Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Handful of Anime Movies With Wide Appeal

Many, many anime articles have been written about gateway anime or the best anime movies.  This post is of a similar vein, but looks at the subject from the perspective of general appeal.  I have chosen these movies because I believe they are just good storytelling and they have been released with English dubs in most cases.  These movies would also be a good introduction to animated Japanese pop culture without digging into tropes like moe, mecha, magical girls, fan service, etc.  If you wonder why animation plays a big role in contemporary Japanese culture, these films would give some appreciation of it, especially before your first trip there.  Of course, don't miss out on the classic black and white films, and especially the Samurai films like the Seven Samurai too!
Six Anime Movies

Science Fiction Classics
Akira directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
This is the classic film about a post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk Tokyo (Neo Tokyo) that set a new standard in animation and story telling for science fiction anime.  Teenage biker Shotaro Kaneda with his classic red motorbike must deal with secret government experiments with esper powers.

Ghost in the Shell directed by Mamoru Oshii
This is the classic cyberpunk scifi thriller in a future Tokyo that looks like a megacity with Hong Kong like crowding.  Major Motoko Kusanagi, an intelligence operative with a cyborg body and a cyberbrain must deal with the puppet master who is hacking into people and systems.  It kind of encapsulates a vision of a high-tech Tokyo you would be fascinated to see.

Evangelion 1.11 directed by Hideaki Anno
This film encapsulates the first six episodes of the famous anime that set the bar for giant robot anime after Gundam.  The movie takes place in Tokyo-3 which was a city rebuilt after the second impact devastated planet Earth.  Shinji Ikari, the reluctant pilot of the giant bio-mechanical robot EVA-01 must fight off monsters called Angels that threaten to destroy the earth once again.

Family Classics
This category is ruled by Hayou Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli which is like the Disney studio of Japan for animation.  These films are universally appealing and not just for kids and they have made many more movies than what is listed here.
Spirited Away directed by Hayao Miyazaki
A family passes through into the spirit world by accident.  Chihiro Ogino, a young girl, must get a job at a magical bath house to save her parents.  This movie won an Oscar for best animated film and tells a wonderful story with a richly imagined world and plenty of magic.

Castle in the Sky directed by Hayao Miyazaki
This film is set in a fantasy world that lives in the shadow of a great empire that fell long ago.  Great airships abound and there are legends of Laputa, a lost city in the sky. Pazu and Sheeta, two adolescents, must deal with air pirates, mechanical warriors and a sinister government agent while solving the secret of Laputa.

My Neighbour Totoro directed by Hayao Miyazaki
This is my absolute favourite movie of all time if I had to pick just one movie.  A father and his two daughters moves into the countryside near Tokyo in 1950s Japan.  Here, the two daughters meet Totoro, a wind spirit, and have adventures with NO VILLAIN (take that most family pictures).  It is a charming film that young children generally love as the Totoro and Catbus are adorable.
Grave of the Fireflies (by Studio Ghibli again)
Be prepared to cry.  This is the story about a young boy who must take care of his younger sister after being orphaned during World War II.  They must fend for themselves in an uncaring world and it is a powerful drama and an anti-war film.

Princess Mononoke (by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli again)
This is a pseudo-historical film set in in the 14th century Japan where magic is real and the spirit world is real.  The Japanese feudal lords are encroaching onto Emishi lands and conflict results between the iron age Japanese and the stone age native peoples who live there.  A powerful film about nature and living with it.

Wolf Children directed by Mamoru Hosoda
A serious film set in modern Japan where a woman, Hana, falls in love with a wolf man (someone who can shape shift between man and wolf - but it isn't normal lycanthropy).  Hana bears twins after the two become a family.  Tragedy strikes and Hana has to move to the country where she can safely raise her two children who have a habit of transforming into wolf pups.  The two children must choose between being human or a wolf and the mother passed through many trials while raising them.  Good film!

Summer Wars directed by Mamoru Hosoda
A rogue AI takes threatens the world by taking over the global cyber network of Oz.  A family has to unite to take it on and save the world. Awesome animation, a richly imagined cyberspace, and the importance of family and traditional ties to people all are featured in this film.  A favourite of mine.

Paprika directed by Satoshi Kon
This is a flim about Paprika, the dream ego, of a psychological therapist who enters patients dreams to help them.  Kind of like Inception, but it predates that movie by years, and isn't about theft.  The last film by Satoshi Kon and it has wonderful imagery.

