As you’d probably expect from my Blog title, I’m a big movie guy, and I love a verity of films ranging from musicals, to action, to comedy, to horror, to animation, etc. However, some things take longer for me to discover then others, case in point ... Japanese Anime. At first I had no interest in it, and for years paid no attention to any animated movies from Japan. However, as a man who loves movies, I occasionally like to explore and see new things. Once I started to watch some Japanese Anime movies and TV shows, I was instantly hooked. There is an art and style to Japanese animation that’s all its own, and very inspiring. In fact, many American film makers have been deeply influenced by Anime movies and shows. Over the years, I’ve actually begun to respect Japanese Anime as “on par” and in many cases even superior to American animation.
I love that Japanese animation is very traditional, with little to no computer effects, mostly hand drawn and sensational to behold. It’s about time I post a list of my personal favorite Anime movies. TV shows like “Cowboy Bebop” and “Attack on Titan” would have to be mentioned on a different list. Also, this is a list of my own personal favorite Japanese Anime movies, it will include some lesser known films, some movies based on TV shows I grew up with, and less of the popular ones that usually populate most greatest Anime movies lists, so don’t have a heart attack if I don’t include such popular animated titles like “Akira” or “Spirited Away”. Agree or disagree, these are my personal top 10 favorite Japanese Anime movies I’ve seen.
#10 Perfect Blue (1997)
From the late great director Satoshi Kon, comes a gripping psychological thriller that’s on par with
The film follows a girl named Mima, who was a Japanese pop idol, but retired from music to pursue an acting career. In an effort to separate her new life from her old one, she takes on some risky and disturbing roles that she would have never done in the past. As she goes deeper and deeper into her first film role, she starts to lose her perception of what is real in her life and what is fiction. Soon, several murders are committed, involving people that Mima is close to, and a mysterious fan boy begins stalking her, suggesting that maybe he’s the killer, or is it much deeper than that? The film is brilliantly shot, putting us right in Mima’s mind set as we too are wondering what’s a dream, what’s on stage and what’s real. This film was highly influential for such films as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan”, and it’s really cool to see the similarities. Be warned, “Perfect Blue” is not a film for the faint of heart, as it contains some really disturbing imagery, and tense psychological themes. As for me, I was captivated from beginning to end, the mystery intrigued me, I admired how stylish the direction was, albeit over stylized at times, but still captivating. It’s a very trippy thriller, with a twist ending that leaves an impact, and in my opinion it’s one of director Satoshi Kon’s best films.
#9 The Wind Rises (2014)
Director Hayao Miyazaki is often regarded as the Walt Disney of Anime directors, but personally, that’s not giving him enough credit.
In my opinion, he should go down in history as one of the greatest filmmakers on planet earth. He knows how to write and direct near flawless films. His 2014 movie titled “The Wind Rises” is his final film project and a beautifully fitting swan song for the acclaimed director. This is the most down to earth of his films as it’s based on a true story, and takes place during World War 2. The focus is on an aviation architect who dreams of building and designing plains. He doesn’t have any political interests, he just wants to build air craft’s that will be of benefit for mankind, not just one country. Sadly his inventions are used as destructive weapons, showing just how costly someone’s ambitious dreams can be, even if it was well intended. It’s a very straight forward story about following your dreams, but it’s done very well as it addresses both the struggles and costs that may inevitably come from one’s vision. It’s a genuinely inspiring film and even a touch relatable. When you have a dream as a child, grow older maintaining that dream and envisioning it as you go about your daily life ... you start to see your dream present in other things. There’s also a love story going on that’s equally beautiful, and quiet dramatic. While the movie has some noticeable passing issues, it compensates with some breathtaking visuals, and a touching story that demonstrates the impact of one man’s ambition. The film runs the whole gambit of emotions as it follows this dreamer over 10 years of his life, and in the end, its quiet the journey to experience.
#8 The Girl who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Ever have one of those days where nothing went right, and you just wish you could do it all over again?
