Akira (1988), or My Uncanny Film Origins or The Most Perfect Bookend To Cinematronica

31 12 2009

AT LAST! 365 days, 365 movies indeed! It’s been a long fucking road, friends, but here it is, my last movie for 2009! From the dizzying heights of The Seventh Seal, to the lame pile of degradation of Jennifer’s Body, I have seen a lot of films this year that mean a lot of things to a lot of people. This last film on the website is for me, though. Akira was the first movie that really made me think about the motion picture as art. It was the first movie that grabbed me, called out my name, and took me out of my own head, challenging me to think about things in a different light. Of all the movies I had seen in my life before 1997, Akira was the one that changed everything for me, the one that made me understand the concept of the film as an art form. To me, that crucial shift in thinking means everything, and, of all the films Cinematronica could go out on, I wanted it to be the film that made me who I am today.

Akira is a Japanese animated feature from 1988.  Set in (drumroll please…) THE FYOOCHA!!!, we are taken away to the chaotic and dirty city of New Tokyo, a city rebuilt near the ashes of the original Tokyo, which was destroyed by a gigantic explosion that sparked the third World War of the late 80s (remember how awful that was?). Thirty years afterward, the city has reached completion, but the people squirm restlessly and undulate beneath the overbearing government. Riots and doom prophets run rampant in the streets, crying for change to wash over the stagnant air of the near future. In the midst of all this, a group of angry youths in a motorcycle gang whittle away their futures by clashing with rival gangs in the streets. During the skirmish one of the members, named Tetsuo, has a run-in with a strange, aged child, who is trying to escape from unseen forces. His bike explodes from hitting some sort of psychic shield as he nearly runs the child over, and when the rest of the gang comes to Tetsuo’s aid, a group of government vehicles surrounds them and takes the child and Tetsuo away. They are interested in Tetsuo, whose interaction with the strange child has awakened a power within him, something that neither he or the mysterious military man overseeing his capticity could have ever imagined. His friend and de facto leader of the gang, Kaneda, will stop at nothing to discover Tetsuo’s whereabouts, and decides to sneak in with a group of revolutionaries into a secret government building where Tetsuo and other psychically powerful individuals are being held. But what they soon realize is that what they stumbled upon is bigger than all of them, and it threatens the very safety of the world. Because Tetsuo’s power is growing exponentially, and he is growing more and more mentally unstable. The government will do anything to keep him from realizing his maximum potential, however, as Tetsuo’s story seems to mirror that of a boy from 30 years ago named Akira, a boy whose abilities may have caused the destruction of Tokyo and the beginning of the World War…

Akira is sci-fi at its highest echelon, especially in the sense of challenging the present with its dark visions of the future. A chilling saga about science at the fringe of human comprehension, Katsuhiro Otomo’s epic, which he took from the pages of his own monstrous manga, is the standard by which modern sci-fi is judged, a juggernaut of scathing political and societal indictment with strong messages to match the overwhelming emotional side of alienated youth. Fingers are pointed at the philosophically outmoded Japanese military, the shadowy backroom dealings of modern government, a society who throws the young away without giving them much of a chance, and the cold hand of science, who will put discovery before anything and everything else, even the safety of the human race. If good science fiction makes a statement, Akira is certainly one of the greatest sci-fi films out there.

And it’s also revolutionary for its time. Akira is a bloody mess, an anime definitely for adults at a time when animation was just for kids. There is violence beyond description here, like people being turned into gooey messes, but beyond that it houses disturbing imagery that sunk into my subconscious at a young age. One scene in particular sees Tetsuo, in a mental panic, being attacked by a teddy bear with fangs and a snake arm who is bleeding milk profusely from his face! If that’s not terrifying for a kid, I don’t know what the fuck is! But it’s so good, you won’t really care how freaked out you are in the face of its quality. Which is another reason Akira is so special; featuring over 160,000 cels of animation, this movie is a fully realized animated event. Lips are very nicely synched, and movement is flowing and beautiful. One of my favorite animated moments sees Tetsuo falling from his bike after an accident, and Otomo shows the entire wreck in its full glory, even the moment where Tetsuo rolls off and away like a Japanese rag doll. And, if I can just give a personal kudos, thanks to Katsuhiro Otomo for making Japanese people look… Japanese. I hate how white anime characters look, but the art direction here calls for all the characters in Tokyo to look like Asians, not white girls with purple hair and 36 HHH size breasts! I hope more people take to this art style in the future!

Akira is, for me, the point in Japanese filmmaking when anything seemed possible. Where the future was vivid, the message was strong and eloquent, and the world seemed ready to accept it. Looking at Japanese films now, I think they took some of that spirit here and there, and while the films now are not nearly as great as that moment promised, I’m just glad that one film rose above the rest to tell its amazing story with a verve and a presence that still cannot be matched today. I loved it then, and, after seeing it again for the first time in years, I love it even more. Timeless music by Shoki Yamashiro and breathtaking animation by Katsuhiro Otomo make this a film that you will never, ever forget, so Akira gets a big Cinematronica thumbs-up and 10 geriatric children out of 10! My highest recommendation!

