Year Released: 1990 / 2000
Conducted by Yamashiro Shoji
|2.||Battle Against Clown|
|3.||Winds Over the Neo-Tokyo|
|8.||Exodus from the Underground Fortress|
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4.5 / 5 Stars
This is the grand-daddy of American Anime. Not of Anime itself, but of what really turned a generation of Americans towards Japanese animation. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel series written and drawn by the movie's director Katsushiro Otomo, Akira covers the gambit of complex power struggles over the fate of Neo Tokyo, a futuristic metropolis in the dark Blade Runner vein. At the story's heart is the life and death struggle between two teenage blood brothers: the rebellious cocky Kaneda and the introverted angst-filled Tetsuo. It's a convoluted story compacted down from over 1,800 pages into 2 hours. Like David Lynch's Dune, a lot of story is lost yet almost too much of it is kept. This confuses the casual audience members but unlike Dune, Akira works wonderfully as a tone poem of the narrative, capturing the look and emotion of the original story through brilliant production design, fluid animation and direction.
Oh yeah, and the music too. Otomo brought in Geinoh Yamashirogumi, a Japanese musical collective formed to create a fusion between traditional Japanese musical forms and modern technology. Lead by composer Shoji Yamashiro, they created an innovative musical sound that reveals the technological and futuristic at war with the traditional and spiritual, tying thematically into the heart of the movie. The score has unique instrumentation: Gamelan (an Indonesian orchestra of chimes, gongs and Jugog, a wood xylophone ensemble), guitar, organ, synthesizers and primarily male chorus. I can't think of any other score with this combination.
Geinoh Yamashirogumi pictures the human voice as the ultimate instrument and the choral work along with the percussion drives most of the pieces. Buddhist chants and prayers are sung in "Shohmyoh" and "Mutation". "Illusion" uses the traditional Noh chants while the rousing title theme ("Kaneda") contains the youthful Nebuta festival chants, including the names of "Kaneda" and "Tetsuo" in the chants. The well known "Duh-Daah!" chorus used in "Battle Against Clown" is actually based on Ancient Buddhist Exorcism rites.
The percussive rhythms of the score are equally entrancing. "Kaneda", "Tetsuo" and "Requiem" contain some of the best xylophone work I have ever heard. The combination of these elements are spellbinding and hypnotic, drawing you into their spiritual rhythms and slowly envelop you. The electronic portion of the score itself is clearly from late 80's (Rhythm Nation 1814 would be proud), but it has not dated as its use is very strategically. In "Mutation" As Tetsuo's latent psychic abilities overtake him, sampled voices drone inhumanly as the traditional Japanese drums have now "mutated" into a drum machine. Other times the synthesizer play dreamy, haunted melodies ("Winds Over The Neo-Tokyo", "Dolls' Polyphony"). That all of these elements merge organically is a testament to Shoji Yamashiro's composing skills.
This AnimeTrax release is identical to the early 90's album, package design, linear notes and all. If you are not a fan of non-traditional / ethnic scoring, this may be a jarring album but those even remotely a fan of the movie, this is an essential purchase. Even over 15 years later, the music is still bold, uncompromising and original. I can comfortably say this is now a classic album.
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