
Story by Katsuhiro Otomo Starring Mitsuo Iwata
Music by Shoji Yamashiro Cinematography Katsuji Misawa Editing by Takeshi Seyama Studio TMS Entertainment Distributed by Toho (Japan)
Bandai Entertainment (USA)
Release date(s) July 16, 1988 Running time 125 minutes Country Japan Language Japanese Budget US$11 million Box office $50 million
Akira (アキラ) is a 1988 Japanese animated cyberpunk science fiction film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, written by Otomo and Izo Hashimoto, and starring the voices of Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama and Taro Ishida. The screenplay is based on Otomo's manga Akira.
The film depicts a dystopian Neo-Tokyo in 2019. The plot focuses on biker Tetsuo Shima (Nozomu Sasaki) and his psychic powers and the biker gang member Shotaro Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata), who tries to prevent Tetsuo from releasing the dangerous psychic Akira. While most of the character designs and basic settings were adapted from the original 2182-page manga epic, the restructured plot of the movie differs considerably from the print version, pruning much of the last half of the manga. The film became a hugely popular cult film and is widely considered to be a landmark in Japanese animation and filmmaking in general.
In Neo Tokyo, 2019, Shotaro Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata) leads the Capsules, his bōsōzoku gang, to fight against the Clowns. However, Kaneda's best friend Tetsuo Shima (Nozomu Sasaki) is injured when he almost hits Takashi (Tatsuhiko Nakamura), a small but decrepit psychic boy, or esper. Takashi is captured by armed soldiers and has Tetsuo hospitalized. When Kaneda and his gang are interrogated, he tries to flirt with Kei (Mami Koyama), a member of a dissident underground terrorist group before being released.
Meanwhile, Colonel Shikishima (Taro Ishida) and Doctor Onishi (Mizuho Suzuki) discover that Tetsuo possesses capabilities similar to Akira, a young esper boy who destroyed Tokyo 31 years ago. Kiyoko (Fukue Ito), another esper, has visions of Neo-Tokyo's destruction, and the Colonel decides to kill Tetsuo. Tetsuo flees from the hospital and meets up with his girlfriend, Kaori (Yuriko Fuchizaki), and they steal Kaneda's motorcycle. When Tetsuo and Kaori are confronted by the Clowns, Kaneda and the Capsules save them both. Tetsuo begins to suffer a psychic migraine, and Doctor Onishi has Tetsuo taken back to the hospital.
Saving Kei from being captured after a terrorist attack, Kaneda is led to the terrorists' headquarters and cooperates with them after overhearing their plans to kill Tetsuo. Meanwhile, Takashi, Kiyoko and Masaru (Kazuhiro Kamafuji) — another Esper — unsuccessfully attempt to kill Tetsuo. Tetsuo eventually goes on a violent rampage through the hospital, intent on killing the espers. Kaneda, Kei, and the Colonel unsuccessfully try to stop Tetsuo's rampage. Tetsuo eventually discovers that Akira is in cryonic storage below Neo-Tokyo's new Olympic Stadium and flees again.
Kei and Kaneda are detained, but Kiyoko — using Kei as a medium — explains that Tetsuo must be stopped, and escape. Desperate to find Tetsuo, the Colonel places Neo-Tokyo under martial law. Tetsuo confronts and kills Yamagata (Masaaki Okura), a member of the Capsules. He then proceeds to destroy the city as he makes his way to the Stadium, brutally dispatching the military forces who attempt to stand in his way. Upon learning of Yamagata's death from his friend Kai (Takeshi Kusao), Kaneda follows Tetsuo to the stadium, swearing revenge. When Tetsuo arrives at Akira's cryonic dewar flask, he defeats Kei and exhumes the Akira vault from the ground, discovering that it contains canisters filled with Akira's remains.
