Okay, this has been one of the most extraordinary experiences of my 11 years as the Deja Reviewer. Several months ago, a reader of mine named Jordan sent me three movies he had a feeling about being examples of Cinematic Chiasmus. And each of them turned out to perfectly fit the mold: Tron, Escape from New York, and Dreamscape. I kept being blown away by how right he was with each film I looked at.
And then he hit me with one more curveball. He suggested I take a look at a little film called Akira. I’ve loved this movie since I was a teenager, and I read all of the manga to get the full story. It was a huge pleasure to revisit Akira and see if it works as a symmetrical story structure. Sure enough, it does! Let me introduce you to the awesome symmetry of Akira.
As always, we’ll begin by laying out the structure of this chiasmus in broad strokes:
A. Tokyo is destroyed in a giant explosion
B. Kaneda and his gang are introduced
C. Kaneda and his gang chase a rival gang of Clowns on motorbikes
D. A man pulls No. 26 through the streets until the man is caught in a spotlight and killed
E. Blinded by Tetsuo’s headlight, No. 26 accidentally destroys his motorbike
F. Kaneda’s gang is captured by the Colonel’s men
G. Kaneda helps Kei after a would-be terrorist’s bomb fails to explode
H. A politician admonishes the Colonel to change his ways
I. The Doctor experiments on Tetsuo and compares him to Akira
J. One of Kaneda’s gang insults their dean, triggering his enforcer to slap all of them
K. Tetsuo escapes the lab and asks Kaori to run away with him
L. Tetsuo stalls Kaneda’s bike and is saved by Kaneda kicking a Clown gang member
M. Tetsuo hallucinates being disemboweled and is taken back to the lab
N. Kaneda finds Kei, and they fight a couple of officers
O. During an experiment, Tetsuo has a nightmare of crumbling
P. No. 25 relates a dream of citywide destruction and death
Q. The Colonel visits Akira and thinks of trying to save the city
R. Ryu locks Kaneda up after Kaneda and Kei find him
S. Ryu and Mr. Nezu plan to get to Tetsuo with Kaneda’s help
T. The Colonel walks out on the executive council
U. Tetsuo is confronted by the test subjects disguised as toys
V. Tetsuo leaves his hospital room and kills several orderlies
W. Kaneda is pushed into sewer water to avoid detection by a flying craft
W. Kaneda pulls Kei to safety aboard a flying craft
V. Tetsuo kills many soldiers and enters the Baby Room
U. Tetsuo fights the test subjects disguised as toys
T. The executive council’s enforcers fail to arrest the Colonel
S. A freed Tetsuo visits a bar and talks about Kaneda
R. Kaneda and Kei escape prison, and Kei gets taken by the test subjects
Q. Mr. Nezu is visited by Ryu and shoots him to try to save himself
P. Tetsuo destroys a bridge, killing many people
O. Tetsuo breaks open a contraption containing the experiments on Akira
N. Kaneda fights Tetsuo and spots Kei on the battlefield
M. After refusing to return to the lab, Tetsuo has his arm blown off by the SOL satellite
L. Kaneda falls off a bike and is saved by Tetsuo destroying the SOL in orbit
K. The Doctor tells the Colonel that Tetsuo is under surveillance, despite his escape from the lab
J. Kaneda’s friend charges a laser gun’s battery, accidentally triggering a fire
I. Tetsuo and Kaori discuss Akira and Tetsuo’s new bionic arm
H. The Colonel admonishes Tetsuo to return to the lab for his own good
G. Kaneda fights Tetsuo, inadvertently triggering an unstoppable growth of Tetsuo’s body
F. Kaneda and the Colonel get engulfed by Tetsuo, but they manage to escape
E. In a burst of light, Akira makes his triumphant return
D. Tetsuo pulls Kaneda into a bright light that’s about to destroy the city
C. In a flashback, Tetsuo takes his first ride on a motorbike
B. We see the backstory of Tetsuo, Kaneda, and the test subjects
A. Neo Tokyo is destroyed in the same type of explosion as at the start of the film
We will now explain in excruciating detail how each of these points matches up perfectly.
A. Tokyo Destruction
The first shot of the film shows an unexplained explosion engulf Tokyo and completely destroy the city. We’re led to believe it was caused by a nuclear bomb. We’re told that the city was rebuilt from rubble into Neo Tokyo over the next three decades. Then we get a glimpse into the crater at the heart of the blast and see the title “Akira” superimposed over it.
