Famous Directors of Iconic Japanese Anime Movies: Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda, Mamoru Oshii, and More!

Japanese anime has earned the respect of many people from all over the world. Most people might know Hayao Miyazaki, who has gained renown across the world, but there are many other famous directors in Japan who have created their own masterpieces. In this article, we will introduce you to seven anime directors and their most iconic works!


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1. Makoto Shinkai

Makoto Shinkai made his directorial debut in 2002 with the 25-minute film, "Voices of a Distant Star.”

Famous works of his include “5 Centimeters per Second” and “Weathering With You,” but by far his biggest hit is “Your Name.” “Your Name” was released in 2016 and surpassed 25 billion JPY in revenue, becoming the second-highest grossing film in Japanese history.

I have seen the film, and while the story was certainly interesting, the most striking aspect was the beautifully-drawn scenery. An especially impactful scene was the final scene on the stairs. These stairs were apparently modeled after the Suga Shrine Otokozaka in Tokyo! There are many other locations from all over Japan that were used as models for other scenes in the movie. As a result, many fans of the movie went on pilgrimages to these locations after seeing the movie. It became a social phenomenon!

2. Mamoru Hosoda

Mamoru Hosoda joined Toei Animation, one of Japan’s largest animation companies, in 1991.

He worked on various short films and feature length movies, creating such hit films as “Summer Wars” and “Mirai.” His most popular film is “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” which won awards at film festivals all over Japan. The film’s protagonist has the ability to jump backwards in time, leading to a unique story structure that made the film a hit among science fiction fans. The hill where the final time leaping scene takes place was modeled after Fujimizaka in Tokyo, and there are several other locations in Tokyo that are also known as pilgrimage spots for fans of the movie.

I have seen Mamoru Hosoda’s films many times, and I am always impressed by the faithful depictions of everyday scenery and the beautiful attention to detail.

3. Katsuhiro Otomo

Katsuhiro Otomo is a Japanese manga artist who has also worked as a film director. He debuted as a manga artist in 1973, and quickly gained attention for his unique, detailed style of drawing that was unlike anything seen in Japanese manga before.

His major manga works are “Domu: A Child’s Dream” and “Akira.” When the film version of Akira came out, it was a major hit not only in Japan but all around the world, and was a pioneer for Japanese animation, commonly referred to at the time as “Japanimation.”

When I saw the film adaptation of Akira, I was pulled into Otomo’s unique world, impressed by the fictional city of Neo Tokyo and the well-realized facial expressions of the main character.

4. Isao Takahata

Isao Takahata founded Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki, and is a major director in the world of Japanese animation.

Takahata is well known for TV anime like “3000 Leagues in Search of Mother” and “Pom Poko,” but his lasting masterpiece is “Grave of the Fireflies.” It would not be an exaggeration to say that every person in Japan knows this movie. The movie tells the story of a brother and sister who have been orphaned during World War Two, and their attempts to survive during the chaos of the later period of the war. The impactful ending has made countless people cry.

Takahata’s films are centered around the love between people, and I find that they always leave the viewer with a lot to think about.

5. Mamoru Oshii

Mamoru Oshii debuted as an anime director for Tatsunoko Productions in 1977.

Oshii is known for the adept use of digital effects in his films, and his most well-known films, “Innocence” and “Ghost in the Shell,” are prime examples of his distinctive style. “Ghost in the Shell”, in particular, heavily features CG animation. Its setting, a dazzling city full of neon signage modeled after Hong Kong, as well as its intense action sequences, are magnificent showcases of his style.

6. Hideaki Anno

Hideaki Anno is both an animator and a film director. He is famous for founding the animation studio "Khara" in 2006.

Anno’s works include TV anime like “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” and the OVA, “Gunbuster,” but by far what he is most known for is the TV series “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and its movie adaptations. The show takes place after a major disaster known as the “Second Impact” has radically changed the world, and follows the pilots of giant robots known as “Evangelion” as they face off against an enemy invasion.

In Japan, the series is popular across generations, and its popularity is so great that even projects like a collaboration with a railway company to create an Evangelion-themed train car have become a reality.

7. Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon debuted as a manga artist for the Weekly Young Magazine in 1985. In 1998, he made his directorial debut with the anime film “Perfect Blue,” and in 2006, he released his masterpiece, “Paprika.”

“Paprika” gained enough worldwide attention that it was selected for consideration for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars in 2007. It is a science fiction story in which someone has stolen a device that allows them to enter people’s dreams, and is misusing it in order to spread nightmares that crush their spirits. The main character, Paprika, is tasked with stopping them. A major appeal of the film are the strange, uncanny effects that are utilized during the nightmare scenes.

How many of these anime directors have you heard of before? We highly recommend checking out their iconic works!

*This article was published on WOW! JAPAN. Click here to see a list of WOW! JAPAN articles.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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