Animated films have had a huge impact abroad, with classics like Ghost in the shell, Akira, and the collected works of Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon acclaimed internationally for their vision and aesthetic uniqueness. All of these movies are well deserved in their celebration, but anime fans looking to dig a little deeper will find an array of obscure, bizarre, and criminally underrated work.
Some Lost in Time and Darkness films feature some of the most innovative works in Japanese animation despite their lack of mainstream success. Fortunately, with the advent of online streaming platforms, it’s now easier than ever to check out these forgotten classics.
ten Tekkonkinkreet (2006)
TekkonkinkreetThe playful character designs and abstract visuals might lead some viewers to conclude that the film is just as fun, but the exterior aesthetic makes it a very dark and often tragic story about two boys trying to protect their messy cityscape from the sea. growing threat from greedy businessmen, yakuza and the like.
The story is both a coming-of-age tale and a portrait of a city trying to preserve its identity against forces that seek to erode it in the name of profit. The outrageous animation and unusually distinctive art style also go a long way in boosting the appeal of the film, making it a must-have for those with an affinity for the experimental.
9 Fallen leaves (2004)
● Available on Tubi
Dead leaves is a youthful work directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, who would go on to make the legendary Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann in 2007, and Dead leaves includes many characteristic stylistic cues that are reflected in his later projects. Two amnesiac criminals in the midst of criminal madness are imprisoned in the “Dead Leaves” space penitentiary, and things escalate from there.
It follows roughly 50 minutes of the most messy, heartbreaking, and uninterrupted bizarre action ever produced in the anime world. Imaishi and his team clearly threw sanity out the window early in production, choosing instead to follow the frenzied spirit of animation until the end of the film. Dead leaves is available for rent on Amazon, so don’t miss out.
8 Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)
● Available on Tubi
A cat named Giovanni is dissatisfied with life; overwhelmed by the social pressures of school and isolated from meaningful social bonds by his work, but that all changes when he finds himself inexplicably taken to the edge of the universe on the Galactic Railroad.
Adapted from the Japanese children’s novel of the same name, Night on the Galactic Railway is a story of self-discovery and a cat’s struggle to find meaning in his daily life. The dreamlike aesthetic of the film helps sell a sort of poetic tone as the trip on the Galactic Railroad travels through space and time. Check this one out on Amazon, Back-crushing, Where Crisp.
7 Neo-Tokyo (1987)
A three-part anthology film by the titans of animated cinema Rintaro, Yoshiaki Kajiwari and Katsuhiro Otomo, Neo-Tokyo is a wild, confrontational and experimental science fiction release. From the first psychedelic entry Labyrinth Labyrinth, to the sci-fi nightmare death race Running Man, to the absurd Kafkaesque Construction decree, these three characteristics each offer something unique and fascinating.
All of these entries are unlikely to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the originality of the concept and experimental visuals featured in each is sure to grab the viewer’s attention in at least one of the short stories featured in Neo-Tokyo. Sadly, fans might have a bit of a hard time getting their hands on this underrated classic. worth checking out Mubi occasionally, but for those who lack patience, it may be best to simply purchase a DVD copy.
6 Gen Barefoot (1983)
● Available on Prime Video
Barefoot generation is a 1983 adaptation of a semi-autographic manga by Nakazawa Keiji, a survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear strike at the end of World War II. A boy at the time of the bombing, Keiji based the manga on his experience of the aftermath, and as such, the film adaptation follows the main character’s struggle to survive in this harsh environment.
Barefoot generation is notable for, among other things, perhaps the most visceral depiction of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima in animation. The film goes to great lengths not to spare audiences the horror that accompanied the event, and the result is a powerful anti-war story, broadcast on both Amazon prime and Back-crushing.
5 Mind Game (2004)
● Available on Hoopla and VRV
the years 2004 Psychological play is a lesser-known work by Masaaki Yuasa (from Devilman crybaby and Tatami Galaxy glory) filmography, but also one of his most experimental. The plot is, to say the least, a little difficult to describe. After reconnecting with his crush in high school, protagonist Nishi is murdered by gangsters and meets an uncooperative trickster god in the afterlife. What follows is a weird, surreal tale of reanimation, yakuza, and unrequited love.
Yuasa is known for his willingness to push the boundaries of animation and aesthetics, and there aren’t many of his works where it’s truer than in Psychological play. It’s a movie that took a look at the animation rulebook before throwing it in the trash and burning it down. For that alone, it is not to be missed, and it is visible on VRV and Hoopla.
4 Interstellar 5555 (2003)
● Available on Qello Concerts
Interstellar 5555 is an animated musical by Daft Punk featuring the art direction and character designs of Leiji Matsumoto, the legendary mangaka behind classics such as Space battleship Yamato. And yes, you read that right: Daft Punk once did an animated musical with Leiji Matsumoto. A group of alien musicians are kidnapped by an evil Terran record producer, and it’s up to the space pilot Shep to save them and restore their true identities.
The story takes a bit of a back seat to the music and visuals here, but that’s no problem as the music and visuals are both awesome, and this groovy space opera is sure to delight fans. science fiction and Daft Punk. The movie remains somewhat unknown due to its limited streaming options, but these days it’s thankfully available through Qello concerts on Amazon.
3 Spring and Chaos (1996)
“Undefeated by the rain, Undefeated by the wind “ read the first lines of Ame ni no Makezu, a work by one of the greatest poets of twentieth-century Japan, Kenji Miyazawa. the years 1996 Spring and chaos is a biographical tale of the poet’s life in the anime, directed by the mastermind behind the classic mecha Macross, Shoji Kawamori. Worthy of the biography of a great poet, Spring and chaos is presented with visual surrealism and narrative intensity.
Like the work of its subject, Spring and chaos is lyrically beautiful in the visuals and bittersweet in concept, using the artistic freedom of animation to tell a resonant and realistic story. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find Spring and chaos streaming on major platforms. It is occasionally available on Mubi, and on DVD at various retailers.
2 Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
● Available on Tubi and IMDb TV
Belladonna of sadness is based on the 19th century work of French historian Jules Michelet, The witch, a book on Satanism and Witchcraft. In this psychedelic watercolor nightmare, a woman named Jeanne is assaulted on her wedding night by a man of the nobility. Finding no recourse in the realm of mortals, Joan makes a pact with the devil himself to obtain his retribution.
With hypnotic and abstract visuals, Belladonna of sadness is guaranteed to be unlike anything even a seasoned anime fan has come across before. Anyone looking for something with an out of the ordinary concept or intensely experimental visuals will want to check this out on Kanopy Where Fandor.
1 Eve’s Time: The Movie (2010)
● Available for purchase on iTunes
Eve’s time is a heartfelt film set in the not-too-distant Tokyo of the future, imagining a world where robotic technology has advanced to the point where domestic androids, almost indistinguishable from humans, have become commonplace. Two boys stumble upon an underground cafe called Time of Eve, a cafe where the differences between androids and humans are completely blurred.
The story of “robots become sentient” has already been told in science fiction classics like Blade runner, corn Eve’s time is refreshingly optimistic in its presentation, abandoning the cynicism of its genre counterparts for hopeful optimism about the future of humanity with machines. Two versions of the story are available: with the film version on itunes, and the shorter episodic version on Crisp.
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