5 Japanese Animation Movies (Not directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
1. Paprika (パプリカ), by Satoshi Kon (2007)
In the near future, a new psychotherapy treatment is developed that allows people to invade the dreams of others. Psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba assumes the role of her alter-ego Paprika to investigate and counsel patients through their dreams. Sounds familiar? That’s because Hollywood film Inception was inspired heavily by this film, from the idea of invading dreams to some of the shots during the movie (remember the mirror breaking scene?).
Satoshi Kon masterfully brings us on a ride through reality and dreams, and how both can come together in an exciting way. If you’re looking for something different, watch Paprika!
2. Garden of Words, by Makoto Shinkai (2013)
Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name broke all the records, becoming the highest grossing Japanese and anime film of all time (more than Spirited Away). Before the time jumping romance of Kimi No Na Wa, Makoto Shinkai was telling a much smaller romantic story taking place in Tokyo. Garden of Words tells the story of a lonely teenage student and aspiring shoemaker Takao Akizuki who meets the older literature teacher Yukari Yukino, and falls in love with her.
According to Makoto Shinkai, Garden of Words was an attempt to make a love story using the traditional meaning of the Japanese word for love, koi (today written 恋) which was written as 孤悲, or “lonely sadness”.
Watch this film if you’re looking for something beautiful and romantic, or if you just want a beautiful animated look at the Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo.
3. Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo (1988)
Akira, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, is a Japanese post-apocalyptic cyberpunk film in the vein of Blade Runner and Ghost in a Shell. Akira tells the story of Kaneda, a leader of a bike-gang, whose friend Tetsuo gains telekinetic powers. Perhaps one of the most important sci-fi films in anime (and in film history for that matter), Akira paved the way for more adult animation series and brought the cyberpunk genre to the world of animation.
If you enjoyed films like the recent Blade Runner 2046 or the Netflix series Altered Carbon, Akira would be right up your alley.
4. Grave of the Fireflies, by Isao Takahata (1988)
Grave of the Fireflies is produced by Studio Ghibli, but directed not by Miyazaki Hayao, but the late Isao Takahata in 1988. A beautiful war film, Grave of the Fireflies follows two children, the brave boy Seita and his timid sister Setsuko, trying to survive in Japan during the bombings of World War 2. The two children whose father is sent off to the war, are slowly chased to the fringes of society, as the world around them collapses.
Grave of the Fireflies is sad, heartbreaking, but beautiful all at the same time. In an iconic scene, Setsuko plays with a jar of fireflies late at night, a small slice of joy in the darkness surrounding them.
5. Summer Wars, Mamoru Hosoda (2009)
Like video games? Enjoy teenage comedy-dramas? Summer Wars is just for you!
In Summer Wars, Kenji is invited to her friend Natsuki’s estate in the country and is introduced as her boyfriend (to Kenji’s surprise). Kenji plays along, leading to hijinks of mistaken identities and family drama. This would usually be an interesting enough premise, but as this is going on, the online game that Kenji plays is being invaded by a cyber terrorist that threatens to launch an asteroid probe to a nuclear power plant. The movie becomes an exciting adventure in both the real and online world to stop an unseen enemy.
Mamoru Hosoda was often touted as the next Hayao Miyazaki (a title shared by Makoto Shinkai as well), and films like Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time earned him a reputation as one of the best new anime directors. His most recent film Mirai has also gained critical acclaim, and is also a must-watch for any fan of anime.