Ferocious 5 sheds light on a whole universe of pop and geek culture connections with bite-size lists. Explore topics, properties, fandoms you never knew existed in this article series on Bunkazilla.
To celebrate the cinematic re-release of Akira, we’re using Ferocious 5 to take a look at five Japanese animated movies that you should see on the big screen if you ever get the chance. Failing that, the biggest screen you can feasibly find will also suffice! A small disclaimer, you won’t be seeing any Studio Ghibli films here – we’ll be doing a Ferocious 5 list on their works in the future. But for now, a world of sci-fi, cyberpunk, romance, dreams and social media await – so let’s get to it.
And speaking of Akira…
Let’s kick things off with the granddaddy of cinematic anime and the best place to start considering Akira’s return to cinemas in 4K and IMAX.
The classic cyberpunk tale tells the story of Kaneda, a biker gang leader, who tries desperately to help Tetsuo, his best friend, after he develops dangerous telekinetic abilities. Things start to spiral out of control in the futuristic Neo-Tokyo when Tetsuo’s plight also exposes dangerous military experiments. With the military closing in and Tetsuo’s powers getting dangerously out of control, there’s the possibility that Neo-Tokyo might end up exploding.
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and based upon his own manga, Akira is, without doubt, a pivotal movie in Japanese anime. Striking visuals combined with an unforgettable soundtrack by Shōji Yamashiro, Akira is top tier cinematic anime and very few titles have come close to matching the film’s cultural impact.
While not resting on his Akira laurels, Otomo would move on to get involved in another cyberpunk actioner a decade later with 1998’s Spriggan. After Spriggan, Otomo also directed 2004’s steampunk fantasy Steamboy.
If you haven’t seen Akira or need to refresher, Manga UK’s re-release of the film this week is unmissable. Especially in IMAX.
Ghost in The Shell (1995)
Just like Akira before it, Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s sci-fi mystery was also an impactful anime for western audiences.
Set in the year 2029, Section 9 operative Motoko Kusanagi is tasked in finding a dangerous hacker known only as The Puppet Master who is illegally hacking into the computerized minds of cyborg-human hybrids. However, Motoko’s physical and digital manhunt of the hacker leaves her questioning her own identity and this eventually leads the mystery of The Puppet Master’s existence into dangerous territory.
25 years since the film’s original release, the Ghost in the Shell franchise has continued on through various remakes, re-imaginings, and new directions. Oshii would return to direct a 2004 follow-up, Innocence, before overseeing a remaster / CGI hybrid version of the original film in 2008. 2008 would also be the year that Oshii took flight with aerial anime, The Sky Crawlers. As for Ghost in the Shell, there have been plenty of TV shows and OVAs to keep fans engaged. Recent highlights of this being 2002’s excellent Stand Alone Complex TV Series, the Arise OVA series and, more recently, the Netflix produced SAC_2045.
You can check out Binges & Boxsets thoughts on SAC_2045 here.
And if that wasn’t enough, we even got a 2017 live-action adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson. Alas, like most attempts before it, the 2017 movie paled in comparison against the iconic 1995 original.
Your Name (2016)
One of the most successful anime movies in recent memory is Makoto Shinkai dazzling romantic fantasy film. It tells the story of two teenagers discovering that they are continuously swapping bodies with one another. When they try to meet in person, they discover that there is a far greater reason for their unique situation.
Your Name was a box office smash upon its release in Japan, becoming the first animation not produced by Studio Ghibli or directed by Hayao Miyazaki to gross ten billion yen at the box office. It also rightly appeared on various top ten movies for the year in the both the UK and US. The film has also picked up Hollywood’s interest with a live-action US version in the pipeline.
Shinkai has followed up this movie with 2019’s Weathering with You. Just like Your Name before it, this is another teenage romance fantasy. The difference here is that, instead of body-swapping, it focuses on one girl having the power to change the weather. If you enjoy Your Name, Weathering with You is worth checking out afterwards.
Released in 2006, Paprika is arguably one of Satoshi Kon’s most memorable masterpieces and is a trippy, colourful, and thrilling journey delving into the world and power of dreams.
Our main protagonist is Dr Atsuko Chiba. She’s a talented scientist with a double life. Away from science and research, Atsuko moonlights outside the office as Paprika, dream detective. Atsuko, along with her fellow colleagues, are pioneering new ways to help psychiatric patients with a brand new dream monitoring device. When the device is stolen, Atsuko and her alter-ego Paprika must race against the clock to find the culprit and stop irreparable damage being done to people’s minds.
A wonderfully unique anime whose influences can be seen in western filmmaking today. You could argue the dream mystery hijinks of Paprika inspired the Nolan blockbuster Inception a few short years later.
Sadly, Paprika would mark the final film from Kon who sadly passed in 2010. However, he leaves a short yet incredible catalogue of anime pieces worth checking out. From psychological thriller Perfect Blue, heart-warming comedy-dramas Tokyo Godfathers and Millennium Actress, and the television oddity that is Paranoia Agent. They are all worth checking out.
Summer Wars (2009)
Summer Wars takes a slice of life anime comedy and smashes it into sci-fi spectacle and the results are terrific!
Math genius Kenji Koiso reluctantly agrees to pretend to be the boyfriend of his high school crush Natsuki for her grandma’s 90th birthday gathering in the town of Nagano. However, while he keeps up the charade of being a good boyfriend, he unwittingly solves a mathematical equation on a digital social media network that unleashes a force that could destroy everyday life. Basically, imagine if social media became sentient and fancied taking over the world. Kenji, Natsuki, her extended family and their digital friends must come together in order to stop impending digital doom.
While Summer Wars is one of the more breezy titles on this list, it doesn’t stop the film being a visually thrilling piece of cinema. It’s also not just frequently funny but also has some incredibly heartfelt moments about the importance of family. Trust me, tears will be shed.
If you’ve had a chance to see Summer Wars and want to watch more of Mamoru Hosoda’s work, he’s followed the film up with three equally impressive works; Wolf Children, The Boy & The Beast and the Oscar-nominated Mirai. There’s also the popular cult classic The Girl Who Leaped Through Time as well to check out too!
That’s our list for now. Obviously, this is the tip of the cinematic anime iceberg and there are plenty more amazing films to check out on a big screen. Let us know your thoughts and share anime movies you feel need to be seen on a big screen!
Until next time, stomp on monsters of culture, stomp on!