I started making this list with my usual collection of favourites. The likes of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), Mommy (2014) and There Will Be Blood (2007) were of course on there. I was making good progress… until I went back to the cinema for the first time since the start of lockdown. My returning film was the anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train (2020), a companion film to the Demon Slayer series that has taken Japan by storm and has overtaken Spirited Away (2001) as the most successful film ever released there.
Sitting there, content, with a beer and the entire screen to myself, I got to thinking about just how important anime has been in my life. How my family encouraged (or tolerated) me when I would pester them about the latest releases and they themselves going out of their way to learn more about it because I loved it that much. So instead of the usual films I could bang on about endlessly, I thought I’d stick to the anime films that have had just as much an influence on my life.
Whisper of the Heart (1995) dir. Yoshifumi Kondō
I think everyone at some point has their Studio Ghibli gateway. For me, as I’m sure is the case for a lot of us, it was Spirited Away, which my Gran rented from Blockbuster when I was ill. She knew I loved anime and went out of her way to learn all she could about it so that she could find films I would like. And while I could gush about Spirited Away, it’s been done to death. So I wanted to talk about the Ghibli film I watch when I want a bit of literary inspiration. Whisper of the Heart is an understated gem in the Ghibli crown. it follows Shizuku, who finds herself at the crossroads of her life as she escapes into her fictional worlds and falls for a precocious violin maker, all while being forced to consider her future. If you’ve ever clicked onto ‘lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to,’ you can thank this film and the shot of the studying girl for providing the inspiration that has saved all our grades (extra marks for an endearing cover of John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’).
The End of Evangelion (1997) dir. Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki
It would be remiss of me not to talk about a film and series that is as infamous as it is influential. With a surrealist series behind it that would give David Lynch a run for his money, I watched The End of Evangelion during our third lockdown. Some may say that watching the most notorious existential crisis in anime history may not be a wise move during a real-world existential crisis… and I’m inclined to agree. While absolutely beautiful and an incredible conclusion to one of the most breath taking series of all time, Shinji’s journey into himself as he searched for a reason to exist was utterly heart-wrenching. Needless to say, it all makes more sense if you watch the series beforehand. Happily, both it and The End of Evangelion are both available on Netflix.
Summer Wars (2009) dir. Mamoru Hosoda
When I was four, I dragged my mum to the cinema to see Digimon: The Movie. While I’m sure there were plenty of other places she would rather be, she was very patient as she watched this Frankenstein film of multiple Digimon shorts all sewn together to make one overarching narrative (which for some reason included an Angela Anaconda short). It was the film’s third segue, Our War Game that I absolutely loved. Later, I found that the director of that sequence, Mamoru Hosoda, created a Summer Wars based around that short, substituting the Digimon with their own creations. It really makes for a unique look at the internet just as social media was becoming an absolute in our lives, creating an entire digital landscape and a unique, heart-warming story about ourselves and our online personas.
Perfect Blue (1997) dir. Satoshi Kon
Living up to expectation is a common theme I’m finding in these films. While Whisper of the Heart and The End of Evangelion tackle it in radically different ways, Perfect Blue takes this concept and moulds it into an incredible horror. As well as being an intimate look into Japan’s idol scene, it also considers how the rise of the internet, going so far as chat rooms back in 1997, could feed into how we present ourselves and how living up to the weight of expectations can lead to horrifying consequences. I watched it first with my Dad, and when it came to that final twist, our jaws dropped.
Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (1998) dir. Kunihiko Yuyama
I thought I would end on the franchise that started it all. From the video games, to the series, to the trading cards, if it’s Pokémon, it’s for me. So naturally, much like Digimon, I dragged my poor mother to see Mewtwo Strikes Back. She smiled when I got stuck into the battles, and patted my back when Pikachu started crying during that scene. While Pokémon is being churned out in every medium possible today, it is still yet to surpass the quality of this film. I still have the Ancient Mew card they gave me at the cinema to this day.
Honourable Mentions: Princess Mononoke (1997), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), A Silent Voice (2016), Spirited Away (2001)
Words by Jack Roberts
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