15 Best Movies to Watch From DENTSU

Staff & contributors
If you're living alone and just came back home from a bad day, Wolf Children can make you feel like everything's alright. It's the kind of movie that feels like a warm hug and one that you will likely bookmark to get back to for this exact reason. Co-written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who's most known for The Girl Who Leaps Through Time, the title is to be taken without any salt: it tells the, allegedly true, story of a woman raising children who are half-human and half-wolf. It all starts with Yuki studying at Tokyo University, where she meets a mysterious and handsome young man, who can turn into a wolf at will. They fall in love and have children inheriting this strange skill. This is where the colorful visuals and life-affirming vibe of this anime give way to a bleak narrative turn. Wolf Children is a strange story of love and parenting told in an imitable style.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Amon Kabe, Aoi Miyazaki, Bunta Sugawara, Hajime Inoue, Haru Kuroki, Kumiko Aso, Mamoru Hosoda, Megumi Hayashibara, Mitsuki Tanimura, Momoka Ohno, Momoka Ono, Shota Sometani, Tadashi Nakamura, Taichi Masu, Takao Ohsawa, Takao Osawa, Takashi Kobayashi, Takuma Hiraoka, Tamio Ohki, Tomie Kataoka, Yukito Nishii

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Rating: PG

From the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, and courtesy of Studio Ghibli, which also brought you Spirited Away, comes this epic whirlwind of a story. Set during a fantastical late Muromachi period, the medieval era of Japan, in a time when many humans were still living among nature, while others set out to conquer and tame it, the movie follows a young man named Ashitaka, who he seeks cure for the curse of a boar god, giving him superhuman powers but eventually killing him. He rides west on a fantastic beast, where he eventually sees a young woman named San, also known as Princess Mononoke. What unfolds from here, is an epic tale of mythical war on many fronts, between the nature gods and humans. While this may sound like a dichotomy, it never is that morally simplistic. The story is action-packed and fast-paced, drawing freely from Japanese mythology as well as modern hot-topic political issues. Add to this the fantastic visuals: Hayao Miyazaki uses a mixture of hand drawings and 3D rendering that are nothing short of spectacular. In short, Princess Mononoke is movie history. If you haven't seen it yet, do it now.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Fantasy

Actor: Akihiro Miwa, Akira Nagoya, Akira Sakamoto, Alex Fernandez, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Corey Burton, Daikichi Sugawara, Debi Derryberry, Gillian Anderson, Hisaya Morishige, Ikuko Yamamoto, Jada Pinkett Smith, John DeMita, John DiMaggio, Kaoru Kobayashi, Keith David, Kiho Iinuma, Makoto Satō, Masahiko Nishimura, Minnie Driver, Mitsuko Mori, Mitsuru Satô, Shiro Saito, Sumi Shimamoto, Takako Katou, Tara Strong, Tetsu Watanabe, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Yayoi Kazuki, Yôji Matsuda, Yoshimasa Kondô, Youji Matsuda, Yûko Tanaka, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG-13

In 2009, Departures surprised everybody by winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, instead of everyone's favourite, Ari Folman's Waltz of Bashir. This is even more surprising since this Japanese comedy almost never saw the light of day because many distributors refused to release it at first for its humorous treatment of a very human, but weirdly taboo subject: what happens when you die. Daigo Kobayashi (played by former boyband member Masahiro Motoki) just bought an expensive cello when he learns that his Tokyo-based symphony orchestra is going bankrupt. Daigo and his wife Mika, played by Ryôko Hirosue, decide to move back to his hometown, where he applies for an opening at what he thinks is a travel agency, hence the departures. You might have guessed by now that what he was applying for was, in fact, the job of an undertaker—a profession considered unclean in Japan. It's one of those rare movies that will make you laugh, to making you cry, and laugh again. It's dead-on!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Justin Lukach, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kimiko Yo, Maisie Williams, Masahiro Motoki, Nina Dobrev, Ryoko Hirosue, Ryosuke Otani, Sanae Miyata, Scott Wilson, Takashi Sasano, Taro Ishida, Tatsuo Yamada, Tetta Sugimoto, Tōru Minegishi, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Tyler Hoechlin, Yukari Tachibana

