A few weeks ago I was talking movies with my cousin Stuart (who, by the way, happens to be a terrific photographer - see here), and by way of me pointing out how Inception is awfully similar to Satoshi Kon's brilliant Paprika, he explained that he'd never been able to get into anime because he didn't know where to begin.
I promised I'd drop him over a list of a few films that would let him ease his way in. Then I forgot all about it. Then a few days later, I remembered. Then it occurred to me that said list would make a good blog post, since I've noticed a few times that even amongst genre fans, there seem to be plenty of people who don't go anywhere near anime. I'm not sure why that is, but my guess is that they've heard about the more cliched aspects of the genre and just aren't turned on by the thought of Japanese schoolgirls piloting giant robots.
But the truth is that statistically only 76% percent of anime feature schoolgirls, a mere 82% include giant robots, and a paltry 43% have both together. That still leaves plenty of room for other stuff. And I'm not talking tentacle-porn here. There are a whole host of anime movies that don't have any Japanese schoolgirls, giant robots or tentacle-porn.
Okay, so maybe anime can be a little impenetrable at times. So with that in mind, I've gone ahead and made my list. It definitely isn't a top ten, since I'm hardly qualified to write one. Instead, it's a list of ten utterly fantastic films that I'd like to think just about anyone who enjoys a good movie can get something out of.
Or at least it's part one of said list. Because they just don't make these weekend things long enough anymore.
Ghost in the Shell
I'm always mystified when I come across sci-fi fans that haven't seen Ghost in the Shell. Fifteen years on, Mamoru Oshii's meditative, visceral cyberpunk classic still feels futuristic, and its animation and imagery remain stunning. It spawned a sequel and a TV series, and all of them rate amongst the finest science fiction ever put to film.
The most recent movie on this list, Summer Wars is a masterpiece of over-ambition. Director Hosoda somehow rolls together family drama, comedy, romance, a mind-blowing cyberworld and sharp social critique into one mad, exhilarating and constantly entertaining package that never loses its footing. Perhaps more than anything here, Summer Wars is a great first step into the world of anime.
Akira's awesomeness has become a bit of a cliche, as year by year it continues to resist looking or feeling dated. Bizarre posthumanism, ultraviolence, a lavish attention to detail and the coolest motorbike ever conceived by human minds all add up to make Akira one of those movies that can somehow influence just about everything that follows it and yet still seem completely fresh.
Every film Hayao Miyazaki has ever made could argue its way into a top ten of great anime movies. But for me, Princess Mononoke was the wake-up call. A better fantasy film has never been made, and for once the US dub did it full justice, with Neil Gaiman on translation duties and a cast including Claire Danes, Billy Crudup and Gillian Anderson. Mononoke is glorious, exhilarating myth-making that makes most western equivalents look hopelessly unimaginative by comparison.
No, not that Metropolis. Except ... well, it sort of is. Imagine Fritz Lang's masterpiece as an animation incorporating cutting edge CGI (well, ten year old CGI that still looks cutting edge) and refracted through the weird lens of Japanese culture and maybe given a little of the heart that was missing from the original, then chuck in a couple of traditional anime tropes taken in unexpected directions and dial it all up to eleven - and you'll have something a bit like director Rintaro's modern classic. Only not quite so brilliant.