Japanese anime movies, when done properly, work extremely well. At their best, we get great movies like Spirited Away and television shows such as Avatar: The Last Airbender. But, let’s be honest, anime can also get pretty weird and crazy. And what is relatable to audiences in Japan doesn’t always translate well in North America. Many of the plot elements, characters and animation itself can be pretty bizarre—leaving many viewers scratching their heads to make sense of things. Here are 10 of the craziest Japanese anime movies of all time.
10. Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (2003)
The title is actually the least weird thing about this anime film. And yes, the number “5” really does appear that many times in the title. Why? Who knows. This 2003 film is actually an attempt to create a visual version of the album Discovery by French dance troupe Daft Punk. Essentially, the film is a montage of anime music videos—one for each song on the album. There’s no dialogue in the film or between the animated music clips. Everything is just strung together in one long animated mess. There is apparently a story amidst Daft Punk’s throbbing bass and synthesizers though. It concerns an alien band that are a big deal on their home planet, who are abducted by humanity, brought back to Earth by a record producer who exploits them before they escape and journey across the stars to their home planet in a guitar-shaped spaceship. Basically, this is for hard core Daft Punk fans only.
9. Mardock Scramble Parts 1-3 (2010-2012)
For people who prefer more adult-oriented anime, there is the three part film Mardock Scramble. Based on a popular novel by Japanese author Tow Ubukata, the story is about a prostitute named Rune Ballot who is left for dead and taken in by a scientist who teams her up with a shapeshifting artificial intelligence that appears in the form of a golden mouse. These two misfits—the hooker and the gold mouse—team up to take down a criminal syndicate that is forcing women into prostitution. Along the way, Rune Ballot and the mouse are stalked by a series of weird and gross mutant beings, including one that is made completely of breasts (don’t ask). Anyway, there is plenty of nudity in this one, so not to be watched with the kids. And, strangely, there are plans to try and make a live action version of this movie—potentially to be directed by Michael Davis who helmed the Clive Owen film Shoot ’Em Up.
8. Paprika (2006)
Director Christopher Nolan has said that this anime film inspired him to make the 2010 movie Inception. Made by legendary animation director Satoshi Kon Kon, Paprika is based on a 1993 novel by Yasutaka Tsutui and deals with a female psychologist who uses new technology to explore her patients’ dreams. The technology gets sabotaged and leads to people thinking they are living out their dreams in real life and thus killing themselves. It also results in the dream world bleeding over into the real world. This leads to many scenes of frogs, dolls and colorful rainbows crossing the movie screen. While imaginative, colorful and unique, the plot here is pretty dense and it is often hard to tell what is real and what is a dream sequence. That may be the point of the movie, but the whole thing is still pretty strange. And what is with the title?
7. GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack (2012)
This fairly recent anime movie is definitely one of the strangest. The plot is so weird it almost defies explanation, and many of the scenes are absolutely gross to the point of being repulsive. The best way to describe GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack is to say that it is like an animated version of those Roger Corman-produced movies you see on the Sy-Fy Channel. You know, movies like Sharktopus and Two Headed Shark Attack. GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack takes the idea of sinister forces emerging from the ocean and expands it with the kind of creativity and freedom that only anime can provide. The film starts with three girlfriends who have their plans interrupted by walking fish with metal legs that suddenly appear. The walking fish are the result of a Japanese chemical weapon experiment gone wrong. Soon, a whole slew of mutant marine life are storming the streets of Tokyo. Actually, the plot is similar to the original Godzilla film—only with smaller seas creatures. The piles of fish depicted in the movie are pretty disgusting. Not for the squeamish viewer.
6. Dead Leaves (2004)
The animation in the 2004 movie Dead Leaves is so over-the-top that the film comes with a disclaimer for people who have epilepsy. Yes, this movie has been known to induce seizures in people who watch it. A crazy ride from the first frame, Dead Leaves is a nonstop action adventure with plenty of blood and guts. The story is about two main characters who awaken naked with no recollection of their past. They are soon thrown in jail where they discover more about their creepy origins and scheme to escape prison. Along the way, there are plenty of extremely bloody fight scenes. Dead Leaves is hands down one of the goriest anime movies ever. If you can get past the blood and seizure-inducing animation, it’s kind of a fun movie though.
