One name can sum up the Japanese animation film industry: Miyazaki Hayao.
The man at the head of the Studio Ghibli has directed no less than 34 animes, many of them had a massive success in Japan and abroad.
But What is Anime?
Anime (アニメ) is the Japanese term for animation, which included every animated media. But with the years the word has been used abroad so much to refer to Japanese animation movies that it now refers only to that.
The earliest Japanese animation movies date from the beginning of the 20th century at the same time that cartoons appeared in western countries.
It is strongly associated with manga, the Japanese comic books.
Today, manga and anime are a significant part of Japanese culture and are two major industries that often go hand-to-hand.
Many popular mangas such as Naruto, Sailor Moon, One Piece, Death Note or Dragon Ball have been brought to the screen thanks to animation studios.
The anime industry in Japan consists of more than 400 production studios and was estimated to be worth 1.83 trillion yen (about 12 million pounds) in 2016.
If you are going to Japan, it might be a good idea to get your anime and Japanese pop culture knowledge up to date.
That is why we summed up 10 of the best Japanese anime for you.
The Anime You Should Watch
Castle in the Sky (Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta), Miyazaki Hayao, Ghibli Studios, 1986
First of the many classics Studio Ghibli have produced, it was not until 1989 that the movie was released in the U.K.
At the time Studio Ghibli and the popularity of Japanese anime were not as significant as they are today.
Synopsis: Sheeta, an inhabitant of the city in the skies, escapes a crew of pirates by jumping over their zeppelin. She is caught in extremis by Pazu, an amateur pilot. Together they attempt to flee their ill-intentioned pursuers.
My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro), Miyazaki Hayao, Studio Ghibli, 1988
This other master of Miyazaki was only officially released in Great Britain in 2013, 25 years after Japan.
At the time Europe was still trying to catch up with all the amazing animations movies from Japan it had missed.
Synopsis: a father and two young girls move to the countryside to get closer to the mother who is in hospital. After moving into their new house, the two young girls will discover fantastic creatures: the totoros. These discreet beings spend their time sleeping in between full moons.
The master Miyazaki started from the beginning, to approach critical social themes such as environmentalism in his movies.
In My Neighbor Totoro, the little girls live in harmony with nature and their new fantastic friends.
Graves of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka), Takahata Isao, Studio Ghibli, 1988
Directed by one of the co-founders of the Ghibli Studio, Takahata past away in April 2018.
He leaves behind him a legacy of at least 13 movies.
He directed this movie which was the very first that Studio Ghibli released. The film received terrific critics for the peace message it delivered and the emotional response it triggered with the audience.
Not as commercially successful as My Neighbor Totoro, Graves of the Fireflies is considered as one of the masterpieces of the animation studios.
Synopsis: In 1945, following the bombing of Kobe, Seita and his little sister are now orphans. Rejected by their aunt, the two siblings flee and try to survive in a bunker surrounded by thousands of fireflies.
Akira, Otomo Katsuhiro, Toho Studio, 1988
This is another classic of the Japanese anime industry. The movie is the adaptation of the manga of the same name, and many otakus (anime and manga obsessed people) consider it to be one of the best Japanese animation movies ever.
Because you can easily find the manga books, you can efficiently use Akira to learn to speak Japanese.
Synopsis: Testsu is a young teenager living in the post-apocalyptic city of Neo-Tokyo in 2019. After a motorcycle accident, the young men will acquire incredible telekinetic powers. How will he use his new powers?
Porco Rosso (Kurenai no Buta), Miyazaki Hayao, Studio Ghibli, 1992
One of the rare movies of Miyazaki to have clear historical and geographic settings, it conveys a strong anti-fascist message and is a homage to the early aviators.
Synopsis: Marco, an Italian pilot who fought during World War I, now lives as a bounty hunter, chasing pirates in the sky of the Adriatic Sea. But a mysterious curse has turned him into a pig. He is known to the world as Porco Rosso, the Red Pig.
