The films that have made the history of Japanese animation, from Barefoot Gen to Evangelion, passing through Ghost in the Shell.
“It will be because I grew up with souls”. It’s something I happen to say when critically acclaimed films and series don’t surprise me at all. I said it for the first time in 2002 when I saw The Matrix on TV. But which are the anime to see absolutely? I was 16, I had already seen Ghost in the shell and the 26 episodes (plus movies) of Neon Genesis Evangelion had just passed over me like a train. The Matrix struck me as complex as an illustrated reduction of Little Women.
It is not to “get mad”, as some tell me. It’s just that I love the animation in general, and especially the Japanese one knows how to surprise me. While a good show usually sheds light on the perspective I already have, a good anime offers me a new, unexpected one every time, which messes up everything I expected from the story.
This list of 5 anime tips to see – in strict chronological order – is therefore above all an invitation: watch animated films, and especially Japanese ones. You can watch them on Netflix or on kissanime for free. You may discover diamonds.
Barefoot Gen (1976) by Mori Masaki
It seems useless and simplistic to try to explain here what it means, for Japan, to face the end of the Second World War. Taken from the manga Gen of Hiroshima (Keiji Nakazawa, 1973), one of the milestones of world comics, Hadashi no Gen tells the life of Gen Nakaoka, an ordinary boy who survives the nuclear holocaust in Hiroshima. The film is intense and dramatic, as you can imagine, but also tense – without rhetoric – in a constant vindication of hope, and of the future that arises from it. Inexplicably little known in Italy, it is the only title on this list that has not been dubbed.
Lum – Beautiful Dreamer (1984) by Mamoru Oshii
Despite the numerous original productions, most Japanese animated films are linked to already famous anime and manga franchises and therefore inserted – more or less strictly – within a continuity. A little for this, a little for prejudice, they are often snubbed by the “planks”. Among these is Lum – Beautiful Dreamer. Welcomed with disappointment (but it would be better to say “with anger”) by fans of the character created by Rumiko Takahashi, and only later re-evaluated as a classic, in Beautiful Dreamer there are already all the authorial themes of Mamoru Oshii: identity, dream, the inconsistency of what we call “reality”. Everything is gutted through the classic narrative structures of the series, which Oshii reuses as a means to encode the cogs of the imagination, including those that block us in his reshuffle.
Akira (1988) by Kazuhiro Otomo
It is difficult to say something that has not been said about Kazuhiro Ōtomo’s colossus, the result of an effort then-unprecedented: 6 companies involved in the production, 1300 animators from 50 studios, of which five dedicated exclusively to the backdrops and one to the CGI, for a total expenditure of one billion yen. Ōtomo’s steampunk and violent Japan did not immediately storm the box office, but took Japanese animation out of the ghetto in which the world had locked it up, and opened the international boom of the 90s.
Ninja Scroll (1993) by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
In some, rare cases, a film is more famous abroad than at home. I think it is the case of Ninja Scroll, which attracted attention abroad by virtue of its dark history and its particularly violent scenes, able to remove any doubt about the possibility of making anime for adults or not. It must be said that it was mainly the Americans who were amazed, our country has been one of the main consumers of anime since the 1970s and we are a bit more tempered, but even so, the brutal feudal Japan of Ninja Scroll still has its effect.
Ghost in the Shell (1995) by Mamoru Oshii
In a futuristic Japan, Police Section 9 investigates cybercrime. Among the members is Major Motoko Kusanagi, almost entirely cyborg, who will be confronted with artificial intelligence capable of questioning his entire existence.
Someone discovered it thanks to the recent remake with Scarlett Johansson, but the original, with its American cousin, just share the title. Based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell is a film that even now, looking at it, seems almost too advanced to be true. It was 1995 and Ghost in the Shell, if you looked back, saw Ex-Machina.