Top 10 Japanese Anime Films

Perfect Blue 1997 movie

Perfect Blue demonstrates another facet of animation

The imagination exhibited through Japanese animation often dwarfs other styles of film-making, with visionaries such as Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Satoshi Kon and Makoto Shinkai having crafted vibrant, deep worlds and narratives that couldn’t exist using any other method.

The best of these films are brought to life with intelligence, perseverance and a strong connection with storytelling, and offer stunning visuals to match their ambition. Below are 10 that represent the best the genre have to offer.

Plot summaries from IMDB. Words by Jordan

10. 5 Centimetres Per Second (2007)

5-centimetres-per-second

The cherry blossoms of 5 Centimetres Per Second

Written and Directed by Makoto Shinkai. CoMix Wave Films

Told in three interconnected segments, we follow a young man named Takaki through his life as cruel winters, cold technology, and finally, adult obligations and responsibility converge to test the delicate petals of love.

Attempting to hold onto a temporal moment in time can stir irrepressible feelings in an almost unequalled way, as explored through the eyes of Takaki while the past and present he’s known make way for an uncertain future. Backed by delightful artistry, 5 Centimetres Per Second is a careful, articulated statement on the pangs of letting go.

9. Paprika (2006)

paprika-film-2006

Poster art for the complex Paprika

Directed by Satoshi Kon. Based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui. Madhouse/Sony Pictures Entertainment

When a machine that allows therapists to enter their patients’ dreams is stolen, all Hell breaks loose. Only a young female therapist, Paprika, can stop it.

It’s an impressive feat that Paprika can retain its feverish energy while getting less and less decipherable as it progresses, ultimately being savoured for its bold, dreamlike approach to a complex idea and captivating central character. Satoshi Kon was a director unconcerned with taking risks, and his creative approach in tackling such layered material produced a film quite unlike any other.

8. When Marnie Was There (2014)

when-marnie-was-there-2014

The mysterious Marnie

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Based on a novel by Joan G. Robinson. Studio Ghibli

Upon being sent to live with relatives in the countryside, an emotionally distant adolescent girl becomes obsessed with an abandoned mansion and infatuated with a girl who lives there – a girl who may or may not be real.

Hiromasa Yonebayashi is proving himself the heir apparent to Miyazaki, with When Marnie Was There being the last Studio Ghibli film to date and his upcoming Mary and the Witch’s Flower the first from Studio Ponoc. Based on the novel by Joan G. Robinson, When Marnie Was There is rich in artistry and powerfully captures the strong feelings of emotionally isolated youth, as well as the essence of family and how the past shapes us. Its a delight.

7. Wolf Children (2012)

wolf-children-2012

Hana, Yuki and Ame dapting to the rural life

Written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Studio Chizu

College student Hana falls in love with another student who turns out to be a werewolf, who dies in an accident after their second child. Hana moves to the rural countryside where her husband grew up to raise her two werewolf children.

Wolf Children is a heartfelt, earnest depiction of the joys and struggles of single-parenthood, heightened by an astonishing music score by Masakatsu Takagi and delicate direction by Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars). Seeing Hana’s children grow and learn while she devotes herself to allowing them the happiness she and their father promised them is nothing short of wonderful, with the paths they take true to the different natures we’re born with.

6. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

ghost-in-the-shell-1995

A futuristic Japan in Ghost in the Shell

Directed by Mamoru Oshii. Based on the comic by Masamune Shirow. Bandai Visual Company

A cyborg policewoman and her partner hunt a mysterious and powerful hacker called the Puppet Master.

Ghost in the Shell provides a thought-provoking insight into a mass-information future, where the complicated, nuanced nature of crime has brought about Section 9: cyborgs with the ability to access any of Earth’s networks to prevent it. Sharing similarities with both Blade Runner and to an extent The Matrix, Mamoru Oshii’s science fiction classic is the pinnacle of animated technological thrillers.

5. Your Name (2016)

your-name-movie-2016

The comet passing overhead in Your Name

Written and Directed by Makoto Shinkai. CoMix Wave Films

Two high school kids who’ve never met – city boy Taki and country girl Mitsuha – are united through their dreams.

few films survey the landscape of love and fate like Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, which presents a narrative that assimilates the idea of interwoven threads of time while also introducing two likable characters whose interactions range from light-hearted to deeply moving. Funny, surprising and totally captivating, this is one of the best films of recent years.

4. Perfect Blue (1997)

Perfect Blue 1997 movie anime

Aspiring actress Mimi is confronted with chilling images of her former self in Perfect Blue

Directed by Satoshi Kon. Based on the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. Madhouse

A retired pop-singer-turned-actress’ sense of reality is shaken when she is stalked by an obsessed fan and seemingly a ghost of her past.