FUCK! I’m done! I can’t believe it! It’s been a great year, everyone, and I can’t believe how much fun this was! Thanks, everyone for your support, and I hope you come see me at my new website, http://www.ifreviewscouldkill.com, when it starts up! I’ll keep updates on here for the launch of the new site, so you’ll have up to date Eric news, but until then, enjoy your New Years Eve and I am TAKING A WEEK OFF OF REVIEWS! HAPPY 2010 EVERYONE!!!!!

Dead Ringers (1988), or My Dearest Brother…

10 12 2009

I know I’ve probably seen too many Cronenberg movies on this website for you to care anymore, but I really could not resist this time. Dead Ringers is a force of nature, a psychological descent into the lives of two codependent twins. From the first five minutes, you are completely absorbed by the setting of it all. Cronenberg, yet again, breaks all pre-conceived notions of what reality is and throws it away, opting for something more surreal, more visceral, more subversive. And this time he even pushes the envelope against himself by pinning his hopes on an actor, rather than his own genius. Luckily, Jeremy Irons is the kind of actor you can pin a movie on (usually), and this film is the better because of it.

It follows the lives of twin gynecologists (!!!) Beverly and Elliot Mantle. They are two seriously codependent brothers who have a slightly disturbing relationship with one another. Elliot is the ambitious, fiery brother, and he has a huge appetite for women. Beverly happens to be a bit more reserved, which cramps his brother’s style a lot. The two have a good business going together, as well as a good formula to get them both laid. Elliot will get the mood going with his go-getter attitude, wooing the ladies as fast as he can to get what he wants. When he tires of them, he hands them off to twin Beverly, where the women are none the wiser. One of the women they examine as a patient though, named Claire, entices Beverly, and he finds himself in love with her. She has a rare gynecological condition, a trifurcation, that makes it nearly impossible to have children. Elliot thinks it’s all silly, and that he should move on, but Beverly genuinely likes her and wants to be with her. But when he thinks she might be cheating on him, it brings out the worst in him, and he begins to have psychotic delusions about weird genitals and evil women. Can he snap out of it before it’s too late? Or will this jealousy consume him and his secretly codependent brother?

Cronenberg makes Dead Ringers in his world of bizarre, surreal psychological world where the physical and the emotional become one, the ethereal flesh of nightmares encroaching on our living existence. This time, the setting is the glitz and materialism of the late 80s in the big city. Elliot Mantle is the poster child for excess and blatant materialism during the ME generation. The city is oppressive in its posh luxury, and we only sense it when Beverly cuts through reality and into his delusions. Cronenberg always enjoys the cleverest of shots, and it just goes to show you that the power of the auteur is nothing to scoff at. Nobody can work with this material like Cronenberg can because he wrote the damn thing and knows just what needs to be done to visualize it. Where the movie really surprises me is not the amazing phantasmagorical dream sequences, but how engaging the movie is when it is just Beverly and Elliot. It’s about as normal as this director gets, just relaying the relationship between family members who could not be more opposite, even though they’re twins.

And, damn it, Jeremy Irons scores as the dual character of Beverly and Elliot. He deserves a little double time for al the work he put in. His crass and selfish Elliot is very true to what I think a lot of people were buying into as the 80s ended, a dark and unhealthy dream of excess and endless drugs and women that is seemingly destined to vanish. Elliot’s depth is found though when we see how much he really loves his brother. Beverly is also fond of his brother, but in a much more overt, obvious way. Irons’s real achievement is making multiple layers of Beverly’s character by fleshing out his unbalanced nature. He is doomed to spill over the edge, and it seems that love will be the thing that pushes him over. Genevieve Bujold plays Beverly’s love interest, Claire. She is very mysterious at first, but I like how much she warms up to Irons. They have such a good chemistry together here! It’s a very nice performance that makes for great drama later on in the story as Beverly deteriorates.

I think Dead Ringers is a great movie with a unique sense of self that plays like a horror movie but feels like a psychological drama. Cronenberg audiences know what they want to see, so this will certainly not disappoint, and new folks to Cronenberg’s works need to know only that there is significantly less freakiness than he is famed for. I think Jeremy Irons did a top-notch job here, and he seemed to be a good candidate for Cronenberg to place his trust in, when one considers how much the twins had to carry the film and how much combined time they get. I think you’ll like it a lot, weirdness and all. I give Dead Ringers 9 twin gynecologists out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I don’t have a clue what I’ll be watching! We shall see soon! Until then!