Well, that’s the common problem for a young girl named Makoto, who just needs more time to get things done right. Luck would have it that one day she comes into contact with a tiny device that allows her to go back in time whenever she wants to, and where ever she wants to. Now with all the time in the world on her side, she does whatever she wants to, like fixing little mistakes, study longer for tests, spend more time with friends, and just has fun with herself. However, there’s a small price that comes with her time traveling, and that’s an unintentional side effect it leaves on the other people around her. As the drama unfolds, we see a change in her, and how she utilizes her time travel. It all builds to a beautifully bitter sweet ending that’s among my favorites I’ve ever seen from a Japanese Anime. This movie is everything a good coming of age film should be, it’s funny, thoughtful, touching, adventurous, dramatic and wildly inventive, with one of the most highly effective visual designs that I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the most original time travel concepts I’ve ever seen, and I love that the film takes full advantage of how fun, yet tense the experience can be. If you have some free “time” on your hands, definitely check this one out.
#7 is going to be a tie between two films,
7 (A) Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie 2 - The Sealed Card (2000)
7 (B) Pokémon: The Movie 2000 (1999)
Both these films are adapted from Anime shows I grew up watching, and they make my list out of pure nostalgia. Cardcaptors and Pokémon were the two shows that introduced me to Japanese Anime in the first place, and the whole reason I took interest in seeing films like “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke”. I can’t make a persuasive argument that either of these movies are “good” exactly, but there still very special in their own way, and I just couldn’t imagine keeping either one of my list.
“Cardcaptors” in particular is very special to me as it was the very first Anime I watched in its original Japanese language. The show revolved around an everyday girl named Sakura who’d occasionally have to protect her home town from magical oddities that had a tendency to disrupt her peaceful life. The movie “Cardcaptor 2 - The Sealed Card” was the shows swan song, and a more then satisfying conclusion to the series. Rather than close this fantasy adventure saga with a big spectacle, it’s a very subdued, quiet and peaceful epilogue that brings closure to Sakura’s journey, both magically and on a very relatable level. I can see how some viewers may regard this film as boring, but I love these characters, I enjoy spending time with them during their everyday life style, and it’s great to see Sakura finally get together with the boy she loves most. There’s also a decent magical mystery that’s slowly being unraveled, and leads to a climax that’s both thrilling and quiet touching in its own way. The animation is wonderful, the atmosphere is just as magical as ever, and when the film ends, it just leaves me with those warm nostalgic “feels”.
Pokémon by contrast was never as special, but it was still a part of my late 90’s childhood, and the film I remember watching the most was their second movie, also known in Japan as “Pokemon: The Power of One”.
This is the only time in which I felt an honest effort from the creators to make a legit movie, as opposed to another episode with a slightly bigger budget. It’s more of a quest based film, as the characters from the show find themselves on a journey to collect magical objects from various islands. When all the pieces are united, it will save the world from an imbalance in nature, which is threatening to flood the planet. The stakes are higher, it’s fast passed, and there are some great animation highlights. The characters from the show are still boring, but thankfully there are some interesting new characters that balance things out. Plus, after all these years I’ve never forgotten the films instrumental music track, which is honestly quiet breathtaking to listen to. The main “Power of One” theme song performed by the late Donna Summer is also a firkin great song that really gets to me every time I hear it. Like I said, I wouldn’t recommend either “Pokemon: The Movie 2000” or “Cardcaptor 2 - The Sealed Card” to anyone not familiar with the source material, and nostalgia aside, I know they’re not great movies by any means. However, both are harmlessly derivative Anime adventures, and memorable little trinkets from my child hood.
#6 Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
Arguably the most delightful and simplistic of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated treasures is “Kiki’s Delivery Service”.