Kaneda confronts and unsuccessfully tries to defeat Tetsuo with an experimental laser weapon. The Colonel tries to kill Tetsuo using an orbiting space weapon, only to sever Tetsuo's right arm. Tetsuo eventually pulls the weapon into the atmosphere and synthesizes an artificial arm from the remains while studying Akira's organs. When Kaori arrives, Tetsuo's psychokinetic powers have begun to cause him immense pain. The Colonel explains that the espers' migraine-controlling drugs administered to Tetsuo are to stunt the evolution of uncontrollable abilities. Despite the Colonel's pleas for Tetsuo to return to the hospital, Tetsuo nearly kills the Colonel, but Kaneda confronts him. Unable to control his powers, Tetsuo's body begins to transform, inadvertently killing Kaori and engulfing Kaneda.
The espers awaken Akira, who had merely grown beyond the requirement of a coherent biological form. Manifesting himself from the canisters, Akira reunites with his friends. As Akira confronts Tetsuo, the espers hurry to teleport the Colonel to safety and — over Masaru and Kiyoko's objections —Takashi jumps into Akira's halo to rescue Kaneda. The other espers join Takashi, aware they likely will not be able to return. Kaneda experiences Tetsuo's and the espers' childhood memories, including how much Tetsuo trusted Kaneda as a friend and how the children were first studied before Tokyo's destruction.
The espers remove Kaneda from the destruction and tell him that Akira will be taking Tetsuo to safety. The explosion destroys most of Neo-Tokyo, and — after disappearing — leaves a void that is quickly filled by the ocean. Doctor Onishi is killed when his research laboratory is crushed. Kaneda awakens to discover that Kei and Kai have survived the explosion, and they drive away into the city. The Colonel walks out of the tunnel that the espers teleported him to and watches the sun rising over the destroyed city. The film ends with Tetsuo coming into full control of his powers as he initiates a Big Bang in another dimension.
- Akira (アキラ, codename #28) – The titular character. Akira was a young boy who developed transcendent psionic, god-like abilities when serving as a test subject for secret government ESP experiments in the 1980s. He subsequently lost control of this power and the ensuing blast completely annihilated Tokyo in a horrifying explosion in 1988. After the apocalyptic event, Akira was recovered and subjected to every test known to modern science, which proved unable to solve the mystery. He was dissected and placed within a cryonic chamber underneath the Neo-Tokyo Olympic Stadium.
- Shotaro Kaneda (金田 正太郎 Kaneda Shōtarō ) – Kaneda is a carefree gang-leader who boasts a custom-modified motorcycle. He and Tetsuo have been best friends since early childhood. He is brash and not above teasing Tetsuo despite feeling affection for him as a younger brother. Upon rescuing Kei, Kaneda becomes involved in the activities of her group of anti-government guerrillas in hopes of locating Tetsuo.
- Tetsuo Shima (島 鉄雄 Shima Tetsuo ) – Kaneda's best friend since preschool and the second principal subject of the story's theme. Tetsuo is shown as a black sheep in the gang he and Kaneda are part of, and quietly suffers from a deeply rooted inferiority complex. He admires Kaneda yet at the same time strongly resents his own reliance upon him. After his psychokinetic abilities manifest, Tetsuo quickly becomes Kaneda's nemesis; he desires Kaneda's motorcycle (a symbol of status and power) and seeks to prove himself supremely powerful, without need of protection. Eventually, his power overwhelms him.
- Kei (ケイ) – A young revolutionary whom Kaneda meets and becomes enamored with on his quest to find Tetsuo. She is a member of an anti-government faction that Ryusaku and Nezu are also involved in. Although she does not possess preternatural abilities, Kei is manipulated by the Espers as a type of medium on several occasions.
- Colonel Shikishima (敷島大佐 Shikishima-taisa ), also known as simply The Colonel – The current head of the ongoing government project which was responsible for inadvertently unleashing Akira's power thirty years earlier. Appearing tough and ruthless, he is nevertheless pragmatic enough to recognize the danger Tetsuo's fledgling powers pose and cares genuinely for the three Espers under his supervision. Amongst the other government figures depicted in the film, he is shown to be the most principled, eschewing the corruption and hedonism that typifies Neo-Tokyo, adhering instead to a strict code of soldierly honour.