Perfect Blue directed by Satoshi Kon
A psychological thriller where an pop-idol singer loses her touch with reality.  What is real and what isn't.  A very well done film of this type.

Millenium Actress directed by Satoshi Kon
Another richly imagined film about the unrequited love of an actress.  It takes a documentary film team into the life of the woman when they are interviewing her.  It is like they are immersed in her films and her past.  A wonderfully put together and imagined film!

Other films of mention:
Steamboy, Tekkonkinkreet, Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis, Roujin-Z, The Girl Who Lept Through Time, Place Promised In Our Early Days, 5 Cm Per Second, The Garden of Words.

Six Edgy or Action Anime Set in a Normal Tokyo

Tokyo is as important to anime as New York is important to movies.  Everything tends to get set there and iconic landmarks are shown again and again.  It is also interesting how school based anime set in parts of rural Japan / other Japanese locations always have students go "Oooh.  The new transfer student is from Tokyo," even though a quarter of the Japanese population lives in the greater Tokyo area.
Shinjuku at Night
Anyhow, I'd like to talk about a few action anime that are set in Tokyo, but not an unusual Tokyo where mechs rule or magic is common.  These are shows that happen in a Tokyo you could visit and add to the mystique of the everyday.  Of course there are also shows such as Patlabor too where giant police mechs are grafted onto an otherwise normal city, and time travel with Stein's Gate / Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but I'm just aiming at shows that might have a bit of the X Files to them or way out plots.  Sorry, no zombies like High School of the Dead, but that is an interesting show too!  If I missed your favourite show, be kind, there is never any slur intended.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
This is an interesting little series about a sister and her younger brother who go out for a day trip in Odaiba on their own.  Of course, the big one hits while they are there and they must try to find their way home to their parents.  Cellular phone service is out and they are traveling across a wrecked central Tokyo in the direction of Shibuya.  I thought the realism in this show was pretty good and I'm sure it is something that has struck a chord in many anime fans since the big earthquake that rocked Fukushima and Tokyo a few years back.  It has to be hard to make your way across any city that is blocked with rubble, impassible roads and collapsed buildings.  This anime has a bit of a surrealistic / supernatural end, but it was gripping and well done.

Penguindrum / Bakemonogatari
These two anime are very visually striking and have some great color usage.  Both involve supernatural elements that seem to take place in an otherwise normal environment you could be walking around in yourself.  Penguindrum definitely happens in Tokyo as the metro and Ikebukuro locations are used quite a bit, while Bakemonogatari is more generic.  Penguindrum is about two brothers,Kanba and Shoma, and their younger sister Himari who is terminally ill.  The sister collapses after a trip to the aquarium at Sunshine City but is revived by a strange spirit in the form of Penguin hat.  The show was interesting, but only really brings all of the meandering plot elements together in the last quarter of the show.  There are plenty of plot twists about the family backgrounds and what exactly is the Penguindrum and what makes it so powerful?  Bakemonogatari has a boy named Koyomi who was saved from a vampire attack.  He now helps others who have been afflicted with various supernatural problems.  Lots of talking in this show, but the funky animation sure helps this show along.  I liked it mainly for the visuals, but there is plenty of other interesting things happening.

An anime based on the American comic book that adapted well into a Japanese context.  Not exactly set in a contemporary Tokyo as it is somewhat futuristic, it is included anyways.  Masane Amaha is a mother who lost her memories during the "great quake" and is afflicted with the Witchblade artifact.  The Witchblade draws her into a power struggle between an powerful corporation and the government when all she wants to do is live a good life and raise her daughter.  Great battle scenes between various Witchblades and Cloneblades along with many supporting characters that you really come to like.  There is the very cute little girl, a bar / house that everyone hangs out in, and of course an investigative reporter.  There is a nice ending to this series, but I'm not going to reveal if it is happy or tragic.  By the way, another series set in Tokyo with an investigative report is Speedgrapher, but it is way more violent, more supernatural, with way more adult content and disturbing scenes.

Birdy the Mighty Decode
Roppongi just gets blasted into bits in this show.  An Federation law enforcement agent, Birdy Cephon Altera, comes to Earth to apprehend an alien criminal ring.  A poor boy named Tsutomu Senkawa is accidentally killed by her in a battle and she saves him by sharing his body.  All kinds of embarrassing situations ensue, but the show has a good story at its core, with plenty of action and is decent science fiction.  Alien refugees, criminals from the stars performing experiments on hapless civilians, and super-powered galactic law enforcers characterize this show.

