Tchoban Foundation opens 'AKIRA: The Architecture of Neo Tokyo'

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Tchoban Foundation opens 'AKIRA: The Architecture of Neo Tokyo'
AKIRA, cut no. 2204. Image board. Toshiharu Mizutani Poster colour on paper, 25 x 35 cm.

BERLIN.- AKIRA–The Architecture of Neo Tokyo presents the original background artwork of the classic science-fiction animation film in an unprecedented exhibition.

The film made on the basis of the manga AKIRA which was released in 1988, has been almost solely responsible for the boom enjoyed by Japanese animation (anime) film among an international audience since the early 1990s. For many viewers, AKIRA was the first film that they perceived as anime – as specifically Japanese animation. As such, it had a tremendous influence on a whole generation of film enthusiasts. Much of AKIRA’s cinematic power stems from the opulent representation of the film’s iconic city of Neo Tokyo.

A major influence on the design of Neo Tokyo was the work of the architect Kenzo Tange. And most importantly, the idea of locating Neo Tokyo on a landfill in Tokyo Bay was drawn directly from Tange's radical urban scheme A Plan for Tokyo, 1960: Toward a Structural Reorganization (1961).

The towering high-rise buildings that appear in the background of many of the low angle cuts are inspired by the urban design of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927). The influence on AKIRA of another iconic science-fiction movie, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), is also undeniable, resonating strongly throughout the project. AKIRA is even set in the same year (2019) as the seminal cyberpunk film.

At the time of production, AKIRA was the most expensive anime ever made and marked a pinnacle in the design of realistic background artwork. Drawing and painting architecture is a very time-consuming process, much more so than the depiction of pastoral motifs. Because the bulk of production costs for an animated movie go for the work force, each building to be painted consumes a large part of the budget. In terms of architecture, therefore, realism is a big challenge for any animated film and in this respect AKIRA set new standards. Apart from the ingenious artwork, both the dynamic approach to editing and the extremely fluid motion were unlike anything seen before.

The film was almost entirely produced on paper. Although some digital effects were incorporated during post-production, all the background artworks were painted in poster colour and shot on film. A visual tour de force, AKIRA had a tremendous influence on the subsequent expectations of film enthusiasts and on the understanding of what anime could be.

Fifty-nine original production backgrounds, layout drawings, concept designs and image boards used to create Neo Tokyo in the film are on display. Exclusive access to the studio archives of the artists is thanks to AKIRA’s production unit allowing the presentation of artworks which have never been shown outside of Japan and only very few of which have ever been published. The exhibition includes works by Toshiharu Mizutani, who served as the production’s art director, and his colleagues Katsufumi Hariu, Norihiro Hiraki, Shinji Kimura, Satoshi Kuroda, Hiromasa Ogura, Hiroshi Ohno, Hajime Soga, Tsutomu Uchida and Takashi Watabe.

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