Five Great Anime Films That Aren’t Studio Ghibli

Ghost in the Shell

For lovers of Japanese animated cinema, better known as anime, Netflix’s recent acquisition of 21 Studio Ghibli movies is amazing news. Currently seven films, My Neighbour Totoro, Ocean Waves, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Only Yesterday, Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso and Tales from Earthsea, are available to watch right now, with the rest coming over the next few months. Now everyone can watch these majestical worlds, including flying creatures and buildings, plucky female protagonists and shapeshifting animals, created by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. To help you get started, we even compiled a list of seven essential Studio Ghibli films that you can check out right here.

Despite the massive influence Studio Ghibli has had over animation not only in Japan but across the whole world, they aren’t the only anime studio worth watching. Anime in Japan is huge, counting over 430 production studios and worth billions of dollars worldwide. That means knowing what to watch can be a difficult process. Therefore, whether you are new to the genre or have already exhausted Ghibli’s relatively slim output, here are five great non-Studio Ghibli anime films that you should watch. Read on to see what we have picked. Think we missed something? Comment below.

Akira

A true landmark in the cyberpunk genre – characterised by metamorphosis, sexual deviance, gritty technology and abstract visual sequences – Akira is quite unlike anything that came before it. Based on director Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga of the same name, the 1989 film takes place in a future dystopian 2019 and tells the story of a biker gang leader that gains telekinetic powers after an accident.   

If Studio Ghibli is characterised by its bucolic settings or quaint, almost European towns, Akira takes place in a truly East Asian megalopolis, featuring vast, overwhelming cityscapes bursting with neon lights. In fact the final film used over 327 different colours, 50 of which were created specifically for the film. Influencing everyone from Kanye West – whose “Stronger” video recreated graphics from the video – to Christopher Nolan (Inception) to Michael Jackson (it features in the music video from “Scream”) its live action remake has been in development hell since 2002. Now Taika Waititi is slated to direct, but the release date is unknown.

Ghost in The Shell

Based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell was a breakthrough in the combination of traditional animation and CGI, creating a look that was both semi-photo-realistic and thrillingly futuristic.  Telling the story of a public-security agent chasing a mysterious hacker, its philosophical themes of self-identity as well as its concepts of transformation via technology would go on to prove a massive influence on the Wachowski sisters’ Matrix trilogy. Cold where Studio Ghibli is warm, it’s a deeply melancholic and provoking look at a world where the robots are taking over. 

For those who associate the sound of anime with Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi’s sweeping strings and uplifting major chords, Ghost in The Shell’s soundtrack is much more abrasive: filled with unsettling choirs and arrhythmic drums patterns, it fully you immerses into this strange cyberpunk world. It was remade in 2017 by Rupert Sanders with Scarlett Johansson in the lead. That film was a complete flop.

Perfect Blue

It makes sense that Satashi Kon’s psychological horror thriller, telling the story of an actress seemingly pursued by her own doppelgänger, has the word perfect in the title. This impressionistic portrait of a woman in the film industry unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality is the closest thing the anime genre has to flawlessness.

Here the very fabric of reality cannot be trusted, Kon rapidly playing with metafictional tropes to both confuse the audience and heighten the protagonist’s inner mental state. Commenting upon society’s double-standards of women, the role of super-fans in popular culture and man’s need to control, Perfect Blue presaged the Twitter era and the concept of the Stan with eerier foresight, making it a deeply relevant work today. It was a also massive influence on the work of Darren Aronofsky, most notably Black Swan.

Paprika

The concept of dreams-within-dreams, signified by swirling buildings and magical elevators, is thrillingly explored in Satashi Kon’s masterpiece Paprika – wide-ranging, messy and deeply ambitious where Perfect Blue was stripped down and psychologically rigorous.  For fans of Spirited Away, which also revels in boundless creativity and magical shapeshifting, Paprika makes the perfect companion film.

Based upon the novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui, it was Satashi Kon’s final film before his death in 2010. Telling the story of a doctor who uses a dream device in order to help her patients, Paprika’s central conceit allows Kon to play with genres such as fantasy, noir and thriller. Most exciting is the sense of carnival created by Kon, letting his wide-ranging creativity loose while taking us along for the ride. The influence upon Inception is pretty obvious here, with many critics even accusing Nolan of lifting scenes wholesale from Kon.

Your Name

For over 15 years, Spirited Away ruled the worldwide anime box office, with over $347 million worldwide. In 2016 this record was broken by the massive hit Your Name, which also debuted to hugely positive critical acclaim. The concept is simple – a gender-swap variation on American films like Freaky Friday and She’s The Man – yet the execution is exquisite, director Makoto Shinkai rendering this coming-of-age tale with acres of sensitivity.

Tackling everything from the Fukushima disaster to the strangeness of occupying a new body to falling in love with someone you haven’t really met, Your Name interweaves these themes with an irresistible poppy sheen. The result is one of the very best anime films, and proof that Shinkai is the best living anime director after Miyazaki himself. Characters from the previous film reappeared in Shinkai’s Weathering With You, which was released last year. Meanwhile Your Name has been slated for an American remake, with (500) Days of Summer’s Marc Webb set to direct.

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