Today, both the rise of on demand services and the growing consumption of Japanese media in the western market, have made anime films more popular.
Taking all this into account, and knowing that there is a lot of cinema to consume and many past works that have been losing popularity over the years, we want to take the opportunity to give a review of the most important anime films that we can find right now in Netflix.
This list should not be taken as final, first because it is not; but it is also that some of the best-known films on the scene have been ignored. Movies like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Porco Rosso, or Howl’s Moving Castle are classic and essential films, but that under the Studio Ghibli seal have achieved such fame that it is more useful to reserve their space for other films that, perhaps today, are not so popular. So with that being said, here are 10 movies that we hope through someone will discover at least a couple of interesting stories.
A Silent Voice – (Naoko Yamada, 2016)
A fairly recent film that delves into the social consequences derived from hearing and language problems, and doing it in an incredibly successful way. The story follows Shôko Nishimiya, an elementary school student who just arrived at a new school. Adding to the usual problems of adaptation to these changes is the fact that our protagonist is deaf.
From its start, the feature film tells us a story that focuses on the empathic incapacity of the human being, on the ability to train this aptitude and on the impact that abuse has on both the victim and the aggressor. An agile and light drama, that entertains and knows how to be funny, making us smile as well as filling our eyes with tears.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – (Mamoru Hosuda, 2006)
Makoto is a typical student from a classic Japanese high school. Her two best friends, Chiaki and Kosuke, are not far from the norm either. The three of them are a nice, healthy little group that is nothing special until Makoto receives the gift of going back in time.
At that moment a fantastic film takes off, with great visual delicacy, a great montage and a balanced rhythm that flirts with the contemplative without ever being slow. Satoko Okudera’s script and Hosuda’s hand earned him the Award for Best Animated Film at the 2006 Sitges Film Festival. One of those stories that little by little catches you and when you realize it, it has already grabbed you by the chest in such a way that it is impossible to get rid of its charm.
Kiki’s Delivery Service – (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)
As we have already said, we are not going to dwell too much on Ghibli, but we will make a couple of stops to take a look at some works that we think are essential and that do not enjoy the fame and recognition of the most awarded works of the production company.
The first is this story produced by Miyazaki at the end of the eighties, a film that is something like a love letter to dignity through work, an issue present in all the author’s stories, which on this occasion becomes the central core of the plot.
The plot follows young Kiki, a 13-year-old witch, who to complete her apprenticeship, as tradition dictates, must leave her home to learn to fend for herself for a year. It’s an honest film that flees from the epic to take refuge in the important things of the day to day. But he does it with pace and with a great capacity to reduce the scale and generate tension through labor problems. There’s humor and a lot of material to reflect on in a film that tells us about the importance of effort, responsibility, honesty and, ultimately, self-sufficiency as a path to personal well-being. It’s an essential family film
Berserk Trilogy: The Golden Age – (Toshiyuki Kubooka, 2012 – 2013)
And we abandon everyday life and magical realism to enter the peculiar way that Berserk has of reinterpreting medieval fantasy. A trilogy of films that cover the arc of the manga called the Golden Age. It tells us about the adventures of Guts, a fierce mercenary who stands out above the rest thanks to his strength and his skill with the sword .
So much so that he draws the attention of Griffith, the leader of the Falcons gang, a group of fighters who are undefeated on the battlefield. After joining the ranks of Griffith, we get to see how the characters use the delicate geopolitical situation to rise in society by making greater sacrifices the higher they rise. There’s an impeccable level of production, spectacular action sequences and all the rawness and brutality that can be expected from the legendary saga. Not suitable for delicate minds.
Ghost in the Shell – (Mamoru Oshii, 1995)
We continue with an absolute classic of Japanese animation and the cyberpunk genre. Mamoru Oshii produced, in the mid-nineties, an exquisite film that contributed to certain constructs that were established for years in anime.
An exercise that does not flee from the complex narrative, the contemplative rhythm, the convoluted plot and deep moral dilemmas. A story about transhumanism and evolution that raises profound philosophical questions while drawing us a dystopia that draws directly from classics like “Blade Runner“. The music composed by Kenji Kawai, who abuses his synthesizers, is the icing on a cake that needs to be savored several times to finish getting the point. Essential for lovers of the genre.
Akira – (Katsuhiro Ōtomo, 1988)
And we go from one classic to another even greater, since Akira is synonymous with the emergence of Japanese anime cinema in the West. A generational film, which laid the foundations for a very particular way of understanding cinema and which is synonymous with what is understood as a cult film.
One of the greatest references of cyberpunk , based on the manga by the same director, Akira places us in the futuristic Neo-Tokyo that Katsuhiro Otomo’s mind created in the late eighties . The story centers on Kaneda, the young leader of a gang of bikers who are dedicated to looting and having fun in their own way. Tetsuo, the protagonist’s best friend, suffers an accident and ends up involved in a dangerous experiment with catastrophic consequences for the mega metropolis. Science fiction, psychic powers, the most charismatic motorcycles ever given by animation and a plot as complex as it is well-knit. A mandatory watch.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya – (Isao Takahata, 2013)
The other great name of Studio Ghibli, which seems to remain hidden from the general public behind the figure of the incontestable Hayao Miyazaki, but who has helped create well-known films as “The Grave of the Fireflies”. We’re talking about Isao Takahata, who for many is their favorite studio director. Takahata surprised locals and strangers in 2013 with this film based on the Japanese folk tale known as “The Bamboo Cutter”.
After a very long production (8 years), the film failed to raise what the producer expected. Numbers aside, we are faced with an exquisite animation exercise. His particular style, with a simple and free line, perfects what was seen in “My Neighbors the Yamadas”, giving the film a beautiful and charismatic aesthetic, which is far from the usual canons. An existentialist parable that tells us about life and the importance of living it without submitting to social pressures, narrated through feudal Japan and the archetypes of social classes of the time.
Pom Poko – (Isao Takahata, 1994)
We continue with Isao Takahata, and this time we go to 1994 to delve into the sensational Pom Poko, a film that directly addresses the wild real estate development that Japan experienced through an adorable raccoon society. The lush forests in which these beings live are about to be razed to build a large urban centres that will completely change the environment.
With this script, as he has done on other occasions, Isao faces adult themes without much condescension, always from a mature position that invites the viewer to contemplate the complexity of the issues that his works deal with. But the director has the ability to wrap those speeches of tenderness and fun thanks to the charismatic raccoons on the audio-visual scene. The protagonists are activists who resort to all kinds of manoeuvres to achieve their ends, with the ethical debates that this implies and the internal wars that it can unleash. A history of failures turned into a constant party that honors playfulness. Weird, sometimes disturbing, cute and wildly funny.
Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997)
And we close with the great Satoshi Kon and Perfect Blue, his debut, a tremendously influential psychological thriller in figures like Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky (who got to acquire the rights to the film to be able to freely inspire it for his “Black Swan”). The script focuses on Mima, a Japanese singer and actress who represents the stereotype of the idol.
The film explores the journey towards social and mental pressure that a meteoric career in show business entails, and the consequences of the fan phenomenon when it crosses the fine line between devotion and bullying. A film that knows how to accompany the viewer through the daily life of the protagonist until placing him at a point of no return governed by anguish, terror and confusion. Powerful, awe-inspiring and wildly intelligent. A film to go to with your eyes closed if you like the complex narrative manoeuvres that directors like those mentioned at the beginning of the description usually articulate.