AKIRA and Buddhist Philosophy

akira-filmIt hasn’t been easy finding time to write on a blog because of family medical issues. Fortunately mine have taken a turn for the better. Recently, in the middle of this process, I actually saw the groundbreaking anime film AKIRA for the first time. I’d heard for years it was “hard to understand” but found myself understanding it very easily… because my mind had been prepared by seeing material with a similar philosophy in the background. This would be Buddhist philosophy. In brief,

  1. The world is really, really messed up. Buddhist thought considers “this transient world” to be a pretty nasty place, and it’s not good for the soul to be too attached to it whether out of greed for money, power, lust, violence, and so forth. In short, the future Tokyo of AKIRA takes everything people saw as vulgar “worldly affairs” in 1980’s Tokyo, cranked it to an Xtreme level (to use a modern cliche) and used these images to demonstrate why salvation is necessary.
  2. We’re not ready to be saved – yet. Our protagonist has the universe hand him incredible psychic powers on a silver platter. Does he stand up for world peace? Eliminate hunger? Save the environment? No, he blows stuff up, kills the people who cross him, kills some of his old friends who annoy him, gets his best friend spending the latter third of the film trying very hard to kill him, and in general demonstrates that handing a little kid a laser cannon is not going to lead to good things.
  3. But anyone can be saved who turns towards the Path. Yet by the end of the film, not through being a better human being like the titular Akira, or a lost soul like one of the stunted growth psi-children, our protagonist Tetsuo loses control, leaves the boundaries of the flesh, and, while his former best friend is saved by an act of mercy by the aforementioned psi-child, Tetsuo, by leaving the shackles of the flesh behind, discovers a greater, more enlightened universe awaiting mankind. Even evildoers who spend a great deal of time off the path can still be saved if they get on the path at the end – if not by their own agency, but rather the acts of others and the whims of the universe. Tetsuo, facing agonizing death, was finally ready for the change, and found it.
  4. There is thus hope for us all. If that bastard can do it, then as the final words of the film suggest, perhaps not so far in the future, we can, too, in spite of, well… humans sucking in general as they are currently constituted.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Humans suck, but there’s still hope for us, we can be saved, we just need shock therapy and to get with the program already. After you’ve watched a few Evangelion movies it’s hard to be shocked by the notion anymore. Besides, this all fits in neatly with left-wing academic thought of long standing, whereby modern progress is destroying Gaea, humanity must radically change to embrace the planet and renounce, if not all modernity, then certainly excessive wealth and production, and just in general, humans need to suck less, cooperate to settle their differences and then… maybe… in spite of our previous unworthiness, we can find Nirvana, perhaps right here on this planet. Or, at least make the vulgar world more livable in the meantime. I don’t necessarily subscribe to all this in a blind smattering of huge, but that’s not the point. The insanity in AKIRA is not a bug; it is a feature of a much older philosophy that shaped Japan through the centuries. If the movie is hard to understand, it’s nothing against the intelligence of the viewer; it’s simply not having been exposed sufficiently to a particular world-view and its accompanying intellectual argument. So yeah, in my case, watching more anime (and reading a little) made me “get” it.

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for Technorati.com and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: [email protected]
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One Response to AKIRA and Buddhist Philosophy

  1. 笑八达 says: