Fill­ing in those filmic blind spots, one per­son at a time

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Edith Bow­man checks out the Ja­panese clas­sic. Don’t look back in manga, I heard you say.

THE RULES OF the First-take Club are in­cred­i­bly sim­ple. Each month, we ask some­one to pe­ruse our list of the 301 Great­est Movies Of All Time (as voted for by the Em­pire read­ers in 2014) and se­lect a film they haven’t seen be­fore. Then they watch the film and tell us a) why the devil it took them so long and b) what the devil they think about it. This month’s in­ductee into the club is broad­caster, DJ and au­thor Edith Bow­man, whose movie-based sound­tracks pod­cast, Sound­track­ing, is a mustlis­ten. And Edith’s choice? The film that she hadn’t seen, to her eter­nal shame? It’s num­ber 236 on our list, widely con­sid­ered the great­est anime of all time — Kat­suhiro Ôtomo’s 1988 clas­sic, Akira. Over to you, Edith. I’ll ad­mit I’m not any kind of ex­pert on Ja­panese an­i­ma­tion. The clos­est I get to it is my eightyear-old’s ob­ses­sion with Poké­mon, which I’m well aware be­gan life as a game for Game Boy. So,

Akira had passed me by un­til now. I’m glad I’ve seen it — it’s a dif­fer­ent league of an­i­ma­tion al­to­gether. I’ve never seen any­thing like it.

I won’t re­count the plot de­tails here. Largely be­cause it would take me a very long time, as the story is in­cred­i­bly com­pli­cated. Short ver­sion: Tet­suo Shima is a psy­chic who runs with a biker gang in a dystopian fu­tur­is­tic Tokyo (or not that fu­tur­is­tic — the story is set three years from now). It’s di­rected by Kat­suhiro Ôtomo, who adapted his orig­i­nal manga se­ries, which had over 2,000 pages of art­work. No won­der it took him eight

years to make. It’s tense, funny and won­der­fully en­ter­tain­ing. And, when Tet­suo hal­lu­ci­nates toys com­ing to life, ter­ri­fy­ing and rev­e­la­tory.

Do­ing some read­ing around the movie, I no­ticed that Ôtomo cites both Rebel With­out

A Cause and 2001: A Space Odyssey as an in­flu­ence on his work. A lot of sim­i­lar themes — alien­ation, the na­ture of hu­man­ity, the dan­gers of tech­nol­ogy — can be found in Akira. Other themes are univer­sal and so rel­e­vant — the bat­tle be­tween sci­ence and the mil­i­tary is some­thing we see time and time again in sci-fi. Yet it’s one that con­stantly fas­ci­nates me, and one that is not al­ways done well. I had very low ex­pec­ta­tions of an an­i­mated film be­ing able to get so deep and touch on such heavy sub­ject mat­ter. Then I watched Akira. In fact, I for­got I was watch­ing an­i­ma­tion af­ter a while.

It is not just con­sid­ered a land­mark of Ja­panese an­i­ma­tion, but re­garded by many as one of the great­est an­i­mated movies of all time. I have to agree. It’s cer­tainly in­flu­en­tial — you can see el­e­ments in films like The Ma­trix or even TV show Stranger Things. The an­i­ma­tion is fault­less and uses light in a way that I can’t quite get my head around. It’s the sim­ple things, like how Ôtomo and his team cap­ture the buzz of neon. And the sound­scape is stun­ning — bursts of tra­di­tional mu­sic through sparks of Shoji Ya­mashiro’s score blend per­fectly with the ex­plo­sions, gun­fire and loud ve­hi­cles, to add real depth of emo­tion and ten­sion.

In a way, it’s time­less. About 15 years ago I hosted a se­ries of the travel show Rough Guide, and Ja­pan was one of the coun­tries we were lucky enough to film in. For one seg­ment I got to hang out with a real Bōsō­zoku gang for a night. The speci­ficity of the gang men­tal­ity that I wit­nessed first hand is told with such hon­esty and colour in Akira, from the noise of the bikes to the bla­tant dis­re­gard for life and their fear­less­ness. It’s as­tound­ing for an­i­ma­tion to cap­ture this. For me, it’s def­i­nitely ig­nited an in­ter­est in Ja­panese an­i­ma­tion. Per­haps my son can put away the Poké­mon and join me.


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