Anime is now more popular then ever, now a mainstream genre in European and American culture. With many classics now making up a chunk of our childhood and evoking nostalgia, great animes are both a narrative and visual pleasure. Here are some of our writers’ favourite anime films.
Hayao Miyazaki’s ingenious soft world-building shines bright in Spirited Away; a film with gorgeous animation and fascinating characters that live in a vibrant and mysterious world. The noticeable lack of firm plot and exposition turns the movie into an experience of wonder and amazement as the viewer never really understands why any given event occurs. The beauty of this method of story telling is that the viewer is left with their own imagination to conjure up an explanation for the events that take place, as Miyazaki gives the viewer just enough information to try and connect the dots in the strange world he presents us with. The story of a girl, lost in a bathhouse made for spirits, trying to find her parents, is one that touches on both the mythical and the blandly human to a great extent. This makes it something that feels both relatable and comfortable to the viewer, whilst also making them feel as lost as the protagonist, Chihiro; allowing the viewer to connect with her on her journey. This simple story in a world of oddities is really what makes Studio Ghibli movies unrivaled at what they do.
Mamoru Hosoda is a director best known for the 2006 hit The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and deservedly so. But just three years later came Summer Wars, releasing in 2009 as the subsequent film in Hosoda’s catalogue. It’s a film that still goes overlooked, raking in a modest $18 million worldwide (meagre in comparison to Girl, or the later and also very good The Boy and the Beast) and seemingly avoiding the journey to being some kind of unsung cult classic for the director’s well-liked filmography.
It’s a frankly ridiculous hodgepodge of devices, mixing the concept of WarGames with a millennial overhaul of Tron, the family drama of Captain Fantastic, and a final “action” sequence that resembles some kind of demented play on Yu-Gi-Oh!. The glue that holds together these already well-amalgamated constituents is an electrifying score from Akihiko Matsumoto, who moves through glitchy hi-hats, ticking electronics, Head Hunters-esque panpipes and bouncy orchestral overtures which would make even John Williams drool to beautifully unite the odd collection of concepts and ideas of the film. It is a thrilling, confident and exceptionally underrated set of compositions. Above all, the film is an infectious amount of fun, with just the right amount of we-know-this-is-ridiculous humour, exciting spectacle and poignant drama to send its sleek animation and fusion of concept to great heights.
The Wind Rises
The Wind Rises, intended to be Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial swansong, is proof that the anime medium can be just as aimed at adults as it can at children. A nuanced biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the famed Japanese aircraft designer, Miyazaki’s layers the story with anti-war sentiment and a critique of the weaponisation of beautiful inventions. Containing the stunning animation one would expect from Studio Ghibli, the 2013 film features numerous poetic sequences whilst also serving as a pretty thorough lesson in the art of aviation.
Horikoshi was one of the best Japanese inventors; his greatest triumph being the ‘Zero’ plane which fused long-range with speed and manoeuvrability. But the success of this creation is tarnished by the shadows of World War II, which creeps up on Horikoshi and his family and forces his peaceful aviation passion to be used for death and destruction as his planes are sent to battle. This corruption of purity aligns with much of Miyazaki’s work, yet it is the fascinating true story of The Wind Rises that makes it the most potent of the director’s films, as his disdain for war comes into conflict with his respect for the Zero plane, and its inventor.
Howl’s Moving Castle
If you’re a Studio Ghibli fan, or an anime fan, or even really just a fan of film in general, you’ve definitely heard of the masterpiece that is Howl’s Moving Castle. Made by the aforementioned studio, and often regarded as its magnum opus alongside Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro, it’s a magical, twisted and fantastic tale that follows a disgruntled and cursed hat-maker, a sarcastic fire demon, near senile old witch, young enthusiastic apprentice and one very overdramatic (yet charming) wizard by the name of Howl, as they travel in, you guessed it, a moving, mechanical castle.
Howl is a staple classic for many film fans, and this isn’t just due to it’s gorgeous animation and set and character design. The story itself is heartwarming and breathtakingly original, taking you down twists and turns that you never would expect, whilst still retaining a whimsical and sweet charm. Characters such as Calcifer, Sophie, Howl and even Turniphead, a resident sentient scarecrow, stick with you even after the film is over due to the brilliance of their writing. The film itself is so iconic that figures within it, like the aforementioned Turniphead, have become staple iconography in wider popular culture.
If you haven’t seen Howl’s Moving Castle, you’re missing out on 119 minutes of pure, whimsical fun, with a dash of dark fantasy and wit thrown in for good measure. Do yourself a favour and go give it a watch.
Wolf Children tells the story of single mother, Hana, as she struggles in contemporary Japan to raise her two children, Ame and Yuki, who can willingly transform into wolves. From the metropolis of Tokyo to the secluded countryside, the film depicts Hana and her children’s lives through several years as new challenges emerge against the unusual family.
As the thematic culmination of Hosoda’s previous works (‘The Girl Who Leaped Through Time’ and ‘Summer Wars’), Hosoda brings his a-game combining family melo-drama with realistic turmoil. The characters are instantly relatable and engrossing leading to momentous highs and crushing lows as the two children grow, develop and change. The film is also stunning, adorned with imagery of wolves bounding through snowy mountains, winding lanes and oppressive neon-tinged skies.
‘Wolf Children’ feels like Hosoda’s final statement on the nature of family and his directorial style resonates throughout the film. Whenever I sit and watch ‘Wolf Children’, I feel as if I have been invited to watch the lives of a dysfunctional family, that imbues the screen with a warmth most films cannot hope to achieve. It is Hosoda at his best and will have you clambering for him to receive the mainstream recognition reserved for Shinkai and Miyazaki.