Anime movies have become more and more of a global phenomenon, thanks to their originality and compelling storylines. There are many anime and kids movies to pick from, so here's a look at just some of the anime movies of recent years that have helped set the standard so high.
The science fiction genre of anime is well established in Japan. Back in the 1960's Tezuka Osamu's manga Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom) became a hugely popular TV show. But the movie that first introduced the concepts of cyber-punk was Akira. Directed by Otomo Katsuhiro and based on his own hugely successful manga, Akira made some ¥800 million and was the first serious Japanese animated movie to have an impact abroad. Sales of the video in the US and Europe easily beat the 50,000 or so copies sold in Japan.
The movie's stunning artwork and dazzling animation were unheard of. The latest in computer animation techniques were used but the key was in the amazing attention to detail. Machines and buildings were intricately drawn even when they appeared on screen for just a few seconds. Light and shadow were drawn to maintain consistency and accuracy. New standards were set for what could be achieved in animation and the gauntlet was thrown down for other animators. Otomo's 1995 movie Memories, a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy, was technically even more stunning and intellectually challenging. But it was also less successful at the box office.
The story in brief: Set in 2019, it is centred around a group of teenagers roaming the streets of Neo-Tokyo, once destroyed by psychic powers misused by the military. Rebels fight to prevent the shadowy government from unleashing those powers again. The key lies in the mind of a boy, Akira, who lies in a government laboratory. Meanwhile, the central character, Kaneda, gets romantically involved with one of the prettier rebels and, inadvertantly, with their struggle. Another member of his bike gang, Tetsuo, is injured in a crash and whisked away by the security forces. The plot is complex and gets quite bizarre at the end but the movie is compelling all the way.
"It is the near future. The world has become highly information-intensive, with a vast corporate network covering the planet, electrons and light pulsing through it. But the nation-state and ethnic groups still survive.
And on the edge of Asia, in a strange corporate conglomerate-state called Japan ... "
The above is the intro to Shirow Masamune's graphic novel from which director Oshii Mamoru created his movie classic in 1995. Like Akira, this movie doesn't really have many contemporaries outside Japan and it caught the imagination of audiences worldwide. The story is dark and complex, the music haunting and the artwork breathtaking. Fans of the 1984 classic Bladerunner will definitely need to see this movie. Shirow was one of the pioneers of manga which blended human, robotic and computer elements to create sci-fi stories about a not-so-distant future, making him a Japanese Phillip K. Dick or William Gibson.
The story in brief: An internationally notorious computer criminal surfaces in Japan. Codenamed 'Puppet master' for his ability to manipulate people's minds, this unique and mysterious 'super-hacker' is suspected of a multitude of offences including stock market manipulation, illegal data gathering, political manoeuvring, terrorists acts and infringement of cybernetic rights. Section 9, Japan's elite secret service is called in to capture this elusive criminal, but only to discover that the elaborate web of evidence leads back to Japan's own Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a computer virus secretly created by them as the ultimate tool in political and commercial espionage.
"We are not trying to solve the world's problems. There can not be a happy ending to the fight between the Raging Gods and mankind. However, even in the midst of hatred and killing, there are things worth living for. A wonderful encounter, or a thing of beauty can still exist." - Miyazaki Hayao.
The term mononoke dates from the Heian Period (794~1885) and means spirits of the living or the dead who possess another through jealousy or anger and cause illness or death.
Released in Japan in July 1997, Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime) grossed more than $150 million, and was seen by more than 13.5 million people. It became the most successful movie of all time in Japan, until surpassed by Titanic, which in turn was overtaken by the next Studio Ghibli production Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi). The film uses 144,000 cels and was one of the most expensive Japanese animation movies ever made at ¥2.35 billion (over $20 million), or twice the cost of Akira. The international release of the movie was handled by Disney (Miramax). See also: Mononoke poster, and profile of Miyazaki Hayao.
The story in brief: It is a period of great change in Japan. The country is moving out of the medieval era and destroying more and more of the virgin forests. Ashitaka is the descendant of a once-royal family, defeated by the ruling Yamato clan and existing in a remote mountain village. Having angered the mononoke Boar God and drawn a curse of death upon himself, Ashitaka embarks on a journey to understand the mystery of the curse. Travelling west, he encounters a monumental battle. The Tatara people are struggling to create a humane society but destroying the forests in their efforts to make iron. The forests are being defended by giant animals who understand human language, known as the Raging Gods, and San (called Mononoke Hime), a girl raised by wolves. Ashitaka is torn between the two sides and also his feelings for San. To complicate the conflict, he must fend off warring samurai and hunters who appear in search of the Spirit God, who holds the key to eternal life.