A few weeks ago, we wrote a blog listing our favourite Ghibli films and our favourite Japanese TV shows. Now, we thought it was time to share our favourite Japanese anime, another movie genre that we enjoy! Japanese anime is such a vast category and we know there must be so many movies we have yet to watch. So, if you have any recommendations, please do share your favourites with us! :)
OUR TOP FIVE RECOMMENDATIONS: 1. Your Name (2016, Director: Makoto Shinkai) 2. 5 Centimetres per Second (2007, Director: Makoto Shinkai) 3. March Comes In Like a Lion (2017, Director: Keishi Otomo) 4. Your Lie in April (2014, Director: Kyohei Ishiguro) 5. Noragami (2014, Director: Kotaro Tamura) HONOURABLE MENTIONS: - A Silent Voice (2016, Director: Naoko Yamada) - Sword Art Online (2012, Director: Tomohiko Ito) - Barakamon (2014, Director: Masaki Tachibana)
SPOILER ALERT! Below we have written down a few points that resonated with us while watching each anime film. Have you already seen these films? We would love to know what you thought too!
1. Your Name Japanese title: Kimi No Na Wa / 君の名は 2. 5 Centimetres per Second Japanese title: Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru / 秒速5センチメートル
Your Name and 5 Centimetres per Second are by Makoto Shinkai – the animator hailed as ‘the new Miyazaki’ when Your Name became the second-biggest-grossing Japanese movie in the country’s history, surpassed only by Miyazaki Hayao's Oscar-winning Spirited Away. 5 Centimetres per Second is an earlier film than Your Name, and it sets the precedent for the themes of separation and loneliness, miscommunication, and the randomness of fate that both of these animations share. Both films follow the narrative of a pair of teenage star-crossed lovers; both films share an ending where fate is simply chance, and time does or does not allow it.
5 Centimetres per Second
5 Centimetres per Second is a story as heartfelt as the title suggests: it describes the speed at which a cherry blossom petal falls to the ground and drifts; just as a pure love forged in friendship can drift in the space of time. In the first short story, Cherry Blossom, we see a childhood friendship that is growing into love reinforced through the longing of separation. Teenage Takaki journeys to be reunited with Akari in her far-off snow-bound village; and the slow-moving empty train, and the falling snow highlight his connection to this one girl: his world is frozen apart from the warmth he receives from Akari.
As the narrative unfolds, we see small moments of miscommunication that are slowly revealed as the moments in time when the relationship began to quietly melt away. The letters that Takaki and Akari have written to each other are never shared; their love for each other remains unspoken. This poignant, beautiful film lingers on love that is not forgotten as the years pass; and how chance, fate, or the universe places the lovers within centimetres of each other, but the moment passes.
And then we come to Your Name, Makoto’s later movie, where he twists the romance genre upside down! Here the connection between the lovers is more deeply forged, as they repeatedly swap bodies and temporarily live each other’s lives! In a sequence in the Underworld, Taki and Mitsuha are depicted as being truly bonded by traditionally-woven spiritual braiding.
There is no miscommunication in this movie – communication floods the first part of the film as our protagonists scroll through each other’s phones, share texts, photos, write in exercise books, write on each other’s skin – they find every way they can to communicate as they time-slip into each other’s lives.
In Your Name, teenage emotion is set against a huge cosmological backdrop, a theme that is also explored in 5 Centimetres per Second. Below the vast universe, and with grasses and plants wind-blown in the foreground, Makoto paints the agony of a love that cannot be acted on or expressed:
'...That was also when it became painfully clear that he didn't really see me.. That’s why I couldn’t tell him how I felt that day. Takaki was a good guy.. But he was always looking at something beyond me. Something very far away..’
5 Centimetres per Second : Kanae loves Takaki so much but cannot tell him!
Your Name: Taki sees the comet in Tokyo
Of course in Your Name, the second arc of the film is set against the catastrophic splintering of a comet, and the destruction of the rural village where Mitsuha has lived with her sister and grandmother. In the strange, spiritual no-man’s land, somewhere between space and time, Taki and Mitsuha meet while in each other’s bodies. Memory and time become fluid and conflated as Taki and Mitsuha cling to the moment that they were together, just as the moment recedes rapidly into the past. There is such poignancy in this desperate attempt to hold onto love.
