The Influence of Anime in Pop Culture

Ghost in the Shell: The anime film that inspired The Matrix [Image via]
Ghost in the Shell: The anime film that inspired The Matrix [Image via]
As an Otaku and avid film watcher, I have always been interested in finding a link between anime and cinema and how the one compliments the other. Believe it or not, many Hollywood films and other forms of media that we watch have been influenced, one way or another, by anime. But what is it about anime that has caused it to have such a huge effect on Western media today?

In 1988, Akira took the world by storm with its cell-shaded technology and epic storyline – the film introduced the West to the world of anime. The impact of the film would go on to not only influence Japan and the anime industry, but also Western cinema as well. Josh Trank, the director of the film, Chronicle, stated in an interview that Akira was one of his influences for the film. Kanye West recently stated on Twitter that Akira is considered one of his favourite movies of all time – this is clearly evident in the music video to his song Stronger. Akira’s influence in Japan would later spawn another influential anime film in 1995: Ghost in the Shell.

Akira's legacy is still felt to this day, particularly within the anime industry [Image via blastr]
Akira’s legacy is still felt to this day, particularly within the anime industry [Image via blastr]
After the release of Ghost in the Shell, Hollywood started to incorporate the aesthetics of anime into its films, particularly in its storytelling and CGI. “Hollywood’s most anime-flavoured franchise to date,” according to Andrew Osmond would come to be known as The Matrix. The Wachowski Brothers wanted to bring anime to life with The Matrix and they credit Ghost in the Shell as their main influence for the film. The Wachowskis would later release The Animatrix, which were short stories created by some of the most well known Japanese animators as a way of paying their respects to the art form. What Ghost in the Shell and Akira showed to the West was that animation was not just something for children, but an alternative film medium in which to tell mature and compelling stories to an adult audience.

Anime did not only have an influence on Hollywood and cinema, it also had an influence on Western cartoons. This influence became apparent with characters who had big, round eyes and big facial expressions. Cartoons where this is evident are Teen Titans and Avatar: The Last Airbender. When Spirited Away was released in 2001, it was met with critical acclaim worldwide. The film went on to become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history and the only anime film to have won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Spirited Away cemented anime as a mainstay within Western pop culture, exposing audiences to the highly detailed, beautiful and creative work of anime, particularly the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio GhibliSpirited Away is a very beautiful and heart warming story that made me cry every time I watched it.

"Miyazaki's films are more absorbing than the frantic action in a lot of American animation" - Roger Ebert
“Miyazaki’s films are more absorbing than the frantic action in a lot of American animation” – Roger Ebert

Anime has become an important part of Western cinema and pop culture since the release of Akira. It has not only influenced the way in which stories are told, but also the way in which animation is handled in the West. While it may not be obvious to point out certain aesthetics of anime within a film, some directors choose to indirectly or directly credit a certain anime as a source of inspiration. Remember the film Black Swan? That film was based on an anime film with a similar storyline called Perfect BlueStill, we cannot blame Hollywood directors for using elements of anime in order to produce their movies. Hollywood did not become what it is today if it wasn’t influenced by other forms of cinema across the world.

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