For the last six columns, I have listed what I admit are my 15 favorite Japanese anime features, as distinct from trying to figure out what the 15 “Best” might be. If it is all a matter of personal taste, what, then, would I recommend as other high-quality anime features worth watching? They might not be MY favorites, but they may be among many other people’s favorites.
Fair enough. Here is an alphabetical list of fifty more theatrical anime features that I consider worth watching, whether or not they are worth adding to anyone’s list of “Best” or “favorites”. Some are famous classics, some are mostly forgotten, some are adult-intellectual, some are for children, some are just weird; but all of them are memorable in a good way. To me, anyway.
To digress, when Akira was released in 1988, everybody in anime fandom loved it. Streamline Pictures licensed it for America in 1989, and it was a big hit, theatrically and on video. When Streamline’s license expired in the mid-1990s, we seriously considered renewing it to keep selling Akira to the rapidly-growing anime fandom. To our surprise, the attitude of the new anime fans around 1995 was more like, “Oh, that’s an old movie. We want to see the latest hot titles!” Many people have always thought this way, and they still do. I recommend that you don’t pay any attention to the dates on these titles. Whether old or new, these are all still very enjoyable!
Where American releases exist, I have usually used the American release title rather than a translation of the Japanese title. (Can you spot the exception?) For example, the literal translation of the Japanese title of Panda and the Magic Serpent is The Legend of the White Snake. I have included the Studio Ghibli features that I omitted before. But there are no OAVs; I have listed theatrical releases only. (My Top Ten favorite anime OAVs will be listed later.) I have generally tried to avoid listing the movies based upon popular TV series, especially those that assume that you are already familiar with the main characters. If you are already a fan of the Attack on Titan TV series, or Full Metal Alchemist or Inu Yasha or Mobile Suit Gundam or Naruto or Patlabor or Pokémon or Slayers TV series, you may love their theatrical features no matter what anyone says. You don’t need me to recommend them.
1. Alakazam the Great. Saiyu-ki. Produced by Tōei Dōga. Directed by Daisaku Shirakawa and Taiji Yabushita. 88 minutes. August 14, 1960.
2. Animal Treasure Island. Dōbutsu Takarajima. Produced by Tōei Dōga. Directed by Hiroshi Ikeda. 78 minutes. March 20, 1971.
3. Arion. Produced by Sunrise Inc. Directed by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. 118 minutes. March 15, 1986.
4. Barefoot Gen. Hadashi no Gen. Produced by Gen Productions and Studio Madhouse. Directed by Mori Masaki. 85 minutes. July 21, 1983.
5. The Borrower Arrietty. Kari-gurashi no Arietti. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. 95 minutes. July 17, 2010.
6. Brave Story. Produced by Studio Gonzo. Directed by Koichi Chigira. 112 minutes. July 8, 2006.
7. The Cat Returns. Neko no Ongaeshi. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hiroyuki Morita. 75 minutes. July 19, 2002.
8. Children Who Chase Lost Voices. Hoshi o Ou Kodomo. Produced by CoMix Wave Films. Directed by Makoto Shinkai. 116 minutes. May 7, 2011.
9. Cleopatra. Produced by Mushi Pro. Directed by Osamu Tezuka and Eiichi Yamamoto. 112 minutes. September 15, 1970.
10. Crusher Joe. Produced by Studio Nue and Nippon Sunrise. Directed by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. 125 minutes. February 5, 1989.
11. 5 Centimeters Per Second. Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru. Produced by CoMix Wave Inc. Directed by Makoto Shinkai. 63 minutes. March 3, 2007.
12. From Up On Poppy Hill. Kokuriko-zaka Kara. Producd by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Gorō Miyazaki. 92 minutes. July 17, 2011.
13. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Toki no Kakeru Shōjo. Produced by Studio Madhouse. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. 98 minutes. July 15, 2006.
14. Grave of the Fireflies. Hotaru no Haka. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Isao Takahata. 89 minutes. April 17, 1988.