- The Espers – Masaru (マサル, codename #27), Takashi (タカシ, codename #26) and Kiyoko (キヨコ, codename #25) – Akira's fellow psychic test subjects. They exhibit a variety of paranormal powers which they use to influence the course of events to the best of their ability. While individually of lesser strength than Akira or Tetsuo, their combined effort proves decisive in the story's final confrontation. Physically, they resemble children with wrinkled faces, white hair and blue-green skin.
- Nezu (根津) – A government mole for the resistance movement, and member of Neo-Tokyo's parliamentary executive council. Responsible for Takashi's abduction by the resistance and supplying intelligence to the underground, he is nevertheless corrupt and unprincipled, and quickly turns against his earstwhile revolutionary allies in a fit of paranoia during the Colonel's coup.
- Yamagata (山形) – One of the most prominent members of Kaneda's gang. He often chides Tetsuo playfully, resulting in his death when Tetsuo's powers begin to emerge.
- Kai (甲斐) – Another member of Kaneda's gang, Kai plays an important supporting role in the eventual battle against Tetsuo. He is close friends with Yamagata and they remain together when the gang breaks up, being one of the only members to survive.
- Kaori (カオリ) – Tetsuo's girlfriend. She stands by Tetsuo even though he treats her rather harshly in the hopes of appearing tough to his friends. When Tetsuo begins his rampage through Neo-Tokyo, she follows him, and when his powers manifest and cause his body to warp and expand to grotesque proportions, she is engulfed in his flesh and crushed by his organs.
AKIRA Committee was the name given to a partnership of several major Japanese entertainment companies brought together to realize production of Akira. The group's assembly was necessitated by the unconventionally high budget and ambitious scale of the cinematic project, intended to achieve the desired epic standard equal to Otomo's over 2,000 page manga tale. AKIRA Committee consisted of publisher Kodansha Ltd., Mainichi Broadcasting System, Inc., Bandai Co., Ltd., Hakuhodo Incorporated, distributor Toho Co., Ltd., Laserdisc Corporation, Sumitomo Corporation and animation producer Tokyo Movie Shinsha Co., Ltd.
Most anime is notorious for cutting production corners with limited motion, such as having only the characters' mouths move while their faces remained static. Akira broke from this trend with detailed scenes, lip-synched dialogue – a first for an anime production – and super-fluid motion as realized in the film's more than 160,000 animation cels. The teaser trailer of this movie was released in 1987.
The film was completed and released in 1988, two years before the manga storyline officially ended in 1990. Otomo had immense difficulty completing the manga; he has stated that the inspiration for its conclusion arose from a conversation that he had with Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1990, but Jodorowsky cannot recall what he said to Otomo. Otomo later recalled that the film project had to begin with the writing of an ending that would bring suitable closure to major characters, storylines, and themes without being extraordinarily lengthy, so that he could know in reverse order which manga elements would make the cut into the anime and thus suitably resolve the manga's various elements into a lean, two-hour story.
Katsuhiro Otomo is a big fan of Tetsujin-28. As a result, his naming conventions match the characters featured in Tetsujin-28: Kaneda shares his name with the protagonist of Tetsujin-28; Colonel Shikishima shares his name with Professor Shikishima of Tetsujin-28, while Tetsuo is named after Shikishima's son Tetsuo Shikishima; Akira's Ryūsaku is named after Ryūsaku Murasame. In addition, Takashi has a "26" tattooed on his hand which closely resembles the font used in Tetsujin-28. The namesake of the anime, Akira, is the 28th in a line of psychics that the government has developed, the same number as Tetsujin-28.
The sound of Kaneda's bike engine was produced by compositing the engine sound of a 1929 Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a jet engine.
Katsuhiro Otomo decried his fame and said that his conclusion of Akira was false in both the Japanese and American editions, and that he could never truly finish his epic. Nevertheless, Otomo's Akira is widely considered a masterpiece of graphic storytelling.
