It still surprises me that most cinephiles stop their exploration of anime with Hayao Miyazaki. Granted, Miyazaki isn’t a slouch when it comes to animation, but considering the wide world of anime I would think that many animation enthusiasts (which most of Miyazaki’s American fans are) would want to explore all the wonderful things Japan has to offer. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not the biggest Miyazaki fan, though there are a handful of his movies that I adore, because there isn’t much evolution in his work and the relentless need to stick a passive adolescent girl in a strange world where she gets helped by scary/strange things that are actually good guys and if you’ve seen Ponyo, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, etc. you get my point. But even my bias aside, why not look further? I’ll write a couple of suggestions and stick primarily to movies or shorts put together on a DVD.
One of the first things I’d always recommend to people not familiar to anime is The Animatrix, which is a collection of shorts written and directed by various masters of anime through different views of The Matrix‘s universe. Even if you didn’t enjoy either of the sequels to the series, you will find something to love here because it takes all those little ideas that were so beloved in the original movie and expands upon them. The biggest reason this is always at the top of my list in recommendations is because it dispels the common belief that all anime looks the same. How this came to be a common misconception among non-anime watching fans, I’ll never know. I’d rather not go into all the shorts, so I’ll just mention three that I regularly go back to. Being a huge fan of film noir, the standout short to me is A Detective’s Story by Shinichirō Watanabe (creator/director of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo) . It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at and it’s unfortunate that the short is so short because I would have loved for an animated series to exist in this beautiful drawn world. The grey scale blends with the chiaroscuro style perfectly. The second short that I adore is Beyond by Koji Morimoto (Memories) takes place in the real world where there is a glitch in the Matrix. There isn’t anything necessarily profound about this short, it’s just some kids playing around in a broken part of the world. Lush colors and brilliantly animated. This is just a fun watch. The last one that I would like to mention is World Record by Takeshi Koike. Features an Olympic runner that breaks out of the Matrix by sheer willpower. The reason this short stands out to me it because it looks like something an American would draw, if we were allowed to experiment more in genre (meaning non-comedy).
The three photos above are from the respective shorts in the order that I mentioned them.
My favorite anime, and possibility animated film regardless of region, of all time has to be Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. I won’t go into expansive detail about the plot or how I feel about it because I have a draft written up about it already going into detail about how I feel about the movie. It bares mentioning however because it is easily one of the best animated films to come out in the last 15 years. Unfortunately, it’s not as populist pleasing as a Miyazaki film, nor does it have animation prestige or breakthrough notice like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. What it does have, in addition to being written by the director of Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii) is a perfectly animated and perfect encapsulation of the very best that Oshii can do. Like the vast majority of his work, it is a slow watch with an almost unforgiving amount of dread and sadness attached. It also has several bits of extreme violence. Not extreme violence in the fashion of “OMG I can’t believe that much blood just poured out!” but extreme violence in the fact that you feel it every time you see it. With its frequent use of The Little Red Riding Hood (original story) throughout, there’s plenty of meat to the film to discuss endlessly about it. Granted you won’t want to go back through several rewatches because the mood.
To stay with the more “realistic” anime, another favorite of mine is Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers. It is about three homeless people, including a gruff older man, a drag queen and a recent runaway girl as they try to return an abandoned baby back to its mother. Some wacky and not so wacky events ensue as they try to return to the child to its mother. As well as many arguments and questions why the girl with a decent home would runaway. Both of those components help make this a great film, but the best part is the heart to it. Which is always wonderful to see these days because now people don’t ever seen to want to engage in any honest emotions without winking and nodding at cameras. Even throughout of the bickering and arguments and violence, there’s a wonderful humanity to this movie. I would honestly place it above Graveyard of Fireflies because it warms my heart and I always have a special spot for happy endings in sincere Christmas movies, Frank Capra being one of my favorite directors.
The last movie I would like to mention is Blood: The Last Vampire. Though it’s less than an hour-long (50 min. including credits), I have no problem recommending this. However, I must preface this by saying that this isn’t exactly the type of movie we’re you’re going to get an expansive look at the world. It’s just a slice of life story about a Saya (the last vampire in question) and her hunting a few chiropterans (basically giant bat/humanlike creatures). While this film isn’t as solemn as Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, it certainly isn’t a cheery or light (tone) film in any regard. Majority of the film takes place in the dark or at dusk because well it’s a vampire movie. There is a stellar action sequence that takes place near the end of the movie within the warehouse were Saya encounters a chiropteran trying to kill the school’s nurse. Suspenseful on all accounts and doesn’t “anime itself”, meaning it doesn’t go through some contrived notions/anime clichés to prolong the fight or give some convenience to help out the protagonist. The the giant bat like creatures acts like an animatistic creature would have it attacking, stalking, and defending itself. Wonderful all around for me.
As I was writing up a few thoughts on Blood: The Last Vampire, it came to me that I was writing about a few too many serious anime films. That isn’t the impression that I wanted to give, that all non-Miyazaki films that I enjoy/worth noting must be violent or somber in tone. However, I will correct it in my next Anime Beyond Miyazaki write out. I’ll probably include a could TV series too that are more lighthearted that I enjoy. Air Gear being the first thing that came to my mind when I think of fun anime that I love.