Gianluca Costantini
Reality / To travel

AKIRA, The Architecture of Neo Tokyo

Museum for Architectural Drawing, Berlin

Cut no. 182. A back alley with pubs, snacks and ramen shops. This production background was used to depict the first-person perspective of a wounded man staggering down the street. He has been hit by a bullet and is suffering from loss of blood; his vision is therefore blurred as he tries to comprehend the environment. The camera moves quickly across the large tableau. A blur effect was created by using multiple exposures during the photographic process.

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

Since its release in 1988 AKIRA was almost solely responsible for the boom in Japanese animation (anime) among an international audience during 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.

59 original production backgrounds, layout drawings, concept designs and imageboards which had been used to create Neo Tokyo in the animated feature will be on display. Exclusive access to the studio archives of the artists involved in AKIRA’s production allows the presentation of artworks that have never been presented in an exhibition before. 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 Ōno, Hajime Soga, Tsutomu Uchida and Takashi Watabe.

Tchoban Foundation. Museum for Architectural Drawing sees its mission in promoting the world of architectural drawing to a broader audience. Works of famous architects such as Peter Cook, Thom Mayne, Alvaro Siza or Lebbeus Woods have been shown in profound exhibitions at the museum in Berlin. In 2019 the exhibition German Film Architecture1918–1933 introduced the original concept designs for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and the Nibelungen (1927), Paul Wegener’s Golem How He Came into the World (1920) and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) by Robert Wiene. In 2021 the museum presented original designs by Mark Fisher (1947–2013) for famous entertainment shows and rock concerts. AKIRA – The Architecture of Neo Tokyo will continue this line of programming.

The exhibition is curated by Stefan Riekeles, head of Riekeles Gallery, in collaboration with the museum’s director Nadejda Bartels and co-curated by Hiroko Myokam of Eizo Workshop (Japan).

The accompanying book to the exhibition Anime Architecture  Imagined Worlds and Endless Megacities by Stefan Riekeles was published by Thames & Hudson in 2020.

Artists’ workplaces

The technologically advanced future presented in AKIRA was created mainly by the traditional means of pencil, paint and paper. Computer graphics were employed in only a few cuts.

Although nowadays a younger genexation uses computer animation in all areas of production, the most important tools for the creators featured in this exhibition were still the layout table, paper, pencil and paintbrush. These photographs were taken in the studios of Toshiharu Mizutani and Hiroshi Ohno in December 2021.

Hiroshi Ohno was born in 1952 in Aichi Prefecture and joined Kobayashi Production in 1977. In 1982 he debuted as the art director for the anime series Tonde Mon Pe.

In 1983, he joined the newly set up Studio Fuga with his colleague Hiromasa Ogura. In 1988, Ohno started working with Mizutani on the artwork of AKIRA, but then received a call from Studio Ghibli inviting him to become the art director for Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), an offer he felt he could not turn down. Ohno left AKIRA midway through production. Since 1997, when

Mizutani left Studio Fuga, Ohno has been running the

company as its director. Ohno directed the artwork for Hiroyuki Okiura’s A Letter to Momo (2011) and Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children (2012). In 2015 he was responsible for the artwork of the award-winning Miss Hokusai, directed by Keiichi Hara (Annecy Jury Award). A selection of his artworks has been published in his book Ohno Hiroshi Background Art (Tokyo: Kosaido, 2013).

Cut no. 1489, Toshiharu Mizutani, Production background
Cut no. 1496, Toshiharu Mizutani, Production background

Toshiharu Mizutani served as the art direc tor for AKIRA. Like many of his colleagues, he started his career in the anime industry at Kobayashi Production, which he joined in 1972.

Founded in 1968 by Shichiro Kobayashi, the company specialized in the production of background art for animation until its closure in 2011. A great number of art directors learned their profession under the supervision and guidance of Kobayashi, who was a leading figure in the industry.

In 1979, Mizutani worked in the art department for Hayao Miyazaki’s Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. He served as one of the art directors for Osamu Dezaki’s Space Adventure Cobra (1982), with Shinji Kimura as a member of his team. In 1983, he left Kobayashi to establish Studio Fuga with Yumiko Ohno, the wife of Hiroshi Ohno. Hiroshi Ohno and Hiromasa Ogura joined the studio soon after. From 1983 to 1997 he was the studio’s director. Dur ing that period, he served as the art director for Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA (1988). In 1997, Mizutani left Studio Fuga and established his own studio, Moon Flower, which he still runs today.

Germany / Japan