On July 16th 1988, an animated movie debuted that would go on to influence not only the cinema of its origin and near-future setting, Japan, but science fiction writers and directors the world over.
Akira is a landmark picture. Beautiful, perplexing, violent and elegiac: it’s a masterful realisation of state-of-the-art technology meeting multifaceted storytelling and repeat-view-guaranteeing complexities. Anyone dismissing it as simply a cartoon is entirely out of touch – like so many Studio Ghibli movies, it’s an example of Japanese animation that truly transcends genre and geography. It’s a global success.
To mark the movie’s 25th anniversary, Clash invited Big Dada-signed rapper, producer and graphic designer DELS, aka Kieren Dickins, who is a massive fan of Akira, to write about how the film’s affected him. Dickins is currently working on his second studio LP, the follow-up to 2011’s tremendous ‘GOB’. An EP, ‘Black Salad’, was released late in 2012, from which the gorgeous track ‘You Live In My Head’ (video below) is taken.
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Akira: One of my biggest inspirations, and its relevance 25 years later…
Twenty-five years since its release, and the legendary Japanese animation Akira, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, is still one of the most captivating and timeless movies I have ever seen.
For those who still haven't seen Akira, it’s a story set in the year 2019 in a dystopian Neo-Tokyo – a futuristic city built upon the ruins of old Tokyo, which was destroyed by an unknown, mysterious power. The film is set against a backdrop of civil unrest, secret revolutionary rebellions, a government that cultivates telepathic children, the rise of apocalypse cults and a gang of bored, unlawful bikers that become unwittingly drawn into the story's main plot.
I first stumbled across this landmark Japanese animation by accident. On a late Friday night via Channel 4 no doubt – as Friday was the only night of the week that my mother would let me stay awake and watch TV into the early hours of the morning. I quickly came to the realisation that this was no ordinary cartoon, as the level of detail in the drawings were like no animation I had ever seen before. There were no still backgrounds, as the background imagery had moving parts, too: each shot lending each carefully composed frame another layer of realism.
This was no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Dragon Ball Z. This was a high-budget cyberpunk action film, with a brain. I think it’s fair to say that this was the start of my obsession with Japanese culture in the 1990s.
I’d be lying if I said I understood the storyline after the first viewing, because I didn’t. There are so many characters, introduced at free will within most scenes. For a seven-year-old boy watching with wide eyes from his bunk bed, glued to a fuzzy 4:3 ratio screen, this made such an intricate storyline very difficult to follow. Maybe I’m just a lot slower than most, but it wasn’t until I read the original Katsuhiro Otomo comics (which the film is based on) later on, in my teenage years, that I started to truly understand the wild plot.
That's the beauty of Akira: you always want to come back. You feel compelled to revisit the story, because there are so many nuances within the imagery that go undiscovered. Watch Akira in 2013 and you'll soon see that its themes and imagery are still relevant today. The famous last battle between Kaneda and Tetsuo in a derelict Olympic Stadium – that, for me, evokes images of Jamie McGregor Smith’s photographs of the abandoned Olympic sites of Athens 2004, which raise questions about the current economical crisis in Greece (link).
Or even looking directly at Neo-Tokyo itself, a booming, industrial city filled with an air of near-social collapse. It elicits all the propaganda surrounding Brazil’s contemporary handling of the next World Cup and Olympic Games budgets.
Whispers long persisted – and still do – of a live-action remake of Akira, with a host of star names rumoured to have been approached to play the leader of the Capsules bike gang, Kaneda. Perhaps it’s destiny that this story that I have come to love dearly is to be ripped apart, and re-set in a Hollywood-envisioned Neo-Manhattan metropolis.
Fortunately, the remake hasn’t quite surfaced yet – but even with its stalling, you can bank on it happening eventually, with adaptations of comic books that focus on teens with powers so prevalent in Hollywood cinema today. American cinema isn’t comfortable with the anti-hero, so it’s difficult to believe that the soul of the original Akira will remain.
During the writing process of my untitled second album, I often left Akira and Blade Runner playing on loop in the background for visual inspiration. It’s amazing to see how this film has inspired me in so many ways over the years, and it’s still doing so now. Critics often say, “No Akira, no Matrix,” and looking back, it’s hard to imagine my visual and musical creative output today without this movie.
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In the mood? You can watch the whole of Akira above. At least until YouTube takes it down.
Find more information on DELS on the Ninja Tune/Big Dada website.
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