The 9 Best Japanese Animated Films of the 21st Century

  • Among the many things that Japan is famous for, Japanese animation films (anime for short) hold a special place in almost everyone’s hearts. Anime is a form of art and there are several unique techniques and methods to making these films that prove to be an integral part of Japanese culture.

    Recently, a film and television website called The Playlist released a list of The 50 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far, and interestingly enough, some of the movies mentioned are actually Japanese anime. So we here at Japan Info decided to collate the Japanese films included on the list for our readers’ interest and convenience in the order that they appeared in the original article. (See the complete full list here.) Let’s recap on the Japanese anime that were nominated as part of the 50 Best Animated Films of the 21st Century (so far) together!

    9. Tokyo Godfathers (東京ゴッドファーザーズ – 2003)

    This film that ranked no. 47 on the list is directed by Satoshi Kon (今敏) and inspired by John Ford’s Three Godfathers. It revolves around three homeless people – alcoholic and bum Gin (ギン), transwoman Hana (ハナ), and young runaway Miyuki (ミユキ) as they find an abandoned baby in the trash on the night of Christmas Eve and tries to give the child back to its parents.

    8. Paprika (パプリカ – 2006)

    At no. 42 is another Satoshi Kon masterpiece, this being his last film out of four just before he passed away from cancer. Based on the 1993 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui (筒井康隆), the story is set in the future where people can go into other people’s dreams using a machine called “DC Mini” (which gets stolen) as a form of revolutionary therapy. Among other awards, Paprika got nominated for the Golden Lion at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival.

    7. Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ – 2008)

    Originally known as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (崖の上のポニョ – Gake no Ue no Ponyo), this places no. 36 on the list. Ponyo is directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎駿) and was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. The plot centers around the friendship and adventures of Sosuke (宗介) and Brunhilde/Ponyo (ポニョ) who is a fish-girl hybrid. As a matter of fact, this is the third highest-grossing anime film in the world!

    6. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (時をかける少女 – 2006)

    Directed by Mamoru Hosoda (細田守), this film at no. 34 is a loose sequel to the 1967 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui. Its story revolves around Makoto (真琴), a teenage girl based in Tokyo who can travel back in time (for a limited number) and who tries to solve problems by “leaping through time.” The film won many awards including the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year in 2007.

    5. Wolf Children (おおかみこどもの雨と雪 – 2012)

    Another film from director Mamoru Hosoda places no. 32. Wolf Children focuses on the two children of a werewolf father (deceased) and a human mother, Yuki (雪) and Ame (雨), as they try to manage their lives and go through puberty while transitioning into a wolf and how their mother raises them as a single parent.

    4. Millennium Actress (千年女優 – 2001)

    And another Satoshi Kon creation makes the list at no. 23! Millenium Actress concentrates around the making of a documentary about retired movie star Chiyoko Fujiwara (藤原千代子)’s life and career where the difference between reality and her cinematic roles get blurred. It is said that this film is loosely based on the real lives of Japanese actresses Setsuko Hara (原節子) and Hideko Takamine (高峰秀子).

    3. The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ – 2013)

    At no. 10 is Hayao Miyazaki’s final movie before his retirement. The Wind Rises is an animated historical drama that is about real-life airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi (堀越二郎) who designed fighter aircraft that were used during the World War II. It is a film adaptation of Miyazaki’s manga of the same name and is loosely based on Hori Tatsuo (堀辰雄)’s 1937 novel The Wind Has Risen. It was awarded as the highest-grossing Japanese film in Japan in 2013 among its other notable awards and nominations.

    2. The Tale Of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語 – 2013)

    Isao Takahata (高畑勲) who is the co-founder of Studio Ghibli and director of Grave of the Fireflies is the one behind this film at the no. 7 spot. Loosely based on the Japanese folktale of the Bamboo Cutter, the movie plot focuses on the miniature girl who is discovered inside a bamboo shoot by a bamboo cutter. She grows faster than any other normal child and then becomes royalty.

    1. Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し – 2001)

    And no. 1 on the 50 Best Animated Films of the 21st Century is none other than… Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away! It revolves around Chihiro (千尋) who enters the “spirit world” as she and her parents move neighborhood. Chihiro encounters more peculiar things the more she explores the magical realm. The Playlist put it at the number 1 spot for the reason that it “should occupy a very special place in our hearts as the shining portal into the fantastical, beyond-ken world of Ghibli.” Miyazaki’s creation is the most successful and highest-grossing film in Japanese history (grossing about $289 million worldwide)! It even won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards.

    Other Notable Japanese Animations

    Aside from those mentioned above, there were other Japanese animations that were considered for the top 50 but did not quite make it: Howl’s Moving Castle (ハウルの動く城), Dead Leaves (デッド リーブス), Evangelion: You Are Not Alone (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版:序), When Marnie Was There (思い出のマーニー), Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence (イノセンス), The Cat Returns (猫の恩返し), Steamboy (スチームボーイ), and Metropolis (メトロポリス).

    Having 9 Japanese films out of The 50 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far says a lot about the quality of Japanese animations and the remarkable talent of Japanese creators. Successfully combining spectacular animation and thought-provoking storylines, it is no surprise that Japanese anime stand out from the rest.

    Watching these films can bring you closer to fully understanding the Japanese culture, its people, and the stories they want to tell. So what are you waiting for? If you haven’t seen these films, go ahead and watch them already! Or if you’ve already seen them all, rewatching them won’t hurt, right?

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