Six Anime Films You Need to Watch

Six Anime Films You Need to Watch


Written by Michelle Weth

Thanks to the popularity of streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, we can watch shows and films whenever we want, even those from other countries. Many Japanese films are considered weird to the average American viewer, but when given a chance, beautiful imagery and symbolism can captivate the viewer, from any country. Although there are many more, here are six of the films that stood out as a starter kit into the world of Japanese film.

Photo courtesy Creative Commons


Paprika” is a gorgeous animated film under the artistic vision of director Satoshi Kon and based on a book by Yasutaka Tsutsui. At its base, the movie is about a device called the R3 mini, which can be used to record dreams in order to help patients with psychological problems. This device, however, was stolen from the company that produced it. This is imperative because in the wrong hands, personal dreams can be accessed by a remote stranger. Rather than being solely about chasing down the culprit, the plot examines the importance of dreams and its tenuous relationship with reality. A major aspect of the movie is how perception is different in dreams than reality, and presentation of self can be more truthful in the dream world than in reality. Many of the dreams in this movie borrow cliche scenes from movies themselves, demonstrating the similarity between films and dreams that people have. In all honesty, some movies have been created from dreams. There are various match cuts present throughout the movie, which is when a director cuts from one scene to another but keeps objects from the two scenes graphically paired. These cuts and Kon’s fast editing accomplishes what the movie “Inception” could not, allowing additional layers to the dreams themselves and creating a multifaceted world.This amazing movie is originally in Japanese, and you can rent it on Netflix DVD or you can find it on campus at Snell Library.


Spirited Away

No list about Japanese animated films would be complete without a Studio Ghibli film. Directed by visionary Hayao Miyazaki, “Spirited Away” is perhaps one of the most famous Studio Ghibli films, aside from “My Neighbor Totoro.” It follows a young girl named Chihiro and her parents, and is incredibly narrative-heavy. The movie starts off with Chihiro sulking about having to move homes and leave behind all of her friends. Within the first couple minutes of the film, her parents stop at a village and proceed to eat food laid out on a large banquet table while Chihiro explores instead. She makes a new spirit friend called Haku, who tells her to return home before sunset. Before she can do so, her parents turn into pigs for mistakenly eating offerings for spirits. Chihiro makes a deal to work for a bathhouse owned by the witch Yubaba, in order to get her parents back. The main condition to working there is that Chihiro forfeit her name. Throughout Chihiro’s journey, she gains independence while separated from her parents and develops her own identity. While overcoming the many challenges that arise from working at Yubaba’s bathhouse, she becomes friends with a variety of spirits, and those strong bonds, in addition to her own wits, help her conquer these obstacles. Not to mention, her whole adventure is to save her parents, which shows the depths of familial love and responsibility despite fighting and differences in opinion. A beautiful story of growing up and the strengths of relationships, this is a must-see movie. This film is available on XfinityStream, Netflix DVD, and a physical copy is available in Snell Library.


Cat Soup (Nekojirou-Sou)

An absurd yet beautiful short film (about 35 minutes long), “Cat Soup” is based off the works of the manga artist Nekojiru and was adapted by director Tatsuo Satō. Despite being a quick watch, there is so much going on in this world. “Cat Soup” follows Nyatta, an anthropomorphic kitten, as he travels to the land of the dead and back in an effort to save his sister Nyako’s soul. The movie’s visuals are delightfully simplistic in comparison to other anime films, but there are still many fantastical and bizarre scenes throughout the short film. There is barely any dialogue in the movie — all of the information is included in speech bubbles on screen..and soyou watch “Cat Soup” without English subtitles, you aren’t missing very much. What is important, however, is to pay important to the speech bubbles, as pictures inside these bubbles turn out to be narratively important. In addition to Nyatta’s journey to the land of the dead, the film features some heavy existentialist themes such as what constitutes living and whether actions are meaningful in the eyes of fate. Technically a surrealist black comedy, only watch this movie if darker scenes and themes don’t bother you. You can watch this movie on Vimeo.



“Akira” is a landmark anime film, and its distinctive visual style has created some memorable images. Based off a manga and then directed by Katushiro Otomo, the screenplay differs from the book. Set in a dystopian, cyber-punk themed “Neo Tokyo” in 2019, the film follows the leader of a local biker gang named Shōtarō Kaneda and his childhood friend Tetsuo Shima, also a member of the gang. Within the first couple minutes there is tangible tension between Kaneda and Tetsuo as Tetsuo struggles to grow independently from Kaneda’s influence. Within their interactions, it is apparent that Tetsuo feels powerless, especially considering Kaneda’s leadership role in their gang. After a motorcycle accident, Tetsuo acquires telekinetic abilities, which eventually threatens the military in a time of chaos and rebellion. Kaneda also joins forces with an activist group, which includes a cute girl, to try and save his friend Tetsuo. If the motorcycles and telekinesis don’t win you over, this film is a great examination of self-discovery in the 1980s, and explores the power of friendship and forgiveness. Admittedly rather violent, as is the case with almost all the films on this list, “Akira” has undoubtedly influenced many creative works such as Kanye West’s music video for “Stronger” and even “Stranger Things.” A live-action film is reportedly in the works, and hopefully avoids the whitewashing controversy. This film is available to stream on Hulu.


Angel’s Egg

More of animated art than a narrative film, “Angel’s Egg” is a collaboration between artist Yoshitaka Amano and director Mamoru Oshii. This film follows an unnamed girl wearing a baggy dress in a Neo-Gothic landscape. She carries around a large egg underneath her dress everywhere she goes, and it is implied that she has somehow taken it upon herself to protect and take care of the egg on her own. She scavenges daily, finding food and filling glass bottles with water. She meets a boy with a cross-shaped weapon slung over his shoulder, and she fearfully runs away. The two have a strange relationship as he saves her in one or two instances, yet they butt heads over what to do with the egg. The boy wants to break the egg, while the girl wants to hatch it. The movie follows the two and the ultimate fate of the egg, while exploring the odd  landscape and why these characters are there. There is a lot of religious imagery present in the movie, due to reports that the director lost faith in Christianity as he was working on this film, and these views are reflected in this movie. There is also a major existentialist theme present throughout, and there is not much dialogue.. Unlike “Cat Soup,” it is necessary to watch this movie with subtitles or dubbed. This film is one of the hardest to find, only available on anime streaming sites or for purchase on Amazon for $70.


Ghost in the Shell

A major science-fiction film based on manga by Masamune Shiow, the film adaptation was directed by Mamoru Oshii. It was a Japanese-British co-production, and has recently been adapted into a live action film (with a huge whitewashing controversy). The 1995 animated film version of “Ghost in the Shell” has great visuals, due to the combination of traditional hand-drawn animation and CGI. The movie follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, a female public-security agent. The film focuses on the Major hunting a hacker called the “Puppetmaster” as per the request of the Section 6 leader. The Puppetmaster is the most dangerous hacker in this world, and the Major spends a lot of time with her team trying to track the Puppetmaster down.In this world, the human body can be augmented or completely replaced with cybernetic parts. A “ghost” is a cyberbrain, which is the mechanical casing of the human brain and allows humans to access the Internet and other networks. In the film, this “ghost” is equated to the idea of a “soul” or “consciousness,” and the “shell” is the human body. “Ghost in the Shell” explores the idea of self-identity in a technologically advanced world, as well as what it means to be human and what constitutes humanity. This movie is available to be streamed on Hulu, for rent on Netflix DVD and a physical copy is available in Snell Library.



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