15. Howl’s Moving Castle. Hauru no Ugoku Shiro. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. 119 minutes. November 20, 2004.
16. Jungle Emperor Leo. Gekijōban Janguru Taitei. Produced by Tezuka Productions. Directed by Yoshio Takeuchi. 100 minutes. August 1, 1997.
17. Kiki’s Delivery Service. Majo no Takkyūbin. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. 102 minutes. July 29, 1989.
18. The Little Norse Prince. Taiyō no Ōji: Horusu no Daibōken. Produced by Tōei Dōga. Directed by Isao Takahata. 82 minutes. July 21, 1968.
19. The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon. Wanpaku Ōji no Orochi Taiji. Produced by Tōei Dōga. Directed by Yugo Serikawa. 86 minutes. March 24, 1963.
20. Memories. Produced by Studio 4ºC and Studio Madhouse. Directed by Kōji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura, and Katsuhiro Ōtomo. 113 minutes. December 23, 1995.
21. Metropolis. Produced by Studio Madhouse. Directed by Rintarō. 113 minutes. May 26, 2001.
22. Millennium Actress. Sennen Joyū. Produced by Studio Madhouse. Directed by Satoshi Kon. 87 minutes. September 14, 2002.
23. Mind Game. Produced by Studio 4ºC. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa. 103 minutes. August 7, 2004.
24. Neo Tokyo. Meikyū Monogatari. Produced by Studio Madhouse. Directed by Rintarō, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Katsuhiro Ōtomo. 50 minutes. April 15, 1989.
25. Night on the Galactic Railroad. Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru. Produced by Asahi Shimbun-sha. Directed by Gisaburo Sugii. 113 minutes. July 13, 1985.
26. Ninja Scroll. Jūbē Ninpūchō. Produced by Studio Madhouse. Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. 94 minutes. June 5, 1993.
27. Panda and the Magic Serpent. Hakujaden. Produced by Tōei Dōga. Directed by Taiji Yabushita and Kazuhiko Okabe. 78 minutes. October 22, 1958.
28. Paprika. Produced by Studio Madhouse. Directed by Satoshi Kon. 90 minutes. November 25, 2006.
29. Phoenix 2772. Hi no Tori 2772: Ai no Kosumozōn. Produced by Tezuka Productions. Directed by Taku Sugiyama. 122 minutes. March 15, 1980.
30. The Place Promised In Our Early Days. Kumo no Mukō, Yakusoku no Basho. Produced by CoMix Wave, Inc. Directed by Makoto Shinkai. 90 minutes. November 20, 2004.
31. Pom Poko. Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Isao Takahata. 119 minutes. July 16, 1994.
32. Porco Rosso. Kurenai no Buta. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. 94 minutes. July 18, 1992.
33. The Princess and the Pilot. To Aru Hikūshi e no Tsuioku. Produced by Studio Madhouse and TMS Entertainment. Directed by Jun Shishido. 99 minutes. October 1, 2011.
34. Princess Mononoke. Mononoke-hime. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. 133 minutes. July 12, 1997.
35. Psychic School Wars. Nerawatera Gakuen. Produced by Sunrise Inc. Directed by Ryosuke Nakamura. 110 minutes. October 20, 2012.
36. Redline. Produced by Studio Madhouse. Directed by Takeshi Koike. 102 minutes. October 9, 2010.
37. Roujin Z. Rōjin Zetto. Produced by A.P.P.P. Co., Ltd. Directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo. 80 minutes. September 14, 1991.
38. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. Ōritsu Uchūgun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa. Produced by Gainax. Directed by Hiroyuki Yamaga. 119 minutes. March 14, 1987.
39. Spirited Away. Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. 124 minutes. July 20, 2001.
40. Spriggan. Produced by Studio 4ºC. Directed by Hirotsugu Kawasaki. 90 minutes. September 5, 1998.
41. Steamboy. Produced by Sunrise, Inc. Directed by Katsuhiro Ōtomo. 126 minutes. July 17, 2004.
42. Summer Wars. Produced by Studio Madhouse. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. 114 minutes. August 1, 2009.
