16 Best Movies to Watch From Kadokawa

Staff & contributors

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

Fun and whimsical to its core, this animated film takes viewers on a visually captivating, surreal, and enchanting journey through a single night in Kyoto. The movie immerses you in an entertaining and eccentric world with its vibrant animation, characters, and offbeat humor following two unnamed characters only referred to as "The Girl with Black Hair" and "Senpai." The narrative weaves together various quirky encounters, love interests, and strange events, keeping you engaged and curious. Blending romance, comedy, and coming-of-age themes, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is a joyous celebration of youth, adventure, and the unpredictable nature of life's unexpected twists and turns.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Ami Koshimizu, Aoi Yuki, Chikara Honda, Gen Hoshino, Hiroshi Kamiya, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Junichi Suwabe, Kana Hanazawa, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Kazuya Nakai, Masaaki Yuasa, Mugihito, Nobuyuki Hiyama, Ryuji Akiyama, Seiko Niizuma, Yuhko Kaida

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Rating: PG-13

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

, 2022

Part fantasy, part road trip, and part coming-of-age, Suzume is a rich and fast-paced tale with no dull moments in between. The energy is relentless and the animation, as expected, is dazzling, so even though there are occasional plot holes and melodramatic reaches, you’d be hard-pressed not to forgive them. Suzume still wins you over. Of course, the fantastical aspects are what make Shinkai’s films his, but Suzume works best when it zeroes in on humans and their complicated feelings toward each other. The confrontation between Suzume and her aunt, where Suzume accuses her of suffocation and the aunt, in turn, laments the life she could’ve had if she wasn’t charged with caring for her dead sister’s daughter, is just as shattering as any scene involving slaying monsters or battling gods. I only wish there were more tender moments like this, but Suzume is just as endearing and entrancing all the same.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Aimi, Akihiro Tajima, Arisa Maesako, Ayumi Tsuji, Eri Fukatsu, Genta Nakamura, Hinano Harumi, Hokuto Matsumura, Kaito Ogawa, Kana Hanazawa, Katsumi Fukuhara, Kotone Hanase, Kyo Yaoya, Matsumoto Hakuō II, Nanoka Hara, Ryoko Nagata, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Sairi Ito, Saori Seto, Shinjirou Gouda, Shota Sometani, Takuya Yokota, Tomomichi Nishimura, Yoji Ueda, Yoshino Aoyama, Yuki Sorami, Yuri Kimura, Yuu Ayase

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Rating: PG

, 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

If I must imagine strange creatures to process grief over a parent, I would rather have it be the fluffy Totoro rather than three creepy looking Gollum-esque yokai creatures that lick legs, steal random food items, and overall act like terrible roommates. Still, there’s a certain gremlin-like charm to A Letter to Momo that could captivate animation fans. As these yokai spirit creatures push Momo to explore her new quaint island town, and as Momo eventually befriends them or force them to act better through threats, it’s precisely the sort of chaotic, whimsical adventure that can get a girl to open up, to hope again, and to be open to what life still has to offer. The pacing might deter some viewers, but A Letter to Momo still works as a touching coming-of-age journey marked by loss.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Cho, Daizaburō Arakawa, Ikuko Tani, Karen Miyama, Koichi Yamadera, Takeo Ogawa, Toshiyuki Nishida, Yoshisada Sakaguchi, Yuka

Director: Hiroyuki Okiura

Rating: PG

There is a great deal of disbelief to suspend with this film, arguably the weakest of Japanese animation director Makoto Shinkai’s oeuvre. It follows Hodaka, a broke high school student in Tokyo looking for a job. The story kicks off when he meets Hina, a cheerful girl who lives with her younger brother and has the power to control the weather.

Again, as with all of Shinkai’s work, it’s remarkably beautiful. Rainfall, skies, and cityscapes are eye candy here, probably more than in any piece of animation ever. But this has every high school romance trope elevated to an extreme level, like Shinkai’s best known film Your Name but on steroids—a teenage boy and cute girl fit together like pieces of a puzzle, a grand adventure starts, forces beyond their control threaten to separate them, and the standard anime couple seemingly never see each other again, until they dramatically meet years later.

For the sake of an against-all-odds romance, Weathering with You downplays its insane plot devices. It glosses over runaway kids wielding firearms, an underage girl almost going into sex work, and a climate disaster potentially displacing millions of people—all for a love story.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Aoi Yuki, Ayane Sakura, Chieko Baisho, Hidekatsu Shibata, Kana Hanazawa, Kana Ichinose, Kanon Tani, Kotaro Daigo, Masako Nozawa, Mone Kamishiraishi, Nana Mori, Ryo Narita, Ryohei Kimura, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Sakura Kiryu, Sei Hiraizumi, Shinjirou Gouda, Shun Oguri, Sumi Shimamoto, Tsubasa Honda, Yuki Kaji, Yuki Ominami

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Rating: PG-13

Yu Katayama lives in a remote village with a garbage disposal business that's slowly turning into a landfill. When his childhood friend Misaki Nakai returns to the village, she encourages Yu to make a better life for himself despite his mother's gambling and the village ostracizing him. The Village is a slow-burning film interested in Yu's struggles as an outcast and in discussing the takeover of small villages for capitalistic industrial motives. The film is shot beautifully with dark, brooding visuals and lingering shots of Yu's quiet intensity throughout the film. Unfortunately, secondary characters are not fully developed outside of their interactions with Yu, causing the film to feel flat outside of pivotal moments. An evocative idea with parts more memorable than the whole.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Arata Furuta, Daiken Okudaira, Hana Kino, Haru Kuroki, Naomi Nishida, Ryusei Yokohama, Sakuma Ryuto, Shidô Nakamura, Tetta Sugimoto, Wataru Ichinose

Director: Michihito Fujii

Rating: R, TV-MA