The final scene of the film shows a perfectly explained explosion engulf Neo Tokyo and destroy most of the city. We now know both explosions were caused by a test subject named Akira. We see a handful of survivors make their way through the rubble. Then we get a glimpse into the fate of the individual at the heart of the blast as he travels through the stars and says, “I am Tetsuo.”
B. Character Introductions
We’re introduced to a young man named Kaneda and his gang at a bar. They make plans to fight and take down a rival gang known as the Clowns. They show great disrespect to other bar patrons, and they even badmouth one of their own: Tetsuo.
We see the test subjects as children when they first received their powers. They explain their plan to have Akira come and take Tetsuo away. In a flashback, we see that when Kaneda first met Tetsuo, he was very kind to him and showed great respect.
C. Motorbike Ride
During a motorbike fight, Kaneda’s gang outmatches the Clowns. However, Tetsuo falls off his bike trying to turn a hard corner. He then gets left behind by Kaneda and the others. The police come to break up the fight.
During his first ride on a motorbike, Tetsuo is outmatched by Kaneda. Kaneda cuts him off and tells him he needs to improve his cornering, and then he leaves Tetsuo behind. Tetsuo is taken away from his family.
D. No. 26’s Debut and Departure
A revolutionary pulls a test subject (with the number 26 tattooed into his hand) down a dark street as they’re pursued by ferocious dogs. The man shoots the dogs and soon gets caught in a spotlight. He warns No. 26 to get away and tries to fight back, but he’s brutally shot to death.
No. 26 tries to stop Kaneda from getting too close to Tetsuo as he’s being dragged into a bright light, but Kaneda pushes him aside. Tetsuo pulls Kaneda into the light. The other test subjects warn No. 26 not to get too close, but he jumps into the light, and they all decide to risk their lives to save Kaneda.
E. Blinding Light
Deftly controlling his motorbike, Tetsuo kills a Clown. His bright headlight blinds No. 26, who instinctively protects himself by destroying Tetsuo’s bike and gravely wounding the young man.
Unable to control his body, Tetsuo is about to kill the Colonel. But a blinding light appears in front of the test subjects, and Akira comes to save the day, which will destroy most of the city.
F. Lights Shine Down and Up
Beams of light shine down on the ground, signaling the arrival of Army helicopters. No. 26 tries to run away, but he’s stopped by No. 27 who tells him they have to go home. Army men handcuff Kaneda and his gang as the Colonel looks on.
Kaori tries to run away from Tetsuo’s rapidly growing body, but she gets caught inside him and killed. Kaneda also gets trapped inside Tetsuo as the Colonel looks on. Beams of light shoot up from inside Tetsuo’s body, allowing Kaneda to reemerge.
G. Kaneda Intercedes
Kaneda and his gang are being detained, but they manage to convince the authorities they are no threat. As they’re waiting to be released, Kaneda spots Kei, and he grabs her and tells the authorities that she’s part of their gang. A revolutionary man tries to detonate a grenade, but it fails to go off, and the authorities beat him to a pulp.
The Colonel is caught in Tetsuo’s massive arm, but Kaneda frees him by proving to be a greater threat. As Kaneda and Tetsuo are fighting, they all spot the test subjects floating over to their old friend Akira’s remains. A blast from Kaneda’s laser gun hits Tetsuo and inadvertently triggers an unstoppable growth that decimates Tetsuo’s body.
H. Colonel’s Warnings
A politician warns the Colonel about the dangerous situation he’s in. If he’s not careful, he’s going to be ousted politically. The Colonel receives an urgent call from the Doctor about Tetsuo.
The Colonel warns Tetsuo he needs to return to the lab for treatment. If he doesn’t, he could die. The Colonel communicates with the Doctor as the Doctor monitors the situation.
I. Tetsuo’s Comparison to Akira
Tetsuo finds himself in restraints being experimented on in a lab. In his mind, he calls out the name “Akira.” The Colonel and Doctor run a comparison of Tetsuo’s spiritual pattern to Akira’s. They talk about whether or not they can control him.
Kaori finds the remnants of Akira in jars in the Olympic stadium. Then she hears Tetsuo crying out in pain. She asks why he’s being compared to Akira, and he says it doesn’t matter. All the military wanted was a test subject who could destroy things.
J. Assault and Battery
During a loud shouting match in the dean’s office, a member of Kaneda’s gang unwisely jokes that he wasn’t listening. In a fit of rage, the dean’s assistant slaps each gang member. As they walk away, the young men breathe out threats to the man who assaulted them, and they could probably charge him with battery. Some girls comment on their bruises, adding insult to injury.