43. Sword of the Stranger. Stranger Mukōhaden. Produced by Bones. Directed by Masahiro Andō. 102 minutes. September 29, 2007.
44. Tekkonkinkreet. Produced by Studio 4ºC. Directed by Michael Arias and Hiroaki Ando. 111 minutes. December 22, 2006.
45. A Thousand and One Nights. Senya Ichiya Monogatari. Produced by Mushi Pro. Directed by Eiichi Yamamoto. 128 minutes. June 14, 1969.
46. Tokyo Godfathers. Produced by Studio Madhouse. Directed by Satoshi Kon. 92 minutes. November 8, 2003.
47. Twilight of the Cockroaches. Gokiburi-tachi no Tasogare. Produced by Kitty Films and Studio Madhouse. Directed by Hiroaki Yoshida. 105 minutes. November 21, 1987.
48. Wicked City. Yōjū Toshi. Produced by Studio Madhouse. Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. 80 minutes. April 25, 1987.
49. The Wind Rises. Kaze Tachinu. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. 126 minutes. July 20, 2013.
50. Wolf Children. Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki. Produced by Studio Chizu and Studio Madhouse. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. 117 minutes. July 21, 2012.
Fifty anime … well, not all “masterpieces”, but they are all at least “notables”. Of course, this list may change as soon as a new feature comes out. And here come a couple now!
51. A Letter to Momo. Momo e no Tegami. Produced by Production I.G. Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura. 120 minutes. April 21, 2012.
52. The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Kaguya-hime no Monogatari. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Isao Takahata. 137 minutes. November 23, 2013.
A Letter to Momo premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival six months before its Japanese release. It was further selected for international film festivals in Sitges, Spain; Busan, South Korea; Warsaw, Poland; Hawaii (all across the state); and New York City, all before its Japanese general release.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya, based on the ancient Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (and announced as director Isao Takahata’s final film before his retirement), shot to the top of the charts as soon as it was released in Japan a year ago. Wikipedia: “By January 5, 2014, the film had grossed ¥2,014,535,721 (US$19,345,586) at the Japanese box office. By January 19, it had grossed ¥2.21 billion (US$21.19 million). By February 2, the film had grossed ¥2,313,602,733 (US$22,613,153) at the Japanese box office.
It is nominated for the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year at the 37th Japan Academy Prize. It won the Animation Film Award at the 68th Mainichi Film Awards. In February 2014 it placed 4th in both Kinema Junpo’s Best Ten and their Reader’s Choice Awards.” It also made the international film festival circuit. Wikipedia again: “The film was selected to be screened as part of the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.” (May 14-25).
It is currently coming to America. It was picked up by GKIDS in March for an English dub by Studio Ghibli to ensure the highest quality, for a limited U.S. “prestige” theatrical release beginning October 17, 2014, before its inevitable American DVD release. Jerry Beck’s Animation Scoop said on August 29: “New York distributor GKIDS announced today that three of its films will be presented at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Legendary writer/director and Studio Ghibli co-founder, Isao Takahata, will be appear in person when The Tale of Princess Kaguya makes its North American premiere in the TIFF Masters section on Friday, September 5th. […] GKIDS will theatrically release The Tale of Princess Kaguya on October 17, with Song Of The Sea and The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness slated for later this year. […] Legendary Studio Ghibli co-founder, Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko), revisits Japan’s most famous folktale in this gorgeous, hand-drawn masterwork, decades in the making. Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter (James Caan) and his wife (Mary Steenburgen), a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady (Chloë Grace Moretz). The mysterious young princess enthralls all who encounter her – but ultimately she must confront her fate, the punishment for her crime.”
Advance reviews have already given The Tale of Princess Kaguya a 100% “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Both A Letter to Momo and The Tale of Princess Kaguya are certain to replace two other titles on this list of fifty recommended anime theatrical features. And they won’t be the last.
And this is my final word (for now) on Japanese animated features.