Anime Wisdom from Tetsuo Shima… What have I done? The destructive power of anger as seen in Akira.

Many view Akira as one of the the most groundbreaking films in the entire catalog of Japanese animation. This was a film that here in the west opened our eyes to technical expertise and visual eye candy that we thought was only possible in terms of the impossible. Many see it as a badass action film. Many others see it as a reflection on power and control in society. Many others see it as a gateway, a sign post, that once crossed you can’t go back. All so true, but this is also a story of a troubled young man who took his personal hatred so far that it literally destroyed the world.

Anger, resentment, pain… feelings of inadequacy, fear… putting up a front, a wall, a shield… depression, anxiety?… No one is born this way, but for many of us we learn this sort of behavior and adopt it as our reality. I find it scary how accurate Akira is to our current reality. Akira was set in 2019, I am currently writing in 2020. Tokyo was to hold the Olympic Games in both realities… ironic? The streets are full of rioting. Police are not afraid to open fire and behave in a militaristic manner. Science and technology are puppets of the government, medical industry and large scale business. Complications over the ideal blessings seems to be the products of these institutions. We have an overload of control which for someone who are not on top of any hierarchy, be it a job, social position, in a gang, etc. can make you feel left out.

Enter Tetsuo Shima, the runt so to speak in Kaneda’s bike gang. He is the one who always has to catch up, find a way to be recognized and situate himself into his peer group. Just who would have thought he had dormant psychokinetic powers after being taken by the military during a bike accident? Little Tetsuo not sure how to control himself ends up taking revenge on everything around him, which in turn begins to break down his body. This is true for us as well, though not on the scale of this anime. It is a metaphor for how we end up destroying ourselves and the world around us as well all because we can’t control our anger. Yet Tetsuo was not born this way, many of us are not, but we end up holding onto some type of anger that eventually begins to show itself in the body. At least we can counteract this if we catch it early and have awareness to our inherited patterns and emotions.

I shifted my frame of reference about Akira and Tetsuo as a character after rewatching Harmagedon recently. Harmagedon was a film that Akira’s creator Katsuhiro Otomo worked on. He did the character designs. The main character of Jo Azuma has his issues with anger, but is surrounded by like minded people who channel his inner demons, and inherent psychic abilities, towards constructive means… that being fighting the outer demon. Tetsuo is not so lucky and tragically loses himself and all of Tokyo in the process. It is in the end Tetsuo does see his mistakes, but it is too late. His sacrifice does lead him to peace, but also death. I am not sure Otomo borrowed ideas from Harmegedon for Akira, but the similar theme, with a different outcome, cannot be denied.

I too suffer with issues of internalized anger, resentment and insecurity. I also know what its like when your body tells you that you need to calm down, transmute the feelings and build a new foundation to stand on. The past can often haunt you and even though it may not be one’s fault, it is I who keep those feelings alive. Thankfully things can reverse, without scientific explanation, but it takes work to recapture joy in the moment. I doubt many of the people I have hurt in some form, angered, or frustrated, or who have hurt me, or caused me to continue certain emotional patterns for too long are not reading this, but in any case all I can say is I am sorry. I am only human and can make mistakes, but I don’t need to feel that I am a mistake.

#220 : Harmagedon

“That’s great it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, and aeroplanes… Lenny Bruce is not afraid”… ? … hold on a minute, is this like the end of the world as we know it, the end times, the apocalypse? Kind of and do I feel fine?… I don’t think so if that’s the case and yet from all endings throughout time they are also become new beginnings. Combine the ultimate disaster scenario with an invading evil presence from the far side of the universe and what do you get?, BIG trouble. In the year of 1983 I could sum this up with the title of a movie that was a box office hit in Japan. Let me guess is it Total Armageddon? Nope, more like Harmagedon.

Harma_1aHeroes unite! The evil Genma has made his way through the universe, bringing terror and destruction to every world he touches. Not bad for a large cloud like red skull? He is now set on Earth to claim as his own except he runs into a little problem. He has to face a squad of people who hail from all around the world, from different backgrounds, nationalities and races who happen to have psionic powers… almost sounds like a variation of Cyborg 009 in a way. And it should as the original source material, and title of the film, was known as Genma Taisen (The Great Battle, or War of Genma) a cooperative effort between Kazumasa Hirai and Shotaro Ishinomori (009’s creator). Genma Taisen even had it’s origins in the 1960s too! The first half of Harmagedon, and it’s a long half, showcases only a trio of our heroic cast: a psychic princess from Transylvania (really!), a resurrected robot warrior and our main protagonist, a young Japanese man named, Jo, who is having a very bad day. First he finds out he is not on the baseball team, then he gets dumped by his girlfriend and finally he ends up being chased by some strange robot in an alley that keeps shooting at him. Talk about a rough day!