Akira was released by Toho on July 16, 1988. The film set attendance records for an animated film in Japan. Fledgling North American distribution company Streamline Pictures soon acquired an existing English-language rendition created by Kodansha (originally dubbed for the Hong Kong market) which saw limited release in North American theaters from late 1988 throughout 1989. Streamline is reported to have become the film's distributor when both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg labelled it unmarketable in the U.S. In the UK, Akira was theatrically released by ICA Projects on January 25, 1991. In Australia, Akira was theatrically released by Island World Communications and distributed by Satellite Entertainment, later on by Manga Entertainment, then Madman Entertainment after Manga Entertainment's Australia branch merged with Madman. In Canada, the Streamline dub was released by Lionsgate (at the time known as C/FP Distribution) in 1990. In 2001, Pioneer released a new dub which was produced by Animaze and was presented in select theaters from March through December 2001.
VHS releases included the initial Streamline Video offering (May 1991), later wider distribution by MGM/UA Home Video, and a subtitled edition from Orion Home Video (September 1993). In the UK, Akira was released on video by Island World Communications in 1991. The success of this release led to the creation of Manga Entertainment, who later took over the release. The original VHS release of Akira started up Manga Entertainment Australia and VHS distribution was handled by Ronin Films and Polygram until 1994 when Siren Entertainment took over all of Manga Entertainment Australia's distribution including Akira under a special license from Polygram, who handled Island's video distribution. Akira was re-released on video in 1994, and again on DVD in 2001 and distributed by Madman Entertainment and The AV Channel. The Criterion Collection released a laserdisc edition in 1993. Pioneer Entertainment issued a DVD and a VHS with a new English dub (the dub produced by Animaze) in 2001. In 2002, Manga released a two-disc DVD featuring the new Pioneer/Animaze English dub followed in 2004 by another two-disc set containing the original Japanese as well as both the Streamline and Pioneer/Animaze dubs. This version did not contain standard English subtitles, only closed captioning subtitles. In 2005, Manga Entertainment and Boulevard UMD released Akira on UMD for the Sony PSP in the United Kingdom using an entirely new English dub, in place of the original Streamline and later Pioneer/Animaze dubs.
A Blu-ray Disc edition of the film was released on February 24, 2009 with 5 additional minutes in North America by Bandai Entertainment. A Blu-ray edition of Akira was subsequently released in Australia by Madman Entertainment under exclusive license from Manga Entertainment UK and Kodansha. Madman has recently released a DVD/Blu-Ray combo which license is separate from the standalone Blu-Ray release because instead of the DVD version being the Manga Video UK version, it uses Madman/Manga's 2001 Special Edition DVD release which is licensed from Manga UK. The Australian Madman/Manga combo is the only Akira release in print that includes the original Streamline dub. The Blu-ray release is the very first to use the highest sampling rate currently possible (Japanese Dolby TrueHD 192 kHz because of its analog roots) and is also the first to use the hypersonic effect (only available in this track and via a high-end audio system). As well as Japanese with English subtitles, the Blu-ray also features the 2001 Pioneer/Animaze English dub.
Reception and legacy
Roger Ebert selected Akira as his "Video Pick of the Week" in 1989 on Siskel & Ebert and the Movies. For its wider 2001 release, he gave the film "Thumbs Up." In November 2011, the film had an 90% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Channel 4's 2005 poll of the 100 greatest cartoons of all time featuring both cartoon shows and cartoon movies, Akira came in at number 16. On Empire magazine's list of the 500 greatest movies of all time, Akira is number 440. It showed again on Empire's list of The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema, coming in at #51. IGN also named it 14th on its list of Top 25 Animated Movies of All-Time.
However, not all critics had a favorable opinion of Akira. Makigumo gave the film a 47% rating, noting that the film's weakness is that it tried to condense six volumes of manga into one two-hour film. "Akira is rich with ideas, but lacking in expression. It’s just not possible to cram in so many thematic elements, and then dilute them to fit a moviegoing audience and still make everything work."