I’ve always felt that this film is to studio GHIBLI what “The Little Mermaid” was for Disney. This is the movie that actually introduced me to Hayao Miyazaki, and I’ve been a fan ever sense. The film revolves around a young teenage witch leaving home to make a life for herself, and fate leads her to a small town where she becomes a delivery girl for a bakery. From there on, it’s just the life and times of this young girl, the people she meets and all the little adventures she has along the way. This could have been a very boring premise, but thanks to its lead heroin and cheerful overtone, it’s one of the most charming experiences I’ve had. Kiki is just so genuine and delightful that I just love following her on her journey. There’s something about watching a person just live their life that makes the experience feel very down to earth, just with a little magic thrown it. In Disney’s English dub version, Kiki is voiced by Kirsten Dunst and she just hit’s it out of the park by bringing the character to life with a personality that’s both young and sweet, but also grown up and mature. What can I say, with a lovable lead heroin, a light as air story and some truly gorgeous animation, “Kiki's Delivery Service” is a great film for the young and young at heart.
#5 Patema Inverted (2014)
How does one describe “Patema Inverted” without sounding crazy? Well, I’ll start by saying that it’s arguably one of the trippy-est and most original movies I’ve ever experienced.
The story revolves around a princess named Patema who comes from an underground world, but wishes to explore, and see what lies beyond. Her search leads her to the surface world, where all of gravity is reversed, and even the society is backwards. With her world literally turned upside down, our princess meets a young boy who actually has quiet a lot in common with her, despite coming from opposite grounds. Both are explorers, both dream of seeing the larger world, and both happen to be orphans. Together they form a strong friendship, get into several crazy situations, and aim to bridge their opposing societies together. It’s an ingenious concept that combines a wild upside down world with a social allegory, and it’s just so creative with its unique setting. It’s all about seeing things from a different perspective, which is so creatively conveyed by our characters. Sense we have people walking on opposite sides of gravity, it allows the animators to get really creative with lots of cool angles, neat shots, and some visually arresting imagery. The characters are standard, but genuinely likable, and they share some really nice scenes. More than anything, “Patema Inverted” is a film that takes familiar story elements, but combines them with lots of imagination, making this a unique and extremely entertaining experience.
#4 Tales from Earthsea (2006)
Once again from Studio GHIBLI comes the 2006 Fantasy Anime picture “Tales from Earthsea”, which is based on the book series of the same name.
When a young prince named Arren murders his father, he soon realizes that he must battle the dark side of his very soul, because deep down he truly loved his father, and apparently had no control over his own actions. Prince Arren teams up with a mysterious wizard named Sparrow Hawk who vows to help our hero concur his demons before he can concur his enemies. Along the journey they encounter Dragons, an evil wizard, and a young woman with a burned face … yet she’s actually more beautiful than any stereotypical princess. I’ve always loved old school sword and sorcery films, and to see one come to life in the beauty of a Japanese Anime make this a personal gem of mine. More importantly, this is the kind of fantasy movie that Hollywood needs to make more of, because it doesn’t focus on big battles or over blown spectacles. This film is all about these interesting characters, and this mystical world that’s just dripping with atmosphere. The music only adds to the cob wonder that the setting creates, the animation is sensational, and there’s this subtle laid back tone that allows you to be fully submersed in this magical world. It has the buildup and high stakes of a fantasy epic, but it also has deep topics on the importance of life, and just makes the film feel like something special.
#3 Castle in the Sky (1986)
Of all Hayao Miyazaki's classic Anime, I think “Castle in the Sky” is the most thoroughly entertaining by far.
The movie begins with a young princess descending from the heavens with a magical crystal around her neck, and she lands in a small town full of miners. She’s discovered by a young boy who’s an explorer, and hopes to find a mysterious island floating in the sky. It’s soon revealed that the young Princess is in fact a descendent from the very kingdom on the floating island, and through a series of events, the two find themselves embarking on a journey to find this mystical land. Along the way they encounter air pirates, giant robots, and armored soldiers. Much like “The Adventures of Tintin”, “Castle in the Sky” is a strait forward action adventure that both kids and adults can enjoy. While it doesn’t have the emotional highlights of other Miyazaki films, it absolutely shines with creativity, imagination and an intriguing fantasy mythos. The setting of the floating castle in the sky is one of the most spectacular locations I think I’ve ever seen in a motion picture. The design is unique, the art work is stealer and it just creates this strong other worldly atmosphere. The film is also blessed with a very talented voice cast, including Anna Paquin as the voice of the young princess, Cloris Leachman as the high-spirited air pirate, and of course Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame as the voice of the main villain. Oh Mark Hamill, he’s always awesome voicing animated villains, and this is one of his most deliciously evil performances. With its fast pace, memorable characters, and imaginative setting, “Castle in the Sky” is simply a high spirited adventure flick, on par with any classic Indiana Jones film, and worth checking out.
