I don’t need an excuse to think about the “Back to the Future” films, but on 21st October 2015, everybody had one – we finally reached the day when Marty McFly arrived in his own future, to stop his son from being sent to prison. Every detail was pored over: from flying cars, drones and flat-screen televisions to hands-free computer games, hoverboards, and paying for items using your fingerprints. However, all the misses were also scrutinised: continued use of fax machines, hydrated food, self-drying jackets, and nineteen Jaws films. The makers of the film disliked films that tried to predict the future, but they knew they must have flying cars in their own. Time travel itself appears to have been a moot point.
Having reached 2019, it is now time to break out my copies of “Blade Runner” and “Akira,” both films set “this year,” not to compare with real life, or to compare with each other, but because a coincidence of their settings have made them timely. I am opposed to running any type of granular, futurological analysis of these films – that sort of scrutiny is reserved for Steven Spielberg’s version of “Minority Report,” which employed a think tank of futurologists, or “2001: A Space Odyssey,” with its script written by Arthur C. Clarke. Furthermore, any futuristic elements to artistic works like “Blade Runner” or “Akira” only exist to serve the story they have been made to tell.
What resonated for me is how current preoccupations turn out to be constant. Both films feature issues of identity mixed into resistance against established order, be they Replicants or members of teenage street gangs. The nature of the human body, and what it means to be human, is put under stress, and must be adapted to survive. Both films are set in concrete jungles, washed in neon and advertising, but while what hangs over the city of “Blade Runner” is the broken weather system caused by climate change, in the world of “Akira,” it is the history of nuclear warfare: the original manga, begun in 1982, imagine a third world war, and a nuclear blast on Tokyo, as imminent, given the Cold War climate and Japan’s proximity to the Soviet Union. Terrorism, however, remains as much of a threat as it ever was.
Watching these films today, it is clear they build their worlds extremely well: the background against which the stories of “Blade Runner” and “Akira” are told are entirely believable because they are evocative of our own. It also helps that Jean Giraud, the comic book artist also known as "Moebius," was counted as an influence when both films were made. Of course, you will also see company logos advertised everywhere, because we have them now: Kaneda’s motorcycle in “Akira” is emblazoned with logos for Citizen and Canon, while the now-anachronistic presence of Atari and Pan Am in “Blade Runner” has probably helped the longevity of those brands, Atari having passed through several hands, and Pan Am now being used as the name for an American regional train company.
The year 2019 is remarkable in having been used as a future year by two big films, but it comes as a result of picking a date one or two generations ahead of where you stand. However, if you choose a year to set your story, stick with it, and don’t change it if it didn’t work out. Philip K. Dick’s original story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was published in 1968, and set in 1992, but while it is clear that when it was filmed as “Blade Runner,” made in 1982, a sensible decision was made to set their story further away, later editions of Dick’s novel moved its year further back to 2021. Perhaps John Carpenter should change all the references to 1997 he made in “Escape to New York.”
I can understand why “Akira” had to be set in 2019, as a major part of the plot is it is set one year before Neo-Tokyo is due to host the XXXII Summer Olympic Games... I don’t know if that was why the city subsequently made, and won, a bid in 2013 to host that very games, but with both the manga and film being featured in marketing for the games, expect nostalgia for “Akira” to make it more prescient as time goes on.
|[Olympic building site, Tokyo]|