Still, Akira is regarded by many critics as a landmark anime film, one that influenced much of the art in the anime world that followed its release with many illustrators in the manga industry citing the film as an important influence. The film led the way for the growth of popularity of anime outside of Japan. Akira is considered a forerunner of the second wave of anime fandom that began in the early 1990s and has gained a massive cult following since then.
The Akira anime also made TIME magazine's list of top 5 anime DVDs.
Source Reviewer Grade or score Notes Anime News Network Bamboo Dong Overall (dub): A
Overall (sub): A-
DVD/Movie review of Limited Edition Metal DVD Case AnimeOnDVD Chris Beveridge Content: A
DVD/Movie review of Special Edition THEM Anime Reviews Raphael See 4 out of 5 Movie review (1 of 2 reviews)
The film explores a number of psychological and philosophical themes, such as the nature of corruption, will to power, and the growth from childhood to maturity both in individuals and the human race itself. Elements of Buddhist and Christian symbolism are also present in the film. Notable themes in the film include youth culture, cyberpunk, delinquency, psychic awareness, social unrest and revolution, the world's reaction toward a nuclear holocaust and Japan's post-war economic revival.
Akira: Original Soundtrack Soundtrack album by Geinō Yamashirogumi (芸能山城組) Released 1990 Recorded 1988 Genre Anime, Film, Gamelan, Noh, Progressive Length 69:36 Label Victor Music Industries, Demon Records/JVC Records Producer Shoji Yamashiro
AKIRA: Original Soundtrack was recorded by Geinō Yamashirogumi (芸能山城組). The music was composed and conducted by musical director Shoji Yamashiro. It features music which was additionally rerecorded for release. "Kaneda", "Battle Against Clown" and "Exodus From the Underground Fortress" are really part of the same song cycle – elements of "Battle" can be heard during the opening bike sequence, for example. The score is generally sequenced in the same order that the music occurs in the film. The North American version featured extensive production notes by David Keith Riddick and Robert Napton.
A second soundtrack was released featuring the original music without rerecording, but it was made into character study collages with sound effects and dialogue from the film; the recording was probably a direct transfer from the film.
Symphonic Suite AKIRA is the same version as AKIRA: Original Soundtrack, but without the voices and sound effects.
Symphonic Suite AKIRA LP track listing
- "Exodus From the Underground Fortress"
Symphonic Suite AKIRA & AKIRA: Original Soundtrack CD track listing
- "Kaneda" – 3:10
- "Battle Against Clown" – 3:36
- "Winds Over Neo-Tokyo" – 2:48
- "Tetsuo" – 10:18
- "Doll's Polyphony" – 2:55
- "Shohmyoh" – 10:10
- "Mutation" – 4:50
- "Exodus From the Underground Fortress" – 3:18
- "Illusion" – 13:56
- "Requiem" – 14:20
AKIRA: The Original Japanese Soundtrack track listing
- "Kaneda" – 9:56
- "Tetsuo 1" – 12:36
- "Tetsuo 2" – 12:33
- "Akira" – 7:56
In 1988, Taito released an Akira adventure game for the FamiCom exclusively in Japan. Another Akira game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was being developed as well, but was canceled during development. International Computer Entertainment produced a video game based on Akira for the Amiga and Amiga CD32 in 1994. To coincide with the DVD release in 2002, Bandai released Akira Psycho Ball, a pinball simulator for the PlayStation 2.
