After watching Akira (1988) by Katsuhiro Otomo,I did some reading in IMDB and they say they are connected by Rebel Without A Cause (1955). I thought “hmmm” and I thought of that brillant idea to compare the quintessential 1950’s teenage classic to the anime film Akira. They may be made in different countries and different directors but I feel that both are interlinked in similar ways. So this will be my review/comparison topic for today.
Now I will brief you on the stories of these films
I find this a challenge to summarise Akira because it was pretty complex,so here I go-Set in 2019 Neo-Tokyo. That country suffered the effects of a nuclear bombing from WW3. Anyway we met our two protagonists-Tetsuo and Kaneda,so Tetsuo was sent to a secret venue where he was implanted with supernatural powers that could be equated to God. However he went berserk and his only friend Kaneda have to rescue the world from destruction. This film was a cult-classic and perhaps catalyzed the love and obsession of anime in the West. This film made Katsuhiro Otomo a name to remembered in the anime world and so many people are influenced by his works.
Now to Rebel Without a Cause,the arch-typical teenage film in the 1950’s. It was a simple story about Jimmy (Played by the amazing James Dean) who have some problems in relating to society and his parents wanted to do anything in order to fit in. It gained it cult status because of James’s sudden death before the première. He was perhaps the model of the teenage-hood during the 50’s:Wayward and perhaps insecure as executed by James Dean’s sheer acting.
O.K if I just mention James Dean,everyone would totally think of that image of James Dean wearing that red wind-breaker with the simplest t-shirt and jeans. It was rebellious and it was so classic that I wanted to emulate in my dressing for myself. Actually Ray wanted to make this film in Black and White,however when Ray tried colour film-they have to think quickly for Jim’s outfit. Rumours said that he bought it from a Red Cross outfit and that is how it was born.
While James Dean have that famous jacket,Kaneda have his own red motorcycle suit.Well expect he have the capsule pill on his back which will be the recurring motif for the film on the psychic kids have to be dependent on medicine. It was interesting that it could be linked to imperialism as the japanese flag have the red sun as their motif. Even his motorcycle was also red too,if you are not wowed by that famous scene when Kaneda drove his motorcycle. Then I don’t know who would it be. I think Otomo subconsciously used that jacket image we get from James Dean to bring his idea about the alienated youth.
Secondly it was the complexity of the relationship between Plato and Jimbo can be similar to Tetsuo and Kaneda. We know that both came from dsyfunctional families.In Rebel Without a Cause for Jim-he have the difficulty to relate to his father who was passive. According to Senses of Cinema article “Finding the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Rebel Without a Cause”-Chris Wood added that ” his father lacks the courage to act upon it. For Jim, even the word “chicken” sends him into violent bursts, as it conjures up negative images of his father, who is “hen-pecked” by Jim’s mother. “She eats him alive,” Jim tells Juvenile Officer Ray, “and he takes it. He always wants to be my pal…If he had the guts to knock Mom cold once, then maybe she’d be happy…I’d never want to be like him.” He added his case with an analysis from Vicky Lebeau on Dean’s character that there is a “‘palpable desire’ for parental authority, and the alternative family set up by the adolescent rebel.” On the otherhand Plato’s father could be either absent or deceased,he craved that attention from the parents that Chris added that the acting of murdering the puppies could be seen as “Plato’s scrutiny of, and contempt for, any paternal gesture of kindness.” So they co-related each other as they wanted to have a secure family and a paternal feeling. It could be almost sexual as many theorised Rebel Without a Cause in regards to teh relationship between Plato and Jim. That energy was also felt in the set itself as recounted by Sal Mieno (Plato) on working his co-actor James Dean “I was in incredible awe of him. I was fascinated by him. I think it was sexual to an extent, but I had no idea or any understanding of affection between men. I really gave him hero worship, and I recognized later what it was, but the feeling then was that I couldn’t wait to just get near him… It was only years later that I understood I was incredibly in love with him.”
On the other-hand Akira is very different from Rebel Without a Cause if Plato really depended on Jim to be the fatherly figure that he could not have, Testsuo wanted to rebel from Kaneda-the father figure. In one scene when Tetsuo kept on punching one the Clowns bike gang member as a form of revenge,Kanada try to intervene the meaningless killing-“Do you wanted to get him killed,that is enough” and there he attacked him back “Do you know I was let-down,I don’t want you to protect me.” It seems that Testsuo desired the parental power that Kaneda have,he keep on swearing that he would acquaint with that power. Of he did through the “experiement” in the lab and he did gain that power. However it proved to be detrimental for Tetsuo as he suffered hallucinatory nightmares of his powers (thanks to the growth-regressed espers) and he formed to a mutated creature. Just like Plato in the end when he got accidentally shot by the police,Tetsuo disappeared or “died” from the existence of Neo-Tokyo. It is interesting that their relationship does not have an erotic energy as it was perhaps played down to show how humanity used its power.
Both Jim and Kaneda have almost similar character growth process,while Jim’s sensitive personality formed the new image of the masculine image during the 50’s by his ambiguous personality and a softer approach. Kanada is perhaps your typical brash Shoenen (Boys’ manga) male character-very brash and yet super loyal to his “nakama” which was pretty much the opposite to Dean’s image. However they have to reach a point of maturity when they navigate what the world is. For Jim,it is the realization that he must take up his role as ‘a man’ and learn how to take full responsibility to his actions. Chris Woods cite the ending of Rebel with this quote of the growth of Jim-“Jim’s covering Plato’s corpse with his jacket is a last display of paternal love for his fallen friend, and in a symbolic display of adult initiation, Jim’s father wraps his own jacket around his son’s shoulders. “Whatever comes we’ll face it together,” he assures Jim. “I’ll try to be as strong as you want me to be.” Jim’s father is now willing to help guide Jim into the symbolic world, although the boy seems to have made it there already.” It showed about Jim’s maturity to take in responsibility in the world unlike Plato who wanted to retreat to his childhood. On the other-hand Kaneda have his growth as a character as he questioned on the power of that so-called “Akira” and the power of humanity when it encounters science. There is one scene when he recalled Kei saying the same line as one of the espers on humanity and how they used that power. He questioned what is that power on how it was used. We can see it in the end when Kei rescued Kaneba and he witnessed the shirking of his world and of course the inevitable disappearance of Tetsuro. As one of his motorcycle gang memebers asked “Where is Tetsuro” and just like Jim in Rebel,he gave a response to him “He disappeared.” and there was a happier ending as Neo-Tokyo have a brighter outlook unlike the somber ending of Rebel Without A Cause. In the end Kaneda and his companions can ride to the world safely thanks to Tetsuro and the espers’ sacrifice to save humanity.
In conclusion,it seems why there is a connection of Rebel Without a Cause and Akira despite being separate in genres and countries. I think Otomo wanted to use Ray’s teen angst to highlight the theme of Akira, externalism of humanity and its power. Whenever it was that familiar homage to that red windbreaker that James Dean wore during his rebellion with Kaneda’s motorcycle suit. Or the dymanics between Tetsuro and Kaneda that could be viewed as the father-son relationship without the homosexual edge. Even the way Kaneda developed as a character could echoed Jim’s growth to maturity. So I will end this comparison with the quote from one of the esepers Kiyoko that could summarise the aspect of Akira and rebel without a cause “The future is not a straight line. It is filled with many crossroads. There must be a future that we can choose for ourselves. ” Basically it just simply boiled down to personal choice and the journey the characters have to take. Is it why we enjoyed watching films,because we could relate to the main characters emotionally and mentally.