#2 Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Naturally I’ve included a couple of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic movies on my list, and there are still so many other good ones that I just couldn’t fit in, but here it is at last, in my personal opinion the greatest of Miyazaki’s films by far is “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”.
I know most fans would say that either “Spirited Away” or “Princess Mononoke” are his greatest achievements, but neither of those films left the same impact on me that “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” did. This was only Miyazaki’s second film, and the amount of ambition, creativity and captivating artistry on display just blow my mind. It just feels like the most epic, and the most inspiring of his works, but that’s really all subject to my personal taste. The story takes place 1000 years in an apocalyptic future, where the earth has been consumed by a toxic jungle, giant insects run amuck, civilizations wage war for ownership of the last surviving human populations, and cot in the middle is a brave young Princess named Nausicaa who’ll fight to her dying breath to insure peace is made across the land. That’s not just peace with the other kingdoms but also with the creatures that roam the planet. Strait to the point, this film features my favorite Princess character I think I’ve ever seen in a motion picture. Seriously, Princess Nausicaa has a warm heart and charming personality, but she also commands authority, takes serious action and always takes charge in any given situation. The supporting cast too is also excellent, with some great vocal talents including the always great Patrick Stewart in the role of a mighty swordsman. Also for a film set in a dying apocalyptic future, it has quiet a beautiful atmosphere, and some visual marvels. This movie was made back in the 1980’s, and it’s a true testament to the art of animation considering that no computers were used in the making of the film, yet it looks so phenomenal. A great cast of characters, powerful performances, stealer artistry, epic storytelling ... “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” just seems to have it all, and is easily my favorite of Miyazaki’s treasures. It could have been my number one favorite Anime movie in general, but there’s still one other that wins over by a hair.
Before I reveal my #1 favorite, here are some Honorable Mentions ...
Spirited Away (2001)
Millennium Actress (2001)
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
#1 When Marnie was There (2015)
Even if you’re not a fan of Japanese Anime, this is a movie that I still highly recommend because “When Marnie was There” is as beautiful as movies get. Beautiful in its artistry, beautiful in its storytelling, beautiful in its theme, beautiful in its atmosphere, and it’s an experience that’s just plain good for the heart.
The story revolves around an orphaned and asthmatic young girl named Anna, who’s basically shut herself out from the world ... and she hates herself for it. Her foster family sends her on a trip to stay with some relatives, in hopes that it will help her asthma, and maybe even allow her to branch out of her socially confined shell. At first she has a hard time fitting in, but everything changes once she meets a mysterious young girl named Marnie. As the two spend time together, Anna learns how to live her life to the fullest and a powerful friendship ensues between these two young girls. However, something about Marnie is very “out of place”, or maybe even “out of time”. Something strange hovers above both Marnie and the house she comes from, ... something “Ghostly”. Mysteries soon unfold, origins get unraveled, deep life lessons are learned, then everything builds and builds to an ending that’s so touching and beautiful that it’s hard not to get chocked up over it. Seriously, I rarely cry after watching a movie, let alone an animated one, but every time I watch this film, I’m always tearing up at the end. It’s a movie that combines real life struggles with a magical “Twilight Zone” like setting. I dare not go into any more detail, because I couldn’t do the film justice, and it’s an experience that viewers just need to have on their own. It may be a very recent film, but “When Marnie was There” stands tall and strong as my favorite Japanese Anime I’ve ever seen, and personally, it’s one of my favorite movies.