Harma_2Another take on ‘Heroes unite!’ as we now look at another group of people, those who were responsible for the making of this mammoth of a film. First is Haruki Kadakawa who is not a name I often equate with anime often, except when I see his name plastered at the beginning of any opening credit sequence with that beautiful phoenix like logo. He was the executive producer and a high roller at that who made it loud and clear that he was the one funding this project! Let us next move to the powerhouse studio known as Madhouse and one of it’s best directors, the amazing Rintaro. Love him or hate him, his work is monumentally visual which sometimes looses a little depth in terms of story, or character. Next in line is our character designer who was a young manga artist that would get his first shot in the anime world. He would become ultra famous for a movie from 1988 known as Akira, but in 1983 he was just plain and simple Katsuhiro Otomo. And finally we need some music, so who could fill this roll? We need someone big, bombastic and different! How about Keith Emerson? Whoa really like from Emerson, Lake, Palmer? The guy who brought a massive Moog synthesizer on tour and had a reputation for stabbing knives into Hammond organs, amongst other things. Yeah we’ll take him! “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…”

Harma_3Many often poo poo Harmagedon as a film, particularly here in the west. In Japan it was a huge blockbuster at the theaters and popular. Did you see the reference in Project A-Ko for instance? We of course did not have much exposure to the original Genma Taisen sources that had been around for decades in Japan. That and the over emphasis of action and the visuals make Harmagedon a feast for the eyes, but awkward in terms of plot. You really have to know and have a passion for Genma Taisen to really love it, or just see Harmagedon as an example of an arthouse action film. And anyway, aren’t many blockbuster action films just visual spectacle. Yes, but not on the level of artistic beauty that Harmagedon exudes. Plus the emphasis of more realistic designs for both Tokyo and Otomo’s characters, as well as Rintaro’s touch, gives Harmagedon an edgy look that was not seen often in anime at that time. Don’t quote me on that, I heard this from many sources and they are so right!

Harma_4Several themes are brought to the surface, but one that draws a good amount of attention is some very open racism, which eventually resolves itself from understanding and compassion. Compassion is a great word to use I would say as an overall theme of this movie as we as humans need to respect the diversity of who we are and take care of this beautiful green world we live on which is not separate from us, but is a part of us. Our protagonist Jo also has his own feelings to resolve, all stemming from anger towards himself, the death of loved ones and even getting dumped and feeling not up to playing for the high school baseball team. Transforming anger into compassion, hate into love and believing in yourself is for me the major theme of Harmagedon. I understand this very well as this is a core issue I have been dealing with personally. And as of this writing in 2020, who can not say there is a lot of anger and frustration in our collective world? Jo would rise above his hate and is it me, or does this film also remind you in a way to Otomo’s Akira? In that movie we see the destructive power of personal hatred affecting each and every one of us. Both films end in total destruction and yet in both films there is a glimmer of hope that we can start again because being with people you love and that in turn believe in you, no matter the circumstances, can show a way toward one’s next season in life.

… I apologize as this one went a little longer than normal, but then again this movie’s running time feels like it runs longer than normal… maybe it was destined to be this way?

#25j : Robot Carnival : Closing

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

RCj_1The time has come as the show is over and as much as the anime Robot Carnival has to come to an end, the behemoth vehicle of destructive entertainment, Robot Carnival, also has to find a place to retire. The second bookend to the Robot Carnival anthology begins with the ever awesome machine giving everything it has to climb a sand dune with all it’s shear power. In the process of straining the engines beyond their limits, the once mighty Robot Carnival destroys itself in a blaze of glory. The end, peace in the land at last as the mighty beast has fallen… yet it’s not quite over. Katsuhiro Otomo still has a little more to tell, but first the credits so everyone can get their name in lights.

Now for the encore… with the destruction of Robot Carnival there is much in the way of debris. Some of it is quite appealing like a shining gem in the dirt, so thinks a traveling nomad who picks up a metallic sphere to give to his children. Once home they all stare in amazement at this ball as it opens to reveal a beautiful doll of a dancing ballerina. Hold on, have we seen this before? BOOM! Yup, that’s what I thought. Until next time… “That’s all folks!”

Robot Carnival entry index:

    1. Opening
    2. Franken’s Gears
    3. Deprive
    4. Presence
    5. Starlight Angel
    6. Cloud
    7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
    8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
    9. Ending