“Anime”. It’s a word, often associated with oversized eyes, green hair, and teenagers wearing too much eyeliner. Yet, few non-fans realize that anime films have had a profound impact on the cinematic world as a whole. To date, the highest-grossing movie ever produced outside the United States was Spirited Away – an anime staple.
This article is a shortlist of famous Japanese anime movies that altered the world of film. They are artistic hallmarks that no appreciator of Japanese art of culture should go without seeing.
Howl’s Moving Castle. A highly recommended “starting point” for anyone who wishes to explore the anime genre. Based on the classic book by Dianna Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle combines Japanese animation styles with a Western setting. The script follows Sophie – a quiet hat shop worker transformed into an old woman by a jealous witch. This magical event leads her to meet Howl, a solitary wizard living in an enormous, walking hunk of metal he calls a “castle”. At a subtextual level, Howl’s Moving Castle is about the futility of grudges, the logic in forgiveness, and romance that transcends the boundaries of age and appearance. Since it is a more recent film, most Borders retail outlets carry it.
Princess Mononoke. Environmentalism, pacifism, and globalism are the themes that steer what is widely considered to be the magnum opus Hayao Miyazaki. (It should be noted that this legendary director is also responsible for the film adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle.) Princess Mononoke chronicles the plight of an exiled prince, Ashitaka, as he seeks to lift a curse placed on his arm by a boar god. Along the way, he attempts to relieve fevered tension between the animal deities of the forest and the expanding civilization of humans. Princess Mononoke is readily available at most retail DVD stores.
Spirited Away. In 2003, Disney translated this now Oscar-winning film into English. It is yet another work of Hayao Miyazaki, or “Miyazaki-sensai”, as he is affectionately called in interviews. While readily understood by children, Spirited Away offers a complex commentary about the nature of love, choices, and personal responsibility. Its G-rating makes it great for a movie night with kids.
Jungle Emperor Leo (1997). Long after its creator’s death, the Kimba the White Lion t.v. series (1966) was reanimated into a feature-length film entitled Jungle Emperor Leo. The existence of the “Kimba” character caused widespread controversy when Disney’s The Lion King was released. Both the public and industry professionals began accusing Disney of plagiarism, due to the striking similarities between the two storylines. However, while controversy may have garnered Jungle Emperor Leo significant media attention, the film clearly stands on its own. Equipped with a gorgeous soundtrack and a provocative message about the relations between humans and animals, this revival is an animation landmark.
Whether you’re a seasoned “con-goer” or a recent inductee, watching these films will greatly alter your perception of the anime genre as a whole.