Live action film
Since this was announced, a number of directors, producers and writers have been reported to be attached to the film, starting with Stephen Norrington (writer/director) and Jon Peters (producer). In 2008, Anime News Network reported that Ruairi Robinson would direct, Gary Whitta would write, and Andrew Lazar, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Davisson would produce the film. In late 2009, Gary Whitta stated he was no longer attached to the film, and Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby were rumored to be taking over the script writing. In February 2010, Deadline.com reported that Warner Brothers was in talks with Allen and Albert Hughes to direct the film. On June 17, 2010, Lazar said that a new writer had been hired and that the movie was being fast tracked. He also stated that only Albert Hughes would direct the film, and that the first movie would be based on volumes 1–3 and the second on volumes 4–6. In April 2011, Chris Weston stated he was working on concept art and storyboards for the live action Akira, but the film had not been green-lit yet. On May 26, 2011 it was reported that Albert Hughes had left the project due to creative differences.  On July 14, 2011 Jaume Collet-Serra has been announced as the new director.
Another changing source of speculation has been casting. In 2009 Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt were the rumored stars in the film. In November 2010, it was reported that Zac Efron was in talks for the leading role, and Morgan Freeman would take the role of Colonel Shikishima.
In February 2011, it was reported that James Franco was in talks for the role of Shotaro Kaneda. That same month, Vulture reported that Mila Kunis was offered the role of Kei, but turned it down in favor of portraying the Wicked Witch of the West in Oz: The Great and Powerful. Deadline.com reported that Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Justin Timberlake, Joaquin Phoenix, and Chris Pine are in the running to play Kaneda, while Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy are rumored to be in talks for the role of Tetsuo Shima in March 2011. Deadline also reported Robert Pattinson was in talks for a role, but he has denied any involvement with the franchise. On May 6, 2011 Keanu Reeves was reported to have been offered the role of Kaneda, but 11 days later on the 17th of May, he was reported as having turned it down.
George Takei spoke with The Advocate in April 2011 about the casting rumors at that time, stating that any decision to cast white actors in Akira would offend both Asians and the fans of the original manga or animated film.
A new casting call for the live-action remake of Akira has been posted on Actors Access. The call was posted on October 24, 2011, only a few days after Warner Bros. green-lighted the movie once again after years of trying. For Tetsuo, the production team is looking for a male of "any ethnicity" who is 20-25 years old and "strung out, intense, a street rat." For Ky, the casting call is looking for a female between 20-30 years old, also of "any ethnicity," who is "tough, sexy, strong willed, and street savvy." According to Variety, Garrett Hedlund is the frontrunner for the other lead role of Shotaro Kaneda.
As of November 3, 2011, Garrett Hedlund is in talks to portray Kaneda, Helena Bonham Carter has been offered the role of Lady Miyako, Keira Knightley has been approached for a role, and Gary Oldman will portray The Colonel.  Actors Alden Ehrenreich, Michael Pitt, Paul Dano, D.J. Cotrona, Logan Marshall-Green, Toby Kebbell, Richard Madden and Rami Malek are the frontrunners to portray Tetsuo. Ezra Miller was a frontrunner for the part of Tetsuo but denied about audition for the film. . Kristen Stewart has been offer to played the female role of Kei.
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- ^ Chris Jancelewicz. "Ezra Miller: 'Akira' Remake Not 'Next Move' [Exclusive"]. MovieFone. http://blog.moviefone.com/2011/11/16/ezra-miller-akira-remake?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000011.
- ^ Borys Kit. "Casting Couch: Hot Actors Testing for Key 'Akira' Role". The Hollywood Reporter. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/akira-movie-kristen-stewart-263801?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=heatvisionblog.
- ^ The Deadline Team. "Kristen Stewart In Talks For Role Of Kei In Jaume Collet-Serra’s ‘Akira’". Deadline. http://www.deadline.com/2011/11/kristen-stewart-in-talks-for-role-of-kei-in-jaume-collet-serra-akira/.
- Akira Japan official website (Japanese)
- Akira North American official website
- Akira at the Internet Movie Database
- Akira at AllRovi
- Akira at Rotten Tomatoes
- "ＡＫＩＲＡ". Japanese Movie Database. http://www.jmdb.ne.jp/1988/dl001700.htm. Retrieved 2007-07-19. (Japanese)
- BlueBlade Akira (English-based fansite)
- Akira 2019 (English-based fansite)
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