The name of Katsuhiro Otomo might not resonate with many non-manga readers out there but you might be familiar with his greatest work Akira, considered by many to be one of the greatest sci-fi/anime films of all time. Otomo began his career as a manga artist, writing and drawing series like Fireball and Domu in the 70s/80s before moving on to his staggeringly ambitious masterpiece, the 2,000-plus-page series Akira, and the feature film version of this.
In an interview with the A.V. Club Otomo says this on directing, ‘I can’t create a movie by myself. It is worthy only because many staff bring new ideas and techniques… It is absolutely wonderful to create something new based on teamwork.’ Here are what we consider to be two highlights of his selective Directing career.
Akira is set in the dystopian, cyberpunk city of Neo-Tokyo. Society is on the brink of collapse; ruled by the military and corrupt to its very core. After a supernatural crash, biker gang member Tetsuo gains overwhelming psychic capabilities, similar to the legendary Akira whose own vast mental powers destroyed Tokyo. As Tetsuo develops into an increasingly dangerous force, he pursues knowledge of Akira as history threatens to repeat itself. Tetsuo’s bike gang leader; Kaneda, leads the way in trying to bring his friend back under control before its too late.
Based on Otomo’s manga of the same name, Akira explores social isolation, corruption, and power with atmospheric elements not far removed from Blade Runner and the Fifth Element. The film is a sci-fi sensory overload drenched in neon lights and accompanied by an exciting electro-organic score. Ambitious, brutal and bizarre, Akira is a feat of Japanese animation and the catalyst which sparked the modern Western anime subculture.
Steamboy is a gorgeously animated steampunk animated adventure film, set in an alternate nineteenth century England. The film follows three generations of a British family involved in a technological breakthrough . Young inventor Ray Steam is torn between his duty as a scientist and the moral and ethical implications of his work, after a mysterious ‘Steam ball’ comes into his possessions, and quickly finds himself in the middle of a deadly conflict over this revolutionary advance in steam power.
Steeped in Victorian era charm, with historical flair, the English dubbing actually complements the film quite well. Steamboy is only the second film to be directed by Otomo and was apparently in production for 10 years. The plot is sometimes a little clunky and drawn out but it contagiously inherits some of the wonder and curiosity of its lead character and works well enough as an adventure story.