During a quiet interlude, Kai, the last surviving member of Kaneda’s gang, revs his motorbike connected to the laser gun battery. Suddenly, flames burst out of the bike. As he walks away from the still-burning fire, the young man says Kaneda should use his own bike to charge the battery. Kaneda laughs at Kai’s efforts to put the fire out, adding insult to injury.
K. Tetsuo Finds Refuge
A nurse is horrified to learn that Tetsuo has escaped from his room. Tetsuo runs away from the lab and takes refuge in a girls dormitory where he finds Kaori. He calmly says he doesn’t want to go back and be experimented on anymore, and he invites her to run away with him.
Tetsuo is pleased when he forms a new bionic arm for himself. The Doctor tells the Colonel that Tetsuo has taken refuge at the Olympic stadium. The Colonel angrily reacts to seeing Tetsuo’s pattern (which has become more powerful than before), and he throws the Doctor to the floor and leaves.
L. Saved in the Nick of Time
Tetsuo steals Kaneda’s motorbike and takes off with Kaori. However, he stalls the bike because it’s too powerful for him. Some Clown gang members approach and hurt Tetsuo and Kaori. Before they can light Kaneda’s bike on fire, Kaneda shows up and kicks one Clown as he tries to ram Kaneda.
Kai rides his motorbike past Kaneda with Kei on the seat behind him. They tell Kaneda to jump on, but he tips them over because it’s too small for all three. A beam of light from the SOL satellite rapidly approaches and threatens to kill them. Before that happens, the light disappears because Tetsuo has flown up and disintegrated the satellite.
M. Tetsuo’s Weakness and Power
Tetsuo beats up a Clown until Kaneda tells him to stop. Kaneda notes that it’s Tetsuo’s fault this happened. Tetsuo hates being ordered around and having to be saved by Kaneda. He says that he won’t always be on the receiving end. He staggers away as a blue light emanates from his head, but he doesn’t realize it’s a sign of his powers. He hallucinates the ground crumbling beneath him so that he falls. Then he imagines himself being disemboweled. He is sedated and taken into custody by Army personnel.
Tetsuo gets shot by a beam of light from Kaneda’s laser gun. Kaneda figures out that the battery is drained, so he can’t kill Tetsuo now. Tetsuo taunts him, asking how it feels to be on the receiving end for a change. A blue light shines all around him, and he doesn’t realize it’s a powerful beam coming from the SOL satellite. It eradicates his arm, leaving just a bloody stump. Then he uses his powers to fly up to the satellite in orbit while Kaneda nearly gets crushed by falling debris. The SOL goes out of control and starts shooting wildly.
N. Kaneda’s Attacks
Standing atop a bridge, Kaneda’s gang mocks and looks down on groups of young people. Kaneda sees Kei fleeing an explosion and sneaks away from his friends. Kei goes down into the sewer, and she gets spotted by a couple of officers. Kaneda rescues her by jumping down and hitting one of the officers, who barely misses shooting Kaneda. Kei then shoots the other officer in the face.
Standing atop a pile of rubble, Kaneda mocks Tetsuo and treats him like a kid. Kaneda knocks Tetsuo down a hill with a blast from his laser and then hides from Tetsuo. Kei crawls up out of a crater, and Kaneda spots her. He calls out to her and then jumps down, just avoiding getting hit by an attack from Tetsuo. He then barely misses shooting Tetsuo, throwing a cloud of smoke in his face.
O. Coming Apart
Tetsuo goes back to the lab for more experiments on him. And he dreams of the city crumbling around him and his own body crumbling as Kaneda stands idly by. Tetsuo awakens and inadvertently breaks a light with his newfound powers that the other test subjects have.
Tetsuo gets to the storage facility holding the experiments performed on Akira. Kei actively tries to stop him, but he breaks the structure open to reveal Akira’s dissected body parts. Kei gets shot away from Tetsuo in a burst of light and is knocked unconscious, no longer controlled by the test subjects’ power.
P. Dream Come True
No. 25 tells the Colonel about a dream she had. She predicts the city will crumble and lots of people will die. She warns him not to let Tetsuo go because he’s so powerful.
Her dream begins to come true later. Tetsuo makes a bridge crumble into the sea, killing many people. The Colonel is shocked when he learns how close Tetsuo is to the Olympic stadium.
Q. Selfless and Selfish
The Colonel goes to visit the Akira storage facility to make sure it remains undisturbed. As he waits on an elevator, he remembers a conversation he had with the Doctor about selflessly protecting the city. When they reach the bottom, the Colonel orders his men to open a frozen door so he can look at what remains of Akira.