People who have recently died are revived to fight against aliens on demand.  It is as if someone scanned them at a point just before they died and they get rebuilt like something out of a 3D printer.  Kind of cool and creepy at the same time.   Very violent with some sexual themes, this show gives the heroes advanced energy weapons and super-powered Gantz suits to use in their struggles.  After they successfully defeat the aliens they were summoned to fight they earn points that play a big role later on and return to their regular life until they are summoned again.  This very nasty game seems to be pointless, but does accumulate into a bigger story that explains why they are doing this.  This is a popular show and manga.

Eden of the East
This show is a great story that builds on a number of modern societal elements like the decline of Japan, NEETS, conspiracies, crazy powerful computers, shadow organizations. The story starts with a naked hero with a cellphone and a gun who has lost his memory in front of the White House.  He assumes the name of  Akira Takizawa and involves a Japanese girl named Saki in his flight from law enforcement.  Both end up back in Tokyo where the story deepens.  The special cellphone gives him access to a concierge names Juiz who can seem to grant miraculous wishes for a price.  The hero finds out he is in a high-stakes game with 11 other Selecao to somehow save Japan in an unspecified manner on a 10 billion yen budget.  The show was enjoyable along with the two movies that brought it to an ultimate conclusion.

Anyhow, that is the six I picked for now, but there are probably many others out there that are just as much fun to watch.  So the next time you're in Tokyo, let the imagination run wild in the city of anime.

Followup...  I meant to also add Durarara!! or DRRR!! to the list as it meets all of the same requirements for edgy, x-files, alternate culture too.

This is an awesome show that features an Internet gang called the Dollars (a crowd sourced gang?), a real gang, some tough otaku, two pretty cool high-school protagonists, an almost supernatural info broker / fixer, a unlicensed doctor, a pharmaceutical company up to no good, and a headless Celtic spirit on a motorbike.  That is one long sentence.  Anyhow, this show has some good scripting and was way more entertaining than I ever expected.  It is one of my favourites now and it showcases the neighbourhood of Ikebukuro - the alternate Akiba of Tokyo.  I like the district and I like the show - two wins!

More Anime and Scifi posts...

Redux - Videos That Make You Want To Visit Japan and Tokyo

I think we have all seen something on TV or in a movie that makes us think that it would be cool to be there and see it for yourself.  Before my first visit to Tokyo I have to say that I was pretty pumped to go and see it.  I'd been to some pretty great cities before, but the mix of history, pop culture, anime, shopping, great architecture, food, and history was a combination that can't be beat. Before I went I also viewed piles of video that just made me want to go even more - watching anime doesn't help either.  So without any further introductions, here is a list of videos to inspire you or let you reminisce about Tokyo.
  • Alone in Tokyo.  Shot in Tokyo by Philipp Bloom in 2008 when a shoot he was going to do dematerialized.
  • Our Dreamland by Ainio.  He has never been to Japan, but has made an awesome video about it based on the things that anime have shown him.  It is a short video about inspiration, dreams, and human creativity!
  • Tokyo GlowI love this little video as it is about a magical night time journey of an illuminated man from a crosswalk sign as he embarks on an adventure through the streets of Tokyo.
  • Hayaku - A Time Lapse Journey Through JapanA wonderful little piece that takes you all over Japan.
  • inter  states (Tokyo time lapse). Very cool time lapse music video.
  • remanence  variance (Tokyo time lapse)Another very cool time lapse music video.
  • Legendary BiruAnd if you have never seen this whacky commercial about how Sapporo makes its beer, you're in for a treat. CG was done in Canada!
  • 10 Crazy Facts About JapanA mini-documentary
  • Japan - The Strange CountryAnother mini-documentary.

View More Tokyo Highlights
View My Tokyo Travelogues


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

We Have a Black Cat, Not a Cat Cafe!

I had a bit of a humorous morning today when I finally checked up on Gigazine (I like their b-kyu food posts for the Japanese fast food chains).  They were covering a black cat cafe, Nekobiyaka.  This cat cafe is nowhere near Tokyo as it is in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture.

