Sitting in a half-empty cinema, in London’s half-empty Leicester Square, there’s a poetic, bittersweet feeling to watching Akira 4K in 2020. Although the movie is set in the post-apocalyptic dystopia of 2019, I look around and wonder how far off we are these days.
Akira is an old movie, but it’s an all-time great. It’s on Empire’s list of the top 100 best non-English movies ever made, clocking in at number 51. That puts it one ahead of 15 places ahead of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; 18 places ahead of The Ring; and just 10 places behind My Neighbour Totoro. The film is so influential it inspired the likes of The Matrix and Metal Gear Solid, homage is paid to it in Stranger Things and Rick and Morty, and Kanye West even made a music video based on it – once you understand what Akira is about, you’ll realise once again just how mind-blowingly arrogant that man is.
As I say though, it’s an old movie and not everything ages as well as one might hope (I’m looking at you, Friends). So how well does Akira — the movie which broke anime onto the world stage as a medium that is explicitly not just for kids, while simultaneously paving the way for things like the Pokémon TV series to reach western audiences — hold up in 2020?
In short, it holds up extremely well. Particularly in 2020.
For those of you who missed the movie the first time around, its original release date, 16 July 1988, marks the start of World War 3. Some 31 years later in 2019, Tokyo has done its best to recover. Neo Tokyo, as the city is now known, is a vast megalopolis that makes the Los Angeles of Blade Runner look miniscule. It is home to corrupt politicians, anti-government terrorists and roaming delinquents.
The movie follows Kaneda and his friend Tetsuo, a pair of delinquent 15-year-olds who get separated during a routine fight with a rival bike gang. This is where it gets complicated: Tetsuo, a violent nihilist with an inferiority complex to die for, crashes into a psychic child who was rescued by a terrorist. Upon capturing the psychic, the government — just for the hell of it — experiments on Tetsuo and basically turns him into a god.
A pissed off, violent god with an inferiority complex and zero regard for the sanctity of life.
What ensues is a wild chase through the streets of Neo Tokyo as Tetsuo hunts out the legendary Akira — his only peer as the government’s most powerful psychic — who is buried under the ruins of the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, depicted with a sign declaring the cancelation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
And this is when a huge wave of horror crashed over me. Along with the creeping chill of realisation that, just as the Simpsons predicted President Trump, the themes underpinning Akira may too come to pass.
Sure, the pandemic isn’t what Akira is about, but when we get through this, we still have everything else to contend with. The only question really is whether our real world of corrupt, self-aggrandising politicians will drive us to the brink of extinction through war or if climate change will beat them to it.
There’s nothing in Akira which feels out of place, even by today’s lofty standards. The issues of a manufactured god are still here in the form of the future of AI, political unrest is as rampant as it has ever been, and just look at Westminster and Washington DC if you want to see hubristic politicians who put the state behind their own self-serving interests.
So yes, the themes of Akira hold up very well, the year after the fictional one it depicts. It is a complex, multi-layered story which you will get more out of every time you watch it. If you think Inception was complicated, it’s not a patch on Akira.
If you haven’t seen Akira, and you don’t mind a bit of violence in your movies, Akira is certainly one to watch. Forget whatever you may think about cartoons: this is not a knee-slapping, popcorn-chomping summer flick. Akira is a high-minded masterpiece, now lovingly and faithfully remastered in 4K.
And if you have seen it, this recreation is stunning — I don’t know how they could have done it any better. The only real issue is whether you can, or even should go to see it. We all know how 2020 has turned, and we’re all well aware of the potential risks of going to the cinema and spending any real length of time in public places right now. If you feel comfortable going to see it in the cinema, this is a truly rare opportunity to see a legendary film on the big screen, however you have to weigh up that decision for yourself. We encourage you to be responsible and follow all the latest guidelines if you do so.
Alternatively, you can still enjoy Akira at home. It’s available on streaming platforms and there’s already a fantastic 1080p Blu-ray that’s available. Of course, diehard fans will want it in 4K and with HDR. While there’s no word on a UK release, a UHD 4K Blu-ray is out now in Japan and coming out later this year in the US. We obviously hope it’ll arrive in Europe and the UK soon as well.
Akira 4K is out now in cinemas. For more information on how and where you can watch it, visit akira4k.co.uk