Metropolis (2001)

10 Underrated Arthouse Anime Films You Need To Watch

From mind-bending Mamoru Oshii features to a Daft Punk visualizer film, here are 10 underrated anime films you must not miss.

Anime has perhaps been Japan’s most successful cultural export and has boosted both its soft power and economy immensely. Although anime is often thought of as a genre in itself (which isn’t untrue), most tend to overlook the treasure trove of anime cinema in favor of anime series. Save for a handful of Studio Ghibli hits like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbour Totoro and Makoto Shinkai directorials like Your Name, 5 Centimetres Per Second or Garden of Words, anime cinema often flies under the radar and is seldom seen as a serious medium of art. 

However, auteurs of world cinema owe much to anime. Avatar was inspired by both Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke. The Matrix borrows heavily from Ghost in the Shell. There are numerous other filmmakers who are influenced by anime but have failed to give it credit. Christopher Nolan’s Inception borrows from Paprika, and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream both seem to be heavily inspired by Perfect Blue. It’s only fair then that anime’s artistic profundity receives its due. On that note, here’s a list of ten trailblazing anime films that everybody needs to know.

Angel’s Egg (1985)

10 Underrated Anime Movies: Angel's Egg

This wonderfully strange film has been described as a “science fantasy,” but it escapes all classifications of genre. Angel’s Egg is a film that stays with you long after you’ve watched it. Directed by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) in collaboration with artist Yoshitaka Amano (Vampire Hunter D) the plot revolves around a little girl who carries around a big egg in a barren, post apocalyptic landscape. (This is one of those movies where the synopsis gives absolutely nothing away.) Biblical, ethereal, melancholic and deeply moving, Angel’s Egg is a quick watch with a runtime of 75 minutes. 

Mind Games (2004)

10 Underrated Anime Movies: Mind Games

Masaaki Yuasa is a filmmaker whose very distinct style has become his trademark. A vibrantly colorful palette, quirky characters, and fluid and expressive animation are all staples in his filmography. Adapted from the manga of the same name, Mind Games revolves around a young man’s odyssey to heaven and back. This journey of self-discovery is mind-bogglingly psychedelic with rapid transitions and a curious hodgepodge of many different animation styles. It leaves the audience completely on edge as to what might come next. Bizarre, funny, eclectic and profound, Mind Games is an unforgettable film.

Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

A surrealist erotic art film, Belladonna is about a woman who makes a pact with the Devil after being raped. She wants to take revenge upon those who have hurt her. Ahead of its time, both thematically and artistically, Belladonna is hauntingly beautiful. With an art style that’s heavily inspired by art nouveau artists like Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Alphonse Mucha and Odilon Redon, the film took six years to make and was a commercial failure upon release. Over the years, however, it has gained a cult following and is now considered a classic by many.

Colorful (2010)

10 Underrated Anime Movies: Colorful

Colorful is a fantasy-thriller about a soul that must prove itself worthy of rebirth. Additionally, it must figure out why the student whose body it inhabits has committed suicide. It’s rare to see grief, loss, and mental illness addressed in anime — and seldom is it done in such a poignant way. Touching and heartfelt, this is a unique tale of self-discovery and what it means to keep living despite the many challenges that life throws our way.

Puparia (2020)

This three-minute long short film took director Shingo Tamagawa approximately three years to make. Available for free on YouTube, Tamagawa drew each frame by hand and made the film independently. The background score by Steve Reich adds to the atmosphere of this beautiful film. Conceived during a period where Tamagawa had stopped drawing for over a year due to his disillusionment with the commercial focus of the anime industry, he has described Puparia as evoking a sense of “change.” It’s made obvious by the title, especially with regard to how “the values shaping our world (are) gradually fading.”

Interstella 555 (2003)

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to watch humanoid creatures dance to Daft Punk in a spacecraft, look no further. This sci-fi musical was a visual companion to Daft Punk’s second album, Discovery (2001). It was produced by Toei Animation (Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya), directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi, and supervised by the Daft Punk duo’s childhood hero, Leiji Matsumoto. This film has no dialogue and consists entirely of music from Discovery with minimal sound effects. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003 and had a limited theatrical release. Interstella 555 is perfect for both fans and non-fans alike.

Wolf Children (2012)

10 Underrated Anime Movies: Wolf Children

Wolf Children is a fantasy drama directed by the legendary Mamoru Hosoda. It’s about a woman who, after the death of her werewolf lover, must raise her half-werewolf children away from prying eyes. Sentimental, bittersweet and at times, even schmaltzy, Wolf Children is a deeply touching story about love, loss and family. It’s a cozy watch for a rainy day when you just want to huddle up and feel all your feelings.  

Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

Adapted from Kenji Miyazawa’s 1934 novel of the same name, Night on the Galatic Railroad tells the story of two cats who journey across the Milky Way on a celestial train. Largely metaphysical, empathy is a core focus of the plot. It’s said to be inspired by a railroad trip Miyazawa took in 1923, after the death of his beloved sister, Toshi. The idea of a steam locomotive running through the stars inspired Leiji Matsumoto to create his now-iconic manga, Galaxy Express 999. Simultaneously child-like yet profound, Night on the Galactic Railroad is a film one returns to again and again. 

Memories (1995)

This sci-fi anthology film features three short films directed by Koji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura, and Katsuhiro Otomo, respectively. All three have dramatically different styles and make for an interesting viewing experience. Horrifying, thrilling, and beautiful, the auteurs come together to create a truly one of a kind masterpiece. It’s easy to see how Memories set a precedent for many other films in the genre. 

Metropolis (2001)

Metropolis is a cyberpunk sci-fi action drama that constantly keeps you guessing. It’s loosely based on Osamu Tezuka’s 1949 manga of the same name, which itself has parallels with Fritz Lang’s 1927 film. Set in a futuristic society where humans and robots coexist, an uncle-nephew duo team up in search for an eccentric scientist accused of human trafficking. As thought provoking as it is touching, Metropolis reminds us what it truly means to be “human.”

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