Centering on the idea of an identity crisis taken to the extreme, Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller that harnesses a timely distrust of information technology and shatters any preconceptions of animation being unable to convey serious themes. Though the struggle of aspiring actress Mima, Satoshi Kon presents how truth and fiction can become horribly blurred in a world of unchecked moral ambiguity and paranoia.

3. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

grave-of-the-fireflies

Isao Takahata’s Ghibli classic Grave of the Fireflies

Directed by Isao Takahata. Based on the novel by Akiyuki Nosaka. Studio Ghibli

A young boy and his little sister struggle to survive in Japan during World War II.

Grave of the Fireflies is perhaps the finest film you’re likely to only see once, instilled with moments of personal tragedy amidst a bleak landscape of war. Isao Takahata directs with a soft touch however, capturing the moments of hope and optimism and lingering on them for longer than those of loss; aware that Seita and Setsuko represent an innocence and determination that cannot be extinguished. Harrowing viewing.

2. Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

The iconic imagery of Spirited Away

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli

During her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts.

Like My Neighbor Totoro and other Ghibli films, Spirited Away begins with a families change of environment and the fantastical imagination harnessed by the child to cope. The imagination on display though, through characters and locations vividly imbued with Japanese culture and wholly striking (as well as undoubtedly frightening at times) is at a level here above anything else.

1. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

nausicaa-of-the-valley-of-the-wind-movie

The Princess Nausicaä

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Nibariki Production Company

Warrior/pacifist Princess Nausicaä desperately struggles to prevent two warring nations from destroying themselves and their dying planet.

The success of Hayao Miyazaki‘s second feature film lead to the creation of Studio Ghibli, with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind itself not technically part of the studio’s output, though it embodies all the great hallmarks that have earned it tremendous respect. The Princess Nausicaä is one of the most courageous and spirited of all animations, being closely tied to nature and the peace for which it aspires to achieve while also yearning to protect her valley. She is cherished by her people, and adored by Miyazaki’s fan base as the finest aspect of a film overflowing with passion and ideas.

Honourable mentions:

Picking a top 10 was no easy feat, so here in no particular order are others that deserve to be mentioned alongside the very best:

Akira, Millennium Actress, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Porco Rosso, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

the-tale-of-the-princess-kaguya

Isao Takahata’s final film: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Are you a fan of Japanese animations? Which are your favourites? Let us know in the comments below!

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44 responses to “Top 10 Japanese Anime Films

  1. Still have to watch A LOT of these films mentioned. Heard of almost every movie here on your list and I have watched some and still have many on my to-be-watched list. I love Japanese Anime movies. I think I have never seen one that was bad.

  2. No The Girl Who Leap Through Time? blasphemy! Joke. Watched all of this, Tale of Princess Kaguya would’ve been number one for me followed by Spirited Away. Haven’t watched Your Name though.

    • I think there would be quite a few with you on that one. It’s definitely an outstanding achievement, but I think that Myazaki achieved better results on the topic with Nausicaa.
      Jordan

  3. Personally I’d bump Akira out of the Honorable Mention and into the Top Five. Probably three. And you can’t forget Princess Mononoke! Powerful imagery and deeply complex characters. They aren’t “heroes” and “villains”, they’re protagonists and antagonists, two groups with their own ambitions and goals, both flawed and yet well motivated. It’s my favorite anime film of all time.

  4. I am not sure I can say I love Japanese animations as I have only watched Studio Ghibli movies, but you made some great choices up there and made me curious to watch many of those flicks.

    I have yet to watch When Marnie Was There (it’s the only Ghibli movie I haven’t watched), but I am glad to hear you like it that much.

  5. If you are ready to be depressed for a few days, go ahead and watch Grave of Fireflies. However, it does show what war is capable of through the eyes of two innocent children.

  6. These are some great picks you’ve posted. You can never please everyone heh. I love animation as i mention on my site aswell and i could never have a particular order for them but i love most of the studio Ghibli movies such as Howls Moving Castle, and ones you mentioned here. And an anime called Millennium Actress which I enjoyed.

    I also love alot of underrated movies such as French animated. They have some wonderful ones worth watching. Like ..A cat in Paris, The Illusionist.

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  8. Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away,Totoro and Arriety would be on my list. I just love Studio Ghibli mainly because it was my childhood. Also 5 centimeters per second’s animation is so beautiful!

  9. I still have to see Wolf Children. It is interesting to see Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at your number one. Most people would never put it that high.

    • Nausicaa paved the way for most of the films on this list, and was the first to display Miyazaki’s vision for animation. Its incredibly important and a very fine narrative in its own right.
      Jordan

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