Director: Yōjirō Takita

Rating: PG-13

Co-produced by the legendary Studio Ghibli and directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is a tale about a man shipwrecked on a desert island whose fate is changed upon meeting a giant turtle. Beautiful images are pulled together and combined with the film’s delicate symbolism about humanity and nature, in a story told with remarkable restraint. The only sound in the movie is that of nature and the film’s beautifully relaxing score. Using only simple ingredients, The Red Turtle is an enigmatic, captivating, and highly-recommended gem that, after all, encompasses life itself.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Barbara Beretta, Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit

Surreal, strange, yet wondrous, Penguin Highway never takes a straightforward approach to its story. Penguins pop up out of nowhere, leading the nerdy and precocious Aoyama to study them via empirical observation and logical deduction. These studies don’t end up with a feasible explanation– in fact, by the final act, the film abandons all laws of physics. But the journey to that act feels intuitively right. This journey feels like an indescribable formative experience. Aoyama may be obsessed with growing up and committing to the reasonable adult mindset, but he is still a child. From fending off bullies to forming connections with others, his childhood imagination served him better than science could. The film reveres this discovery as well as it should.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Kana Kita, Landen Beattie, Mamiko Noto, Megumi Han, Miki Fukui, Misaki Kuno, Naoto Takenaka, Rie Kugimiya, Winston Bromhead, Yu Aoi

Director: Hiroyasu Ishida

Rating: Not Rated

In what was originally intended to be his final film, Hayao Miyazaki is at his most lucid with The Wind Rises. Fluid and luminous, it cleanly moves between a grounded, historical reality and an intuitive, imaginative dreamscape. Here Miyazaki reflects on the process of creation and what it means to be an artist, drawing parallels between his own meticulousness as a filmmaker with Horikoshi’s immutable passion for flight and efficient design.

But questions of responsibility and duty arise, as Horikoshi—and by extension, Miyazaki—must reckon with the reality that even things as beautiful as aeroplanes can be destructive, and that even dreams can be violent. This meditative film does not offer any easy answers but it provides solace in its prevailing sentiment: The wind is rising, we must try to live.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, History, Romance, War

Actor: Hayao Miyazaki, Hideaki Anno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Jun Kunimura, Kaichi Kaburagi, Keiko Takeshita, Mansai Nomura, Martin Short, Masahiko Nishimura, Miori Takimoto, Mirai Shida, Morio Kazama, Sascha, Shinobu Otake, Stephen Alpert

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG-13

, 2022

It's inspiring to see that, even after Jordan Peele made the jump to blockbuster budgets, he hasn't lost the ability to evoke the sheer visceral panic of seeing something that isn't supposed to be there. Nope is that increasingly uncommon kind of film whose dense air of mystery isn't frustrating—and in fact uses to great effect the very human instinct to understand the unknowable, even if we know it'll hurt us. Its characters might not be the most three-dimensional and the development of its themes seems to depend on a lot of extrapolation and educated guessing, but the way Nope transforms from alien invasion, to monster movie, to western adventure, to cosmic horror still makes the film much greater than the sum of its parts.

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction

Actor: Alex Hyde-White, Andrew Patrick Ralston, Barbie Ferreira, Brandon Perea, Daniel Kaluuya, Devon Graye, Donna Mills, Eddie Jemison, Evan Shafran, Hetty Chang, Jacob Kim, Jennifer Lafleur, Keith David, Keke Palmer, Lincoln Lambert, Liza Treyger, Malcolm Jae O'Shea, Mark Casimir Dyniewicz Jr., Michael Wincott, Osgood Perkins, Oz Perkins, Pierce Kang, Roman Gross, Ryan W. Garcia, Sophia Coto, Steven Yeun, Terry Notary, Wrenn Schmidt

Director: Jordan Peele

Rating: R

Arrietty may not be as epic as other Ghibli movies, both in the literal and figurative sense, but its tiny world is so richly detailed that you could spend hours studying a single frame of the film. In Arrietty’s lovely house-underneath-a-house, stamps are hung on the walls like paintings, a flowerpot serves as the hearth, a tea canister is a cabinet, an olive a chair, a sewing pin a sword, a clothespin a hair tie, and so on. The possibilities are endless, but the film tries to exhaust them as much as it can. This alone makes Arrietty a delightful watch, but the simple story at the heart of it—one of survival, empathy, and faith—elevates into a timeless classic.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Amy Poehler, Bridgit Mendler, Carol Burnett, David Henrie, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Keiko Takeshita, Kirin Kiki, Mirai Shida, Moises Arias, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shinichi Hatori, Shinobu Otake, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tomokazu Miura, Will Arnett

