Akira is an animated Japanese post-Apocalypse movie that resides in the cyberpunk sub-genre because of its futuristic setting that juxtaposes an ever-advancing technological world with a human world that is fast degenerating and where social order is disappearing entirely. The film is hugely influenced by early cyberpunk films from the late 1960s and 70s such as Blade-Runner. The film is the most expensive Japanese anime at the time it was made with a budget of nine million dollars, or just over a billion yen.
The movie is based on the first volume of the manga (Japanese comic) series of the same name, written and drawn by Katsuhiro Otomo. The manga, like the film, is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of Japanese manga.
The film is set in a dystopian society, so immediately everything is frightening, and degenerating fast. The main character is the leader of a local biker gang, Shotaro Kaneda, whose best friend from childhood suddenly develops strange telekinetic powers after he has a motorcycle accident. He becomes psychotic and goes on a rampage that only Kaneda is able to stop. His new powers become a threat to the development of Neo-Tokyo and threaten an entire military machine. The movie is based on the Japanese anime novel of the same name, by Katsuhiro Otomo, but differs greatly in its plot lines; for example, despite the fact that the film stays fairly close to the original in terms of characters, it ends the story very early, and misses out most of the last half of the book.
The film was noted, however, for its scientific accuracy. For example, when Tetsuo flies up into space to destroy a satellite, all noise dissipates, reflecting the relative silence away from earth, caused by the fact that there is no longer any medium for sound waves to travel.
Just like manga, the film became a cult sensation almost overnight and gathered an enormous following, but it also achieved mainstream acclaim thanks in large part to the bold marketing of a pioneering animation distribution company called Streamline Pictures, founded by producer Carl Macek who had worked on the television series Robotek. One of the reasons for Akira's worldwide success was its successful VHS campaign, meaning that many Americans were exposed to anime for the first time. Akira was Streamline's first major project after its formation in 1988. The film is considered to be one of the greatest anime movies of all time, and one of the greatest animated science fiction films of all time as well. Grossing over eighty million dollars worldwide, it out-performed both all of the Japanese anime movies that preceded it, and all of the expectations for it too. It opened the door for the worldwide growth of Japanese pop culture (Hello Kitty was not even a blip on the international radar until several years after Akira's success.)
Five different directors and ten different writers have attempted to create a live-action movie version of the animated classic but they all fizzled out at various stages of development despite the backing of Hollywood powerhouse Warner Brothers behind them.
The movie won a Silver Scream Award in 1989, for its director Katsuhiro Otomo.