When Americans think of animated movies, what comes to mind are the grand animated musicals of Disney or the hilariously animated characters of Illumination. These films are enjoyed around the world by millions of people, but don’t let that obscure the fact that many of these countries produce animation of their own. Japan in particular is famous for the size of its animation industry, creating animation for many areas of media including television, video games, and film. While Japan’s television anime broadcasts are most famous and enjoyed by a large audience abroad, this isn’t the case for their theater animation. Most animated films reach only a fraction of the same audience overseas, often limited to brief showings in select theaters, rather than being watched on television or streaming services, which have become the norm. To raise awareness for how active and interesting Japan’s theater animation is, here are six summer animated films from Japan you can get excited about.
— 映画『プロメア』大ヒット上映中！ (@promare_movie) May 18, 2019
Already confirmed for an international release, this visually striking action film is the first feature-length film from Studio Trigger, a studio which loves to work on bombastic and interesting animation like Kill la Kill and Ninja Slayer From Animation. That trend continues with Promare, a stylish science fiction film where mankind is under siege from flame-wielding espers known as Burnish. The Burning Rescue Fire Department tries to stop the actions of the terrorist group Mad Burnish, and end up uncovering a conspiracy stretching to their own government. What’s most noticeable about this film is its unique mix of 2D and 3D visual elements, similar to last year’s Spider-Man: Enter the Spider-Verse. The combination of seeing 2D animated characters juxtaposed with 3D elements such as vehicles, flames, and even air bubbles trapped within a frozen pond result in a memorable viewing experience with dozens of interesting scenes and shots. Promare rolled out in theaters across Japan May 24th, and has already developed a large following thanks to its memorable character designs and mix of 2D and 3D animation.
— 映画『海獣の子供』公式 (@kaiju_no_kodomo) February 26, 2019
This is certainly the strangest animated film to come out this summer in Japan. Based on the manga of the same name, Children of the Sea is a strange journey into the depths of life in the ocean. Ruka, a stubborn middle-schooler becomes friends with a water-loving Filipino boy Umi and his brother Sora over her summer vacation. But Ruka is quickly drawn into a strange and mysterious situation where she finds herself journeying with the boys to discover a hidden truth within the ocean, and what that means for life on Earth. This story is excellently told through its exquisite visual details, which depict both humans and sea creatures with pinpoint detail. This is the only movie where you can watch a dugong excitedly play with someone’s hair! Children of the Sea released on June 7th, where theaters were astounded by both the realistic sea creature animation and unsettling nature of the story.
— サイエンスSARU (@sciencesaru) April 10, 2019
From Masaaki Yuasa, the director of Mind Game and Devilman Crybaby, comes this charming romantic comedy set by the sea. When a college student’s boyfriend drowns in a surfing accident, she’s shocked to find him still present in various bodies of water. What follows is bouncy animated romance film about coming to terms with loss. Oceanside adventures are clearly a favorite subject of Mr. Yuasa, who has broached the topic several times in his earlier works such as Mind Game and Lu Over the Wall, so viewers are in for a treat as they enjoy spectacular 2D animation of ocean waves and jiggling cubes of water. Ride Your Wave surfs into Japanese theaters on June 21st, giving audiences the next best thing to a beach outing.
— 映画『天気の子』 (@tenkinoko_movie) April 9, 2019
Makoto Shinkai is a well-known Japanese anime director, coming from humble beginnings to find success with anime films which center on unusual romantic journeys. But his 2016 film Your Name found unprecedented success, topping the Japanese box office for several months and becoming the highest-grossing animated feature film in Japan not produced by Studio Ghibli. Expectations are high for his next film, Weathering With You, which sees a young teen moving to Tokyo become captivated by a girl who can seemingly change the weather. Based on the popularity of Your Name, audiences are sure to turn out for this in force; don’t expect to get tickets to a showing without a reservation when it releases in theaters July 19th.
⚔最新予告 公開⚔#映画ドラクエ 最新予告映像が遂に解禁💥
— 『ドラゴンクエスト ユア・ストーリー』公式 (@DQ_MOVIE) June 18, 2019
The hugely popular video game series Dragon Quest will get its first feature film this year! Based on one of the most popular entries in the series, Dragon Quest V, the story follows Luka, the son of a wayward king who is destined to bring peace to the world. Along his journey he becomes companions with monsters, marries, and frees the castle of Zenithia from magical imprisonment. The Dragon Quest games are revered for having stories that feel like long, full meals, so audiences won’t be left wanting for a satisfying experience with this film. Your Story also brings to life many of the iconic monster designs in the Dragon Quest series to a lifelike 3D image in this film. While Dragon Quest games have featured full 3D models since Dragon Quest VIII in 2004, this is the first time they’re rendered with such detail and expression. Dragon Quest: Your Story starts screening in Japan August 2nd.
— 劇場版『ワンピース スタンピード』【公式】 (@OP_STAMPEDE) April 10, 2019
One of the most popular anime franchises in the world, One Piece has spawned various spinoffs from video games, novels, and even a kabuki stage play. Many films have been released covering a variety of artstyles and stories, and the series latest film, Stampede promises more of the crazy action and adventure audiences love about the series. One thing viewers will notice about this film is the production quality of the animation. Visually, the film is very similar in style to the recent animated film DragonBall Super: Broly from Toei Animation. With very thick line drawings and a more faded color palette, this results in a picture that’s easy on the eyes, creating a pleasant viewing experience. August 9th, when One Piece: Stampede releases, is one of the hottest periods in summer for Japan. Viewers can take relief from the heat when they see this in theaters.
As you can see from just these six examples, Japan’s animation industry provides no shortage of things to see in theaters. The variety of stories and audiences these films appeal to shows is proof of how successful Japanese animation is, even if a less-popular format like movie theaters. If you’re visiting Japan for the summer and looking for an interesting activity to try during the day or evening, why not check out an animated movie? Even if your understanding of Japanese isn’t great, you can still have an enjoyable experience as you take in the spectacle of feature film-quality animation made in Japan.
You can find many movie theaters throughout Japan, but if you’re in Tokyo and trying to find one to go to, we recommend the Toho Ueno Cinema near Ueno-Okachimachi station, as it’s found just outside one of the primary station exits.