Katsuhiro Otomo | 124 mins | Blu-ray | 16:9 | Japan / Japanese | 15 / R
For many Westerners of a certain generation, Akira was their first (conscious) exposure to anime. Not so me: a step or two down, Ghost in the Shell was my first (ignoring the odd glimpse of Pokémon or what have you) — it was one of my earliest DVD acquisitions, before we even had a DVD player, when I had to watch discs on my computer, where GitS’s menu just showed up as a black screen and I had to click around randomly to find ‘play’. Ah, memories.
Anyway, I came to Akira slightly later, and I confess I didn’t much care for it. I thought it looked great, especially the bike chases, but I lost track of the plot pretty quickly and found the ending a bit much — a bit too bizarre and kinda sickening. So I haven’t revisited the film for something like a decade, but always felt I should. I bought Manga’s Blu-ray release a few years ago, but it was the mention of this year being the film’s 25th anniversary that led me to finally pop it in.
Firstly, I watched it in Japanese this time, which is why it qualifies for coverage here (not that I need a reason to review a re-view these days, but that’s a different point of order). I had a quick listen to the English dub before viewing and it sounds a bit clunky with typically poor voice performances, so I went with the subbed version, where it’s pretty impossible to tell whether the acting’s any good or not (or at least, I always find it so. I go back and forth whether to watch anime dubbed or subbed, but that’s a discussion for another time). Having to read subtitles all the time does intrude on appreciating the visuals at points, but it’s workable.
The visuals remain something to be savoured; they’re probably the film’s strongest point, in my opinion. Akira was an expensive production and it pays off on screen. It’s not just the bike chases that I appreciated either, while an extra decade of experience made the ending a bit less freakish! The other strong point is the audio. The BD’s booklet goes on about “hypersonic” sound. I’ve no idea if that worked on my system, but it sounded fantastic regardless.
I don’t think the plot was as hard to follow as I previously felt (possibly thanks to an idea about where it was going), though the exact happenings at the climax are still unclear.
I liked Akira a good deal more this time round. Theoretically the only differences were HD, which is pretty but doesn’t fundamentally alter one’s opinion of a film’s content, and the Japanese soundtrack, which wasn’t my problem in the first place. The other big change, of course, is not in the film but in me — perhaps I’m just better positioned to appreciate it now. It’s not at the point where I’d number it among my personal favourites, but I now see some of what others get out of it.