Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo
I've always been intrigued by this movie. I've pretty much stayed on the periphery of anime. It's a genre that I think is too spastic and weird. It's probably mostly due to something lost in the translation. But sometimes there are gems (like Spirited Away and Ghost in the Shell) and I think Akira stands above them all as far as story, characters and just plain epicness. It's a unique tale, but doesn't stray too far from a typical sci-fi epic. A live action version is in the works (and has been for at least fifteen years) and I think it would translate well to the big screen with CGI effects galore.
The story is set in the future where World War III has happened and Tokyo has been decimated by a nuclear attack. It's a brutal landscape where the government tries to quell revolutionaries and the police works hard to break up gang warfare. The story centers around Kaneda and Tetsuo, a pair of bikers who are caught up in a gang war between other bikers. During a chase, Tetsuo accidentally runs literally into an escaped prisoner, who happens to be an experimental psychic weapon being tested by the government (trust me, it makes much more sense in the movie!). Tetsuo ends up in the hands of the government and is experimented on as well. The ensuing story takes off as the Tetsuo becomes more and more powerful and tries to take out all of Tokyo and Japan. The movie has a broad stroke, but isn't afraid to take the time and delve into the characters. The best epic movies are not necessarily about the plot or the vast scope of the narrative, but the cast of characters. And Akira has an incredible palette of interesting and very real characters. It's a testament to the writing and the source material that it's based on. It's easy to connect to Kaneda and Tetsuo as they find themselves becoming bitter enemies.
The movie isn't without its flaws, however. Sometimes the movie is too big for its own good. There's just so much going on and so many characters that it's hard at times to follow. It's almost necessary to have a repeat viewing to understand all that's happening (or just use Wikipedia like I did). Of course, as with most anime, sometimes the voice work and dialogue veers towards cheesy when a simple look would do. But these are minor quibbles in a movie that delivers solidly on action and character. I'm actually excited to read the graphic novel it's based on, which is certainly the highest praise a movie can get in my opinion! If you're at all a sci-fi fan, you owe it to yourself to check it out and watch it over and over again!