Since the 1960s, kids of all nations have enjoyed the quests and antics of Astro Boy, Robotech and their TV kin. But in its feature-film form, anime (Japanese animation) boasts a graphic artistry as potent as Disney's or Pixar's--or Goya's or Bosch's. Here, some anime for the ages.
PERFECT BLUE SATOSHI KON, 1997
A cute 'n' sexy pop singer decides to become a movie actress, then realizes she is being stalked by a fan who loves her a leetle too much. An adult thriller inspired by the giallo suspensers of Italian director Dario Argento, Perfect Blue deftly translates the live-action shock style into lurid-luscious anime visuals while mulling the notion that celebrity is a stroke of good luck punishable by death. Have creepy fun with Perfect Blue; then move on to Kon's Millennium Actress, another, gentler mix of suspense and movie lore. It's an anime tribute to live-action Japanese films, from delicate family dramas to the Godzilla epics of a devastated Tokyo.
SPIRITED AWAY HAYAO MIYAZAKI, 2001
The most noted name name in anime, Miyazaki makes child-friendly films that bring kids into magic worlds where pigs (Porco Rosso) and witches (Kiki's Delivery Service) fly with equal ease. Spirited Away, Miyazaki's masterpiece, is set in a spectral bathhouse. Ghosts of every species set traps for plucky young Chihiro-- or help her step out of them. Here is a fantasy land as rich as Lewis Carroll's, a netherworld as poetic as Dante's, to transfix the child in every moviegoer.
BAREFOOT GEN MORI MASAKI,1983
The Japanese monster movies of the 1950s were one pop metaphor from the only people to have been the targets of an atom bomb. Barefoot Gen is another: a memoir (by writer-producer Keiji Nakazawa) of a boy's life in Hiroshima before and after the blast. Gen, on his way to school on Aug. 6, 1945, must become a man amid the city's charnel rubble. The stench of burning bodies will adhere to you; this is no movie for kids. It does have the awful poignancy of a national nightmare--and in cartoon form.
STEAMBOY KATSUHIRO OTOMO, 2004
A Victorian virus has recently infected two of the top anime-tors: Miyazaki set his latest feature, Howl's Moving Castle, in a fanciful antique England; Otomo retreated to 1860s London for the first anime feature he has directed since Akira. Steamboy, available in two cuts (get the 126-min. director's version), sets a complex spy plot chugging across its sooty landscapes, with villains pursuing the boy hero--in some great chase scenes--to harness a 19th century WMD. Only the lad's ingenuity can defeat them. That's the power of anime: it's a weapon of mass perception.
AKIRA KATSUHIRO OTOMO, 1988
Apocalypse, pow! The dystopic future (is there any other kind?) came to animation with Otomo's film version of his manga series--and, presto, haute anime proclaimed itself to the world. This psychedelic eye chart is set in 2019, the same year as Blade Runner, and paints its Neo-Tokyo with even denser splashes of noir on neon. The mix of outlaw attitude and brain-breaking speculation may convince you that the Wachowskis were channeling Akira when they wrote The Matrix. The special-edition DVD restores the original film in all its gaudio-visual splendor.