Seeing Red

The sci-fic genre is frequently lauded for their extraordinary prescience and its ability to predict technological inventions. Standout analogies abound: the iPad’s resemblance to the flatscreen tablets in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey; Amazon’s Alexa to PAT or Personal Automated Technology, the perky and feminine smart home system in Disney’s 1999 film Smart House; and the recent dissolution of gender binary to fluid gender identities of planet Gethen’s inhabitants in Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness.

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Many of these works are set in what was then the distant future, a bold, abstract vision which, for viewers and readers today, is a strangely and unsettling present. Adapted from the original 1982 manga, Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 animation Akira, is one such example. Set in 2019, the film takes place in post-WWIII Neo Tokyo. It is considered a seminal piece of work of both the sci-fi and anime genres, in part for its groundbreaking animation, but also for its uncanny depiction of the present. The film’s portrayal of street protests and forecast of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are all too familiar. Other themes, such as military failure, the rise of a corrupt, self-interested government and the disintegration of humanity are equally eerie. But it is the use of colour to flesh out character development that is particularly arresting.

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Take the character Tetsuo Shima, for example. A member of The Capsules, a youth biker gang, Shima is portrayed as less experienced and helpless at the start of the film. Attired in a grey-green ensemble, he leaves a lacklustre impression, a point that is further reinforced in a scene where he blends into the dismal horizon of the night sky whilst riding his motorbike of the same colour.

But upon discovering his newfound superhuman psychic abilities, Shima graduates from his nondescript ensemble to wearing a red cape, crudely torn from a mannequin of a devastated shopfront, which he repurposes as a symbol of his newfound power and liberation.

In Akira, as in many other films, clothes, especially in bold colours, often act as a visual and personal tool to affirm a character’s stance. In particular, clothes of a certain colour, like red, black, and most recently, high-vis yellow, have and continue to be associated with personality traits that seek to challenge the status quo and affirm a degree of autonomy. In this season of red, it is, perhaps, timely to stand up and standout.



Proenza Schouler

Emporio Armani and Armani Exchange



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