I LOVE Akira. There are few films that have had as dramatic an impact on me as Akira. I remember the first time I got a glimpse of the incredible opening sequence. I was 9ish and at the house of a friend whose name was something like Makita, Maquita, Chiquita Banana, whatever. It was a long time ago. Sue me. We were on the same pitching machine team and I was at his house dicking around, playing basketball when our ball went over the fence. I gave him a boost, but his weight forced my hand into the wood, slicing a chunk from the top of my left hand. I still have the scar. We went inside to clean off the brand new hole in my hand and he suggested that we watch a movie. He popped Akira into the VCR and gave me a cursory explanation of what the hell the movie was about as he understood it. None of it mattered because I was hooked as soon as I saw Tokyo explode at the very beginning of the film.
We were unable to finish the film that day, but made it through the motorcycle chase scene. I was determined to see the rest of the film as soon as humanly possible. I was enticed by the stylishly graphic violence playing out before me, the streams of the motorcycle lights as they tore down the near-futuristic highway, the glistening neon cityscape of a decaying Neo Tokyo, the ruthlessness with which people were killed and mangled. I’d never seen anything even remotely like it. My experience of animation up to that point had been Disney films and Transformers and Go-Bots and Thundercats and Duck Tales—children’s fodder. I had no idea that animation was something that could be made for adults. Akira taught me that.
Later, I had a babysitter, Vero, with whom I would watch old Robotech episodes we would rent from West Coast Video on Woodside Road in Redwood City. When we’d eventually finished the entire first Robotech saga (I did not yet know the word “Macross”), we were at the video store and I suggested Akira based on my earlier experience. And she agreed.
It turned out to be even more intense than I thought.
There is a certain visceral way that children experience films that I remember but I do not experience anymore. Maybe it has something to do with having learned more about how films are made. Maybe it is due to the emotion deadening experience of growing up and feeling real pain. Maybe it is due to the real world taking me from a world of nightmares and demons to a world of tax forms and insurance and rent checks. Maybe I’ve just grown cynical. No matter. The point is that I remember feeling the film. As Tetsuo’s powers first began to emerge, a strike team tries to subdue him in the halls of the hospital and he rips them to bits, gore and blood dripping from the ceiling. Kei and Keneda racing down the sewer tunnels on the floating gun bike. The satellite firing upon Tetsuo from space. Tetsuo’s arm being ripped off and replacing it with bits of metal and wire and flesh. And, ultimately, Tetsuo’s monstrous transformation in the Olympic Stadium as his powers overwhelm and destroy him. I recall being so frightened by that last scene in particular that I didn’t see the end of the film—mere minutes away—until a second viewing of that rented video cassette.
So it should be no shock to you, oh reader, to discover that I was a little excited when I found out, via Matt Toder, that not only was Akira coming to Blu-ray (awesome), but that it was receiving a complete audio and video makeover. Thankfully I’m not talking about the GeorgeLucasian raping of beloved childhood memories or even the casual tweaking that Blade Runner (awesome) received. Instead, they gave the film a full HD make over with all the visual trimmings. Even better is that they went back to the original analog master tapes for the audio track and it really shows (hears? listens?). Matt sent me an article detailing the restoration the team performed to make Akira shine.
Clearly they went all out on the effort to present a 20 year old film to a host of new viewers. It is important too, since part of what makes Akira so bleedin’ amazing is its distinctive music and sound design. Until getting my Blu-ray copy, I’d never heard the film in anything but stereo, but even that was impressive, due in no small part to its incredible score. Here are some samples.[audio:akira-02-clowns.mp3|artists=Geinoh Yamashirogumi|titles=The Battle Against The Clowns] [audio:akira-04-tetsuo.mp3|artists=Geinoh Yamashirogumi|titles=Tetsuo]
You’ve never heard a soundtrack like this before and I’ve never heard one since. Nothing I can think of except maybe Morricone’s score for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly or Williams’s score for Star Wars and Indiana Jones is so specific that I can hear just two or three notes and know exactly where it came from. That is undoubtedly because anyone of my generation has heard the theme from Star Wars probably about 80 billion times, but I defy you to see the motorcycle fight sequence set against “The Battle Against The Clowns” and not have it burnt indelibly into your brain. Go ahead. Try it.
Last Friday I was discussing with a friend my top 5 favorite films of all time. Apparently I was discussing it with half the bar too, but that’s neither here nor there. Considering, I think that Akira is up there. If I had to answer the question right this moment, my list would look like this:
- Blade Runner
- Throne of Blood
- Once Upon a Time in the West
That is probably glaringly full of cinematic holes (where are the French films?!), but it’s MY goddamned list, so you just go to hell.
If you’ve never seen Akira, do. If you live in New York and you have my phone number and you are my friend, call me up and let’s have a movie night at my house. We’ll watch it in Blu-ray with 5.1 surround sound running at 192kHz. It’s so good it hurts. After that we can watch the Final Cut of Blade Runner.