5. Cowboy Bebop (2001)
Based on a pretty crappy television series of the same name, the 2001 movie Cowboy Bebop is a genre mashup that is part Western and part space opera. The plot focuses on a terrorist who is planning to destroy the human population on Mars using an unknown pathogen. What are humans doing on Mars? It’s never explained. But it is up to the bounty hunter crew of the spaceship “Bebop” (ridiculous name) to find the terrorist and discover the source of the pathogen before the attack can take place. It’s all a little convoluted and strange, and the whole space Western thing has only really worked on the live action series Firefly. It doesn’t work here and the animation is not that great to boot. Plus, the music in the film is downright weird and irritating. It’s a combination of banjos and synthesizers. Ick.
4. Porco Rosso (1992)
This 1992 movie is super weird. It is about an Italian World War I flying ace who, after the war, earns a living as a freelance bounty hunter chasing down “air pirates” in Europe. However, an unusual curse that’s never really explained, transforms the fighter pilot into a pig. That’s right, a pig. The hero can still fly and shoot down air pirates as a pig, but he becomes known to the world as “Porco Rosso,” which, apparently, is Italian for “Red Pig.” Kind of like a play on the famous German flying ace the “Red Baron,” only this guy’s a pig. The movie only gets weirder from this point on. Yet despite its bizarre plot and weirdness, Porco Rosso was the number one film at the Japanese box office in 1992. Critics hailed it as a great “homage” to the early days of flight while overlooking the whole flying pig thing. Were those critics watching the same movie as us?
3. Tekkonkinkreet (2006)
This 2006 anime film is about two street orphans named Kuro and Shiro and their efforts to keep control of the streets of the pan-Asian metropolis of Takaramachi, which was a flourishing town in the past but is now a giant slum run by warring gangs. Kuro is a violent and streetwise punk, considering Takaramachi to be his town. Shiro, meanwhile, is younger and mentally challenged. He is out of touch with the world around him and lives in a fantasy world that is brought to life in the movie. Together, Kuro and Shiro refer to themselves as “The Cats.” As always, not sure why. Anyway, this movie is colorful enough and has some good animation, but the violence is pretty graphic and the dream world of the handicapped kid Shiro is downright creepy. It’s not always a good idea to graphically depict what is going on in someone’s mind. Plus the title is downright painful to say.
2. Pom Poko (1994)
Apparently based on Japanese folklore, the 1994 anime movie Pom Poko is set in 1960 Japan and is about a group of tanuki, a mythical Japanese creature that is part raccoon and part dog, that are threatened by a gigantic suburban development on the outskirts of Tokyo. With limited living space and food decreasing every year, the tanuki begin fighting among themselves for the available resources. Okay, fair enough. But one of the primary aspects of tanuki folklore in Japan is that the creatures have prominent testicles. These are shown to full effect in the movie and it is disturbing. Also, the tanuki are able to shapeshift and sometimes where clothes. They also battle evil foxes and, at one point, an older tanuki starts a Buddhist dancing cult. We could go on, but what would be the point. This is too strange to warrant further analysis.
1. Ponyo (2008)
This sea adventure was pretty popular when released in 2008. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t strange. The movie is about Brunhilde, a “fish-girl” who lives with her father Fujimoto, a wizard/scientist who now resides underwater. One day, while Brunhilde is on an outing with her father in his four-flippered submarine, she sneaks off and floats away on the back of a jellyfish. After an encounter with a fishing trawler, Brunhilde ends up stuck in a glass jar and drifts to the shore of a small fishing town where she is rescued by a small boy named Sōsuke who thinks she’s a goldfish. Got that? This movie, which is described as a “fable,” is too bizarre to really follow. The plot is ridiculous and the whole point of the movie never really makes sense. Plus, the animation is pretty avant garde and weird. Nevertheless, like a lot of the movies on this list, Ponyo was a hit in its native Japan. Folks there seem to understand the whole “fish-girl in a jar” metaphor.