And then there are the soundtracks! Where 5 Centimetres per Second has a beautifully soaring and soulful soundtrack to match the lingering pace, Your Name explodes with Radwimps J-Pop and completely encapsulates the teenage frenetic headlong-rush that bowls the audience through this completely captivating film!
So if you’re looking for movies that share incredibly beautiful art work – from detailed Tokyo skyscrapers to painterly rural backdrops, and from magnificent starscapes to beautifully drawn central characters, check out Your Name and 5 Centimetres per Second !
And do look out for Makoto Shinkai’s similarly breath-taking animation The Garden of Words, (available on Netflix), which is set in the incredibly realised Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo.
We can't wait to see Weathering with You !
3. March Comes in Like a Lion Japanese title: Sangatsu no Raion / 3月のライオン
In snatched moments in Japanese class, we like to discuss anime! Sangatsu no Raion was recommended to us, and I’ve watched it several times. At the centre of this anime is heart – it’s surely impossible not to be drawn into the story of isolated, troubled but adorable Kiriyama Rei. The story follows an arc, in which Rei rediscovers how to trust and care and love, through his interactions specifically with three recently bereaved sisters: Akari, Hina, and Momo.
Located in Tokyo, Rei also happens to be one of only five high school students nationally who have become professional shogi players! Shogi is like Japanese chess: it takes tremendous skill and years of dedication. We learn quite a bit about the shogi championships as the series progresses too!
But if you want to watch an anime that is genuinely moving, and that has wonderfully creative art work, as well as J-Pop Bump of Chicken tracks at the intro and end, then Sangatsu no Lion is definitely the one for you!
4. Your Lie in April Japanese title: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso / 四月は君の嘘
Over on Netflix is another outstanding anime known as minami-ke, or ‘slice of life’ anime:Your Lie in April. The protagonist, Arima Kousei, a musical prodigy, has endured a difficult childhood in a similar way to Rei in Sangatsu no Lion. Both Kousei and Rei have lost family, but Kousei’s feelings are muddied by the bullying he endured at the hands of his now deceased mother. Just as Rei clings to shogi in order to move forward with his life, Kousei returns to the piano that had become a misery to him.
The competition scenes where Kousei is fighting to retain his grip on his piano playing are masterful. He is a very endearing character, full of deep feeling. It is through the kindness of his friends that he looks brightly towards his future, and while the story of his relationship with his first love, the violinist Kaori is heart-breaking, Kousei’s story is ultimately uplifting :)
Your Lie in April has beautifully drawn art work, and a thoughtful and engaging storyline. It’s definitely one to watch!
5. Noragami Japanese title: ノラガミ
Another anime that always gets people animated is this one, Noragami ! Noragami means ‘stray god’, and the anime opens with a disaffected minor god called Yato, who harbours ambitions of achieving the status of the popular gods: he wants fame, recognition, and a large temple where people worship him too!
Accompanied by Hiyori – who drifts between the supernatural world and the real world, and Yukine, who is the human manifestation of Yato’s fighting weapon – his sacred regalia – this is an exciting anime as wayward spirits are hunted down and destroyed in epic action scenes!
It’s frankly worth watching Noragami for the opening sequence alone – for its very cool art work and J-Pop!
We hope you've enjoyed reading about our favourite anime as we much as we enjoy looking at them!
There are so many more we would like to mention:
A Silent Voice / Koe no Katachi 映画 聲の形
Another Japanese animation that analyses the legacy of bullying is this one, A Silent Voice. Unusually the perpetrator’s story is followed, as he moves away from his schoolyard self, and, haunted by guilt, he reflects on the harm he did to a sweet, hearing-impaired schoolgirl.
Sword Art Online / ソードアート・オンライン
We started out several years ago watching Sword Art Online (First Season), for its epic tale of teenager Kirito who is trapped inside a Virtual Reality game, under threat of never getting out alive!
Barakamon / ばらかもん
A young man from the city, passionate to learn how to create the perfect calligraphy, comes to grips with country life when his father banishes him!