The mix of harsh reality with the tantalizing world of fantasy, following the lives of seemingly ordinary people — school, homework, playtime, curfews — who have an alternative side that makes them somehow special, whether by psionic talent or friends who are rather different (robots from the future, or aliens from other worlds), allowing the readers/viewers to sympathize with the characters, and yet escape from bland, normal daily life to a dreamland that is far different…
Once completely unknown to the world outside Japan, Manga (Japanese comics) and Anime (Japanese animation) have become a global phenomenon with their popularity growing every day. A picture may be worth a thousand words or at times, words may convey what art cannot; but together they form an unbeatable alliance. And, even in the absence of computer graphics, Anime has been outperforming the seemingly impossible, in the most inexpensive way. Art requires a plot to make a story come alive.
So how does architecture help tell a story?
Dystopian society of Akira
One of the most important aspects of storytelling is knowing how to use a backdrop. The location is where the stories unfold, which means it’s important to see how they affect and are affected by the characters who interact with them. A great way to define the atmosphere of a setting is through architecture.
Within the world of animation and the subculture of anime, Akira and Ghost in the Shell stand apart till date. Released in the late 1980s, both animated films features dystopian cyberpunk themes filtered through the Japanese lens of manga comics. Much like the proto-cyberpunk film Blade Runner and comic The Incal, Akira and Ghost in the Shell influenced a new generation of manga comics and films, while introducing a particularly distinct type of urban architecture in the process.
Futuristic vast landscape with flashy motorbikes.
Akira takes place in the year 2019, focusing on a bike gang leader giving his all to save his friend from a secret government project. The character animation in the movie is already top-notch. In addition, the film features architecture as much a character as any of the people that populate it. Architecture can express what mountains of expository dialogue can’t. We get an idea of the state of the setting with the various places shown in the movie and the various states of disrepair that then convey the feelings of the characters.
The design is also not too futuristic as to make no sense for the way it influences the characters. Every frame is interestingly integrated and lit to help tell the story. Everything about the architecture in the movie is designed by the art director Toshiharu Mizutani aiding the narrative. The shots in the movie are predominantly from the ground level with the distant skyscrapers adorning the background, depicting the disconnection between the characters we follow and the affluent people we never see, against whom they are fighting. Unveiling this distance visually by presenting the contrasting worlds of the characters and the affluent worked perfectly.
Concept Art, Pre-production Illustration of Ghost In the Shell
Visual impact of Ghost In the Shell – Post-production
Ghost In The Shell takes place in the year 2025, in a world at war between mind-hackers and the authorities. At the time, it was the most expensive anime movie ever made, with a budget of $10 million. Its intricate plot along with some of the most sumptuous, no-expenses-spared visuals ever produced made this film highly influential. The space of the film is not a simple backdrop: it is a fully realized, tangible world, at once achingly beautiful and claustrophobic, oppressive and liberating, dreamlike and absolutely concrete.
Concept art and Post – production backdrop from Ghost In the shell (notice the background depth and detail in portraying the city)
The film’s architecture – a mix of dusty, steroid-pumped brutalism by day, and rain-drenched neon by night – was inspired by the real-life spaces in Tokyo and Hong Kong, including the Kowloon Walled City. While the featured ‘old city’ was the result of the black and white shots of the actual locations, the ‘new city’ was invented and constructed by Takashi Watabe, the architect of the set. Another fascinating feature is that the images used are layered having an actual background, middle ground and foreground (sometimes even more) giving a profound depth. The futuristic urban sprawl was perhaps the least fictional aspect of the film. The future is, after all, already here.