This was a funny moment as I'm not really a pet person, but our house now has a long lived guinea pig named Ginger and a new six month old black cat named Firefly.  I guess I don't need to visit a Japanese cat cafe now, although my other family members did on our trip to Tokyo last February.  Ginger is the inspiration for a genetically enhanced guinea pig in my novel Neo Ace and is going to be four this year.  I Googled "How long does a guinea pig live" and Google returned a definitive answer of 4-5 years in BIG PRINT.  Kind of scary, but I think Ginger will outlive that forecast. Just don't Google yourself and how long you will live - probably bad luck at best.

Japan's Amazing Love of All Things Cat (an earlier blog post of mine with a cat cafe in it)
Ikebukuro Day 7 Part 2 of our Tokyo Trip (One of the original cat "cafes" is in this post)

Yesterday, I spent 5 hours at the Edmonton Animal Shelter / Humane Society.  It is a pretty nice facility that actually reminds me of a cat cafe as you get to meet the cats in little playrooms.  A cat cafe is a place in Tokyo where you can play with cats while having coffee or dessert as many Tokyoites live in small apartments or their landlord prohibits pets.  There was a cat named Cloud we saw on the web that my other family members wanted, and she got snagged at the same time we were looking at her.  Amazing coincidence considering she had been at the shelter for almost a month.  Heartbroken we went and met many other cats (many of which were sleeping - just like a cat cafe - but it is pretty hard to determine if they should be adopted in that state).  Finally, we saw a cute seven month old kitten (adolescent really) who was really friendly.  She was named Firefly as she has a white tuft of fur on her chest that shines through.

Edmonton Human Society small cat rooms.  They have bigger ones too with furniture for people and more cats of course.
Firefly the Kitten
Ginger the guinea pig who has survived her poor deceased sister by years now.
After an hour or two hours, the cat lovers in my family finally picked Firefly, I met her, and the adoption process began.  Owner interviews, administrative procedures, and vet checks took hours and there wasn't a good vending machine with hot canned coffee in sight (like Japan).

Getting home through the icy road conditions was a chore as there was an accident ahead of us that blocked traffic.  Finally we arrived at home and allowed Firefly to adjust to our newly cat proofed home.  She immediately left the cat carrier to look around.  She loved our place and explored all over and checked out the guinea pig under our supervision.  Firefly seems to be a real charmer, with a friendly disposition, and very playful when she is active.  She loves cuddling and sleeping in our bed when not bouncing on us.  We're going to get her to sleep in her own little bed, but we'll let it go for now!  So now I have a 24 hour black cat cafe as she hangs out on a spare chair at the kitchen table (but is not allowed on top).

Hei Jinja Shrine in Akasaka

This is a famous and prosperous shrine sited at the top of a little hill south in Akasaka, Chiyoda Ward.  It is in the area of the Imperial Palace and a short distance from the National Diet Building. You can easily walk to it from Kokkaigijidomae Station which you can access by metro on the Marunouchi, Chiyoda, or the Naanboku Lines.  This shrine was established in 1478 by the lord Ota Dokan and it is dedicated to Kawagoe Sannou-sha Shrine as the guardian deity his land of Edo.  The shrine was moved to this current location in  1659 and was rebuilt in 1958 after being destroyed in WWII.  Hei Jinja hosts the Sanno Matsuri, one of the three big matsuri for the Tokyo area that is held there in June on even numbered years.  Several national treasures are stored here, including the "Itomaki-no-Tachi" long sword.

Hie Jinja Front Entrance
Hie Jinja Saki Casks
Ema Plaques
Monkey guardian
Shrine grounds with bamboo groves
I tend to visit shrines first thing in the morning as one of my first stops as stores and museums don't open until later in the day and they are less crowded earlier in the morning.  This is a very pretty shrine, there are well built, concrete outbuildings, and it is well maintained.  The front entrance is up large wide stairs (remember the centre is for the gods to walk), with the Saki cask offering wall off to the side of the front entrance to the Shrine proper.

Main gate on the east side, back entrance on the east side (circle the hill if you have to)

Main Shrine Building

Ring the bell after offering.
Torii Gates
Torii Gates
What is really neat about this shrine is the back way up as there are dozens of small red torii gates on the stairs up.  It is very pretty and picturesque.  The shrine grounds are surrounded by urban buildup, but it doesn't detract from the site itself.