Ghost in The Shell (Kōkaku Kidōtai Gōsuto In Za Sheru), Oshii Mamoru, Production I.G, 1995
This anime is probably one of the most well known in the U.K., thanks to the 2017 movie starring Scarlett Johanson.
But the original animation movie released in 1997 was an international co-production between Japan and Great Britain.
The animation film was a box office hit at the time of its release probably because of the manga series which already had a huge fan base.
This anime which is considered as one of the best animation movies of all time and inspired famous directors such as James Cameron and the Wachowskis siblings.
Synopsis: In 2029, Kusanagi Motoko, an officer of a public-security force, is on the hunt for a terrorist known as The Puppet Master who recks havoc all over Japan.
How, do you ask, can I watch anime in the original Japanese? Search for Japanese lessons near me.
Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-Hime), Miyazaki Hayao, Studio Ghibli, 1997
This animation movie was a real break-through for Miyazaki and his studio. The DVD and video games that followed the release of the film significantly increased the popularity of Studio Ghibli in Europe and the U.S.
In Japan it was one of the biggest commercial blockbusters, grossing 19.3 billion yen (almost 130 million pounds). It is still number 7 on the list of highest-grossing films in Japan, 20 years after it was released.
Synopsis: During the Muromachi Period of Japan, the giant animals of the forest slowly disappear. A demon is set to attack an Emishi village. The last prince of the Emishi people stops the beast but his right arm his cursed. He now has to leave his homeland to go and find the Great Forest Spirit, the only animal god that can save him.
This anime is an excellent example of Jidaigeki, a Japanese period-drama genre.
Hisaishi Joe was the composer of the soundtrack for this movie (and nearly all Miyazaki movies). The music and lyrics of this anime were particularly well received. Miyazaki even wrote the words of a couple of songs.
Perfect Blue (Pāfekuto Burū), Kon Satoshi, Studio Madhouse, 1997
The movie was released in Great Britain in 1999 and received good critics although it was R-rated, and wasn't as commercially successful as other animes, more accessible to a younger crowd.
This anime deals with serious, sometimes violent themes. The director also left the to spectators to come up with their interpretations of the movie, so do not be surprised if you are left a bit confused at the end of the film.
Synopsis: Mima leaves her J-pop band and accepts a small role in a TV show as she wants to become an actress. Her decision angers a few of her fans. One of them starts to stalk her and publish details of her private life on the Internet while threatening her closed ones.
Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi), Miyazaki Hayao, Studio Ghibli, 2001
This anime is the most significant success of all time in Japan and grossed more than 30 billion yen (200 million pounds).
Inspired by the daughters of his closest friends, Miyazaki wanted to create a character that young girls could look up to and break away from the shojo manga style that usually only deals with romantic situations.
The mains theme of the movie is the transitions from childhood to adulthood which is what happens to the heroine through her journey.
Synopsis: Heading to her new home, Chihiro's family goes through an awkwardly long tunnel. At the end of it, a ghost city appears. When Chihiro's parents eat at a restaurant, they're transformed into pigs. Chihiro will have to face Yubaba, the witch if she wants her parents back.
Wolf Children (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki), Hosoda Mamoru, Studio Chizu, 2012
Hosoda Mamoru started the work on this movie in 2009, and while the production began in 2010, it is only two years later that the film was released.
The director established the Studio Chizu to create his movie and co-produced it with Studio Madhouse (Perfect Blue).
Synopsis: Hana and her two children live a quiet life in Tokyo. But they hide a big secret: they are a werewolf family. When Hana's husband mysteriously disappears, she decides to take her two half werewolf children to the countryside.
Do Not Miss Out
If you are looking to learn or perfect your Japanese language skills anime is the best way to do it. Often aimed at children or young adults, the vocabulary remains simple and easy to assimilate. Although it will probably take you a few years before you can turn off the English subtitles, you will also learn a lot about Japanese (pop) culture.
Today, Netflix offers a decent selection of Japanese popular anime series such as Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist, Cowboy Bebop or Tokyo Ghoul. So no more excusing, get watching!
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