Ryu goes to visit Mr. Nezu at his home, which is under attack by the Colonel’s forces. As Mr. Nezu flees, he shoots Ryu and selfishly tries to save himself. On the streets, some soldiers in a tank are ordered to fire on Tetsuo, who some people are starting to claim is a reincarnation of Akira.
R. Getting Locked Up and Out of Prison
Kaneda tries to talk to Kei, but she’s not paying attention to him. She’s too busy looking for Ryu. Ryu finally arrives, and one of his men shoves Kaneda into a bathroom and locks the door. Ryu and his gang plan to sneak into the lab where Tetsuo is being held. But Kaneda overhears their plans from an air vent, and he offers to help them.
Kei tries to talk to Kaneda, but he’s not listening too closely to her. She gets controlled by No. 25. The door to their prison cell suddenly unlocks, allowing them to escape. They find Kai, and Kaneda destroys the bike of another gang member Tetsuo killed. The test subjects lure Kei away from Kaneda and plan to use her for their own purposes.
S. All Broken Up
Mr. Nezu and Ryu talk about the usefulness of Kaneda in their mission. They pass by a couple of fornicators without comment. Mr. Nezu points down to a group of demonstrators who get broken up and beaten by police as the screen fades to black.
Tetsuo visits a bar and asks the bartender for capsules. Later, Kai and another gang member are shocked to find the bartender dead. Tetsuo looks down on them and asks about Kaneda’s bike. Then he shoves Kai’s friend down and kills him offscreen.
T. Executive Council
During an executive council meeting, everyone starts to accuse the Colonel of disloyalty. They demand he appear before an inquiry committee. But he just walks out on them while they shout empty threats at him.
As the Colonel walks to a helicopter, the executive council’s enforcers tell him he’s under arrest. They demand the Colonel come quietly. But he has one of his men literally shoot the messenger and then orders every member of the council to be arrested as he boards a helicopter.
U. Tetsuo’s Toys
In his hospital room, Tetsuo sees toys come to life and attack him. His window shatters, and he steps on a broken glass. This frightens the test subjects inhabiting the toys, and they disappear using one of their special powers. Meanwhile, Kaneda, Kei, and Ryu sneak into the lab by persuading the guards to let them in. Tetsuo is shocked when he sees in a vision exactly how to get to the Baby Room where the test subjects are.
In the Baby Room, Tetsuo fights the test subjects and quickly breaks through their toy disguises. He shatters a glass dome containing No. 25. They slow him down, and then they run away in fear. Eventually, he disappears as he learns a new power. Meanwhile, Kaneda and Kei barrel past guards on their flying craft toward Tetsuo. The Colonel is angry when he learns the test subjects telepathically told Tetsuo where Akira is.
V. Breaking and Entering
A doctor hears an alarm and notices that Tetsuo’s hospital room door is open. He and a couple of orderlies go to check on him. Tetsuo brutally kills them with his psychic powers and leaves his room.
Kaneda and Kei overhear on the radio that Tetsuo is approaching the Baby Room. Many soldiers try to stop him with tear gas and guns. He brutally kills them all with his psychic powers and enters the Baby Room.
W. Flying Craft
The turning point comes as Kaneda, Kei, and Ryu sneak into the lab via a sewer. A flying craft appears ahead of them in the distance, and everyone takes cover except for Kaneda, who doesn’t know how to respond. One of the men pushes him into the water where Kaneda is horrified to see a dead rat floating near him. The flying craft leaves without seeing them.
Before they can regroup, another flying craft appears behind them in the sewer. The craft kills one of the men who stays out in the open while the others take cover. Kaneda jumps onto a flying craft, knocking it over into the water, and he uses its gun to shoot another approaching flying craft coming at Kei. He then grabs Kei and the two go flying off together.
A Work of Art
Akira is an incredible work of art. And it’s fitting that it would be perfectly symmetrical. Even the name “AKIRA” looks like a chiasmus. It has:
- An A at the beginning and end.
- An I in the middle.
- A consonant on either side of the I, and K and R look pretty similar, too.
I stand in awe at the beauty of Akira’s achievement. It managed to tell an epic story in a complex manner that beggars belief. Not only that, but Jordan is 4 for 4 in his suggestions of movies that follow a chiastic structure! I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m really impressed by his track record. I thank him for giving me a chance to analyze these movies and find even more to admire about them.
Could I write more Cinematic Chiasmus articles in the future? To quote the characters in Akira, someday we ought to be able to because it has already begun.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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