Animation is an essential part of the acclaimed design and graphic arts of Japanese culture. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Anime feature films began to be more widely known and recognized all over the world. Studios and directors take the task of telling a story through moving images quite seriously in a way that is different to the popular anime TV series. The creation of studios such as Ghibli, where geniuses like Hayao Miyazaki or Satoshi Kon have brought forth some of the best films in the history of this art form, have subsequently made this particular genre highly popular.
Here are the ten most lauded Japanese animated films:
Spirited Away (2001) – Hayao Miyazaki
Young Chihiro is a ten-year-old girl that goes on a journey with her parents to a new city. While their car crosses a tunnel through the forest, they find themselves in a world they never knew existed. Chihiro must conquer her greatest fears and learn about friendship in order to save her parents.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) – Isao Takahata
An elderly couple finds a young orphan amidst bamboo plants and chooses to raise her as their own. Based on the legend of the bamboo cutter, the girl soon grows into a woman that faces a life full of contradictions. The beautiful visuals and sequences of the Japanese countryside wowed critics who were quick to name this a work of art.
Paprika (2006) – Satoshi Kon
In this dreamlike journey through the subconscious and the deepest desires, a psychiatrist creates a machine to get in the minds of his patients and pinpoint their problems. After a prototype is stolen from the lab, a pressing matter comes up regarding the risk of someone entering the minds of other people to destroy their memories and identities.
The Wind Rises (2013) – Hayao Miyazaki
Jiro Horikoshi is a free spirited and creative young man living at the start of the twentieth century with dreams of becoming a pilot. However his physical limitations keep him from fulfilling his dreams. This takes Jiro to become a great engineer and create aircrafts that are then used for violent ends. Miyazaki’s most autobiographical film, it tells the story of true historic moments, such as the great depression, the great earthquake of Kanto, and, of course, the Second World War.
Princess Mononoke (1997) – Hayao Miyazaki
This film centers around a powerful message regarding the harm society inflicts on natural resources, as well as the destruction made in the name of industry. Ashitaka goes on a journey to cure a wound caused by an encounter with a god turned demon. Throughout his adventure, he’ll discover the fierce battle between the gods of nature and the men who attempt to destroy the forest.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001) – Shinichiro Watanabe
The film based on Watanabe’s successful series deals with the most human subjects through a futuristic perspective in order to present society’s greatest problems: inequality, poverty, class warfare, and racism. In this occasion, a potentially mortal virus spreads across Mars and the Bebop team must find who is responsible. This is not just any other case since the enemy is greater than what they expect.
Millenium Actress (2001) – Satoshi Kon
Unlike Satoshi’s tendency to delve into stories on consciousness and dreams, the story of Chiyoko Fujiwara focuses on the complexity of the human condition. An actress at the end of her career recalls the most important moments in her life, career, and the eternal search for a love that never came to be.
Metropolis (2001) – Rintaro
Metropolis is the most glorious city the world has ever seen. It’s a triumph of modernity, technology, and human progress. Robots have evolved, and the separation between social classes is even greater. Two detectives search for one scientist’s latest creation: a beautiful girl called Tima. What their investigation will uncover will be greater than the entire splendor that the citizens have in their city.
Wolf Children (2012) – Mamoru Hosoda
Hana falls in love with a werewolf and, despite their differences, they start a beautiful family with their two children, Yuki and Ame. A tragic event will forever change the life of the happy couple, as Hana is faced with one of the most important decisions in her life. Meanwhile Yuki and Ame struggle to come to terms with their true nature amidst the world of men and the countryside.
Tekkonkinkreet (2006) – Michael Arias
Treasure Town is the home of Kuro and Shiro, two orphans trying to survive in a difficult setting until a Yakuza group takes over their city, giving their lives’ a complete turn. The master of special effects enters the world of anime with an incredibly imaginative film based on the Manga of the same name.
These films are loaded with deep and varied themes on the human condition, such as love in all of its representations, the environment, and man’s relationship with nature, including historical events such as The Great Depression and the World Wars. This art form proves it has a humane yet enchanting complexity that portrays culture and local traditions while keeping itself above any animation supplied by Hollywood.
Translated by María Suárez