Anime - the great
These are films or TV series that I have really enjoyed and would recommend to anyone. They're in alphabetical order by English name.
Teenage gangs, clandestine military technology and experiments, psychic powers, Akira has many of the cliches of cyberpunk anime but is still unique and compelling. At its core is the friendship and rivalry between two teenage boys, but as the story is told their world expands until the whole planet stands on the brink of destruction. Beautifully drawn and with a powerful soundtrack Akira is a timeless classic, as watchable and thought provoking now as when it was released in 1988.
A mixture of film noir, spaghetti western and cop show – welcome to the world of Cowboy Bebop. With its superb blend of hand drawn and computer generated graphics plus a great jazz/blues soundtrack the technical side can’t be faulted. However it’s the characters that really bring the show to life, each with their own secrets that are gradually revealed during the series. TV anime is often cheap and formulaic, Bebop shows that it can be much, much more.
A sort of extended episode from the TV series (it fits between episodes 22 and 23 in fact) the extra length allows some more detail into the storyline but it's business as usual for Spike and the gang. Which is a good thing. One of the delights of Bebop is its realistic sense of morality, although the characters often seem willing to do anything for money they each have their own limits and vulnerabilities. Even Faye.
An early work from Hayao Miyazaki and one of his best. In a post-eco-catastrophe world a young boy sets off to rescue his friend, kidnapped by evil technocrats. As the series progesses we learn about this new world and the people and forces within it. Wonderful characters in a complex and well thought out possible future, and a plot that twists and turns without feeling contrived.
Technologically enhanced cyber-cops attempt to track down a mysterious computer hacker. But that's just the superficial level, Ghost in the Shell is really about the relationship between mind or soul (the ghost) and the body (the shell), about identity, perception and memory. With TV and the Internet our 'senses' extend far beyond our bodies, but who controls what we perceive? Wonderful animation, intelligent characters and a suitably twisted plotline, Ghost is a feast for the senses and the mind.
This cybercop series runs parallel to the Ghost in the Shell films with the same characters but with more action and less philosophy. The episodes are mostly self contained but there's an overall plot arc that ties things together. The characters (both established and new) are interesting and nicely developed and the sense of a team of very competent professionals working together complements the often complex plot lines.
Things continue and deepen for the Major and Section 9. This series has the same form as the first one - an overall plot line with tangents and distractions - but we learn much more about the characters along the way. As intense and complex as any of the Ghost in the Shell productions and well worth repeated viewings.
It's near the end of the second world war and Japan is suffering from shortages and bombing raids. Two young children are separated from their family and have to fend for themselves. An amazingly moving story about the people left at home during wartime, the physical, emotional and social pressures and strains on them, and of the human side of 'collateral damage'. Do not attempt to watch this film without a good supply of tissues to hand.
They look like people but they have wings, halos, and are born from cocoons, the Haibane (charcoal feathers) live beside humans in a world filled with ritual and tradition. One of my favourite anime, this gentle show looks at meaning, purpose, guilt, forgiveness and redemption.
An elderly actress is being interviewed, and as her story is told her film performances blur into her life. A love story emerges that flits between historical (and future) times but remains a constant thread. This is a true joy, a film that shows how our dreams have as much impact on our life's path as the physical realities that we encounter. Don't miss the last line!
Not strictly an anime (for the purists) as this film comes from South Korea, but I'm not enough of a purist to exclude it. A story about the loss of childhood (or maybe about the memory of that loss) and of the wonder and magic of childhood (or maybe the rediscovery of it). Very different visually from any of the other films I've seen, and very beautiful.
A classic from Hayao Miyazaki with his usual trademarks - children coping in a world outside that of their parents, magical creatures with strange abilities, and above all a sense of wonder. In Totoro the children are exploring their new home and the mysteries it contains, but also dealing in their own way with very real problems in the lives of their parents. It's funny, it's magical, but it's also very real.
Taeko is a 27 year old office worker who's not sure where her life is leading her. She's also an 11 year old schoolgirl who's trying to understand and fit in with all of the changes in her life as she moves out of childhood. This wonderful film weaves the two stories together, showing how the woman's life grew out of the child's experience and how the child's viewpoint might solve the woman's dilemma.
A six and a half minute pop video with more style and content than many full-length films. Time shifts in the storyline give new insights to repeated scenes, the characters are amazingly well developed, and there's even a false ending! An unusual foray into the techno-futuristic from Hayao Miyazaki.
A TV series based around a simple detective story - finding a young mugger attacking people on the streets of Tokyo. But as we learn more about the victims and their circumstances the mystery deepens. Believable and detailed characters, tight and efficient storytelling and great animation.
A disturbing psychological thriller about identity and fame. A young pop singer wants to move into serious acting but it seems that some of her fans aren't happy with this. Or is it all in her mind? Satoshi Kon is one of the masters of anime (most of his works are in my 'great' list) and this is typically inventive. Anime for grown-ups.
In the near future two boys work on their pet project, a high-tech aircraft to fly them to a tall, distant tower rising above the clouds. Into their world comes a girl who becomes part of their little group, but then mysteriously vanishes. The Place Promised is visually stunning, not just for the quality of the drawing but for the cinematography and scene composition, but it's the depth of the characters and their interactions that sets this film apart.
The children in Hayao Miyazaki's films tend to have quite a hard time. In Spirited Away Chihiro finds herself in a spirit world with rules, customs and obligations that must be observed, and with very little hope of finding her way back home again. Incredibly inventive, beautifully animated, and filled with wonder and delight this is a great film for everyone and anyone.
Three homeless people in Tokyo discover an abandoned baby. As they decide what to do (and then attempt to do it) their characters are gradually revealed, the histories that led them to the street, the fears that keep them there, and the strengths that keep them going. Above all Godfathers is about family, those nearest to us by birth or choice. A fabulous film, it will make you laugh, cry, and end up with a warm glow inside.
The Earth is under attack by aliens (there had to be a film like this somewhere in my list) and a young couple are separated, she joins the space defence force while he stays at home, and as the fleet travels further from home time is stretched so that days in the spaceship take years back on the planet. Their only communication is through SMS messages. A beautiful short film dealing with relationship, separation, loss and love.
Shizuku is a 14 year old girl wondering what her life will hold when she finishes school. And that's about it. There is a plot line involving a boy, a cat, school friends and translating country and western songs, but the joy of Whisper of the Heart is that it's just about how life feels as an adolescent. Sweet without being sugary, a gentle story with detailed and believable characters.