Akira celebrates its thirtieth anniversary next year, but the film’s legacy extends well beyond any one project; many would contend that the movie was absolutely seminal in introducing worldwide audiences — particularly in the United States — to the bizarre yet fascinating world of anime. One person, however, was less than pleased with the film’s debut: Akira creator and director Katsuhiro Otomo.
“Actually, when I saw the first rush of the movie version of Akira I thought it would be a failure,” Otomo revealed in an interview with Forbes. “I left the theater very quickly and came back home to tell my wife that the movie was a failure. This was because I thought the first half was good but because the time and budget was limited, with so many cuts, the quality dropped as the story developed. In general, I thought the picture quality and cut quality went down when the movie went into the latter half. So when I saw the movie’s quality decline as I watched it made me feel miserable.”
Otomo also explained what the film’s shortcomings were in his eyes. “There were just too many cuts,” he recalled. “I think there were more than two thousand cuts in the end. That meant we didn’t have enough animators to do all the work. So each animator had way more work than they could do, so that meant they did a lot of overtime and had to make compromises in terms of animation quality. In addition, the studio had to outsource the animation abroad to reduce the costs and they weren’t very good.”
The director maintained the negative outlook on his acclaimed feature for many years, but — thanks to another individual involved behind the scenes — he gave the film a second a chance. “When Shoji Yamashiro did the remake with 5 channel audio, he invited me over and showed me the movie again,” Otomo said. “So this was a very long time since I had seen the movie back when it was released. Maybe time had made me softer but when I saw it again I thought, ‘Oh, this is interesting’ and that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.”
Set in a dystopian Tokyo circa 2019, Akira tells the story of Shotaro Kaneda, a leader of a local biker gang who must stop his friend from using newly awakened superpowers. Debuting in Young Magazine in 1988, the seminal cyberpunk manga became the first to be translated for English-speaking audiences.