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Rating: G

Unlike plenty of time torn films, Maboroshi is the kind of film that doesn’t have a straightforward explanation for the town of Mifuse standing still in time. But even when it doesn’t have a logical reason, the way the film unfolds has a distinct feeling as it explores the illusions the town either could cling to, or release to grow. This kind of storytelling would be familiar to fans of the prolific screenwriter Mari Okada, who just started directing in 2018 with Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, but even those new to her work would appreciate the pure emotion driving Maboroshi, if they can let go of reality and enjoy MAPPA’s exquisite art for a moment.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Ayaka Saito, Daiki Kobayashi, Junya Enoki, Kento Hayashi, Koji Seto, Maki Kawase, Misaki Kuno, Reina Ueda, Setsuji Sato, Taku Yashiro, Tasuku Hatanaka, Yukiyo Fujii

Director: Mari Okada, Seimei Kidokoro

Rating: PG-13

, 2021

This Japanese animated film employs a gorgeous blend of CGI and traditional animation—as well as intricately orchestrated original songs—to present a plausible simulation of virtual reality where people are truly free to do anything. Belle might not be as careful with its characters and the difficult situations they're put into "off-screen," but this is still ultimately an optimistic movie. Director Mamoru Hosoda suggests that uniting ordinary people through the internet won't actually lead to chaos. Instead, it'll help each of us become more empathetic of people around the world. And while that means Belle is still a sci-fi fantasy story more than anything, the film's wondrous images and music make it feel good to dream.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, Music, Science Fiction

Actor: Asami Miura, Fuyumi Sakamoto, Kaho Nakamura, Ken Ishiguro, Kenjiro Tsuda, Kōji Yakusho, Lilas Ikuta, Mami Koyama, Mamoru Miyano, Michiko Shimizu, Mitsuru Miyamoto, Ryo Narita, Ryoko Moriyama, Shota Sometani, Sumi Shimamoto, Taichi Masu, Takeru Satoh, Tina Tamashiro, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Yoshimi Iwasaki

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

One wouldn't expect to see Count Dracula's youthful-looking helper at your local 12-step self-help group for people in codependent relationships, but Renfield holds more than one surprise up its sleeve. By translating the working relationship (or master-slave, since the latter doesn't get any pay) into the vocabulary of common relationship counselling parlance, the film actually elevates its symbolic status. Even more, I'd dare call it a hoot. Not that many vampire films have managed to make a proper comedy out of the figure in question, and Renfield with its simplistic appeal puts to shame even the artsy Netflix production El Conde, which also came out earlier this year. With Awkwafina in the mix and iconic lines such as "I don't want your murder cookies", how can you resist?

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Adrian Martinez, Anil Bajaj, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Bess Rous, Betsy Borrego, Brandon Scott Jones, Brian Egland, Camille Chen, Caroline Williams, Chloe Adona, Christopher Winchester, Derek Russo, Gabriel 'G-Rod' Rodriguez, James Moses Black, Jenna Kanell, Joshua Mikel, Keith Brooks, Lacey Dover, Lena Clark, Lucy Faust, Marcus Lewis |, Marvin Ross, Mike Harkins, Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Rhonda Johnson Dents, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Stephen Louis Grush, Susan McPhail, T.C. Matherne, William Ragsdale

Director: Chris McKay

Rating: R

This is a great movie to watch on say a Sunday. The story of three homeless people who find a newborn baby while foraging through trash on Christmas eve and decide to care for the baby and track down its parents. Middle-aged Gin, aging Hana and teenage runaway Miyuki form a makeshift family haunted by its members’ past and troubled by their present. As expected, Satoshi Kon (who also directed Paprika) delivers a beautifully animated story with unique characters and unique dynamics. The result is a very humane and moving animation, not to be missed by both Kon fans and those willing to be introduced to his style.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Akio Otsuka, Aya Okamoto, Chiyako Shibahara, Hidenari Ugaki, Hiroya Ishimaru, Koichi Yamadera, Kouichi Yamadera, Kyoko Terase, Mamiko Noto, Mitsuru Ogata, Rikiya Koyama, Ryuji Saikachi, Satomi Korogi, Satomi Kourogi, Seizo Kato, Shozo Iizuka, Tohru Emori, Tôru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Yūsaku Yara, 冈本绫

Director: Satoshi Kon, Shougo Furuya

Rating: PG-13