We’re seeing anime popping up in pop culture more than ever lately, so it’s probably not much a surprise that a lot of movies have little anime references snuck in. What not everyone may know was how heavily some of the most famous Hollywood blockbusters were influenced by certain anime- to the point where they’ve even been accused of being rip-offs. Let’s dive in!
The Wachowski siblings' movie The Matrix was a huge success. The story follows Keanu Reeves as “Neo”, a man who discovers he’s in a simulated reality and that humanity has been taken over by machines. As “The One” he gains incredible powers to resist the Matrix. The Wachowskis have made no secret about how heavily influenced they were by the 1995 animated film Ghost in the Shell.
The film takes place in a similarly cyberpunk future where humans rely heavily on machines, to the point where the line between technology and humanity is blurred. The protagonist, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is a full android and the only human part of her is her brain.
The Wachowskis first pitched the film to producer Joel Silver by showing him the animated movie and saying “We want to do this for real”. A video has been made regarding the many visual similarities between The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell. The Matrix also borrows several concepts from the film- the characters inserting plugs in the back of their necks to access the Matrix is a direct reference to how Motoko accesses information by plugging it into her neck and the digital rain in the film was inspired by the opening credits of GitS.
Mamoru Oshida, the director of GitS, actually came to find all the questions about The Matrix a bit annoying, saying he was a bit tired of them and was sure the Wachowkis felt the same. On The Matrix itself, he stated that “It is an entertaining movie, but I prefer their debut, Bound.”
Another anime that directly influenced the Matrix is the 1985 film Megazone 23, releases as Robotech: The Movie in America. The movie features humans at war with an alien race with transforming robots and all that jazz.
To pay tribute to the Japanese anime they were indebted to, The Wachowskis even released an anime style Matrix spinoff called The Animatrix, which detailed the backstory of the Matrix universe. In fact, they specifically sought out and worked with anime directors who had inspired them for the project. Animatrix directors include Shinichirō Watanabe (who directed Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo), Koji Morimoto (an animator on Akira), Takeshi Koike (who went on to direct the visually stunning Redline) and several other anime greats.
Requiem for a Dream
Daron Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream is a 2000 film that shows several different characters being overtaken by drug addiction and entering a world of delusion that leaves them only a shadow of their former selves. It received a lot of accolades. But the fact at least one scene is ripped off from Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is undeniable because Aronofsky went so far as to pay for the right to rip it off.
Aronofsky bought the American filming rights to Perfect Blue solely so he could recreate a bathtub scene from the film in Requiem to a Dream (and some would argue a later sex scene also references the film). You can see the comparison below:
Little is known about how Satoshi Kon felt about this, but he did put Requiem on the list of movies he had viewed in 2011.
Aronofsky’s other major work, Black Swan, also bears a lot of similarity to Perfect Blue. Perfect Blue is the story of an idol-turned-actress who is stretching herself thin at the bequest of her superiors while being haunted by a doppelganger who seems to want to take her place in show biz and she becomes unable to discern what’s real from what isn’t.
Black Swan is…the story of a ballerina who is stretching herself thin at the bequest of her superiors (and mother) while being haunted by a doppelganger who seems to want to take her place in the business and she becomes unable to discern what’s real from what isn’t.
Comparison from illusioncinematographique on tumblr.
Yeah. The two stories end rather differently, but the basic concepts are undeniably similar. There are also direct visual references, like when the protagonist of Black Swan rests her head on a reflective surface and is described to discover her reflection is actually her doppelganger- this happens a lot in Perfect Blue.
Aronofsky has acknowledged Perfect Blue’s similarities to his film, but denied it as an direct influence. I feel pretty safe saying I personally don’t believe him though, considering he bought the rights to the movie and all.
It comes as no surprise to anyone that Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim is heavily anime influenced. The movie is gleefully obvious about homaging Japanese media, pitting anime style giant robots against classic Japanese movie monsters, even directly calling them the official term, “kaiju”.
When it comes to the mecha genre, many fans assume that Neon GenesisEvangelion was an influence on Pacific Rim, but this is actually not the case. Del Toro has gone on record saying he hasn’t seen Evangelion. Travis Beacham, the screenwriter also said “I did love Evangelion very much, but I wrote most of Pacific Rim before I saw it.” However, Del Toro cites several other mecha anime as an influence, most notably Testsujin 28.
He says “To me, the preparation for Pacific Rim was my entire childhood watching these movies. I’m old enough - I’m 48 - so when I was a kid the big rage on TV was Gigantor, Tetsujin 28. Tetsujin 28 was a huge influence on me. As a kid your biggest fantasy is to have a giant robot of your own that you can control. “
Tetsujin 28 was actually among the first mecha anime ever produced. The manga was first written in 1956 and the anime was released in 1963. The series followed a young boy named Shotaro Kaneda, a boy detective who piloted a giant robot made by his late father.
Tetsujin wasn’t the only anime influence though.
Del Toro also stated “I grew up on Japanese shows - Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, Eiji Tsuburaya’s Ultraman and Ultra Q, I grew up with a series almost no one has seen in America called Captain Ultra - and the things I admire about Japanese animation and the Japanese science fiction is that the battles were really hardcore. The mecha and the kaiju did get sorely damaged. They got sliced in half, they were almost surgically split, the mechs lost an arm, lost a leg. That was a very visceral experience to me.”
Despite admitting to the influence, Del Toro made a real effort not to imitate these shows and instead create something entirely new. He stated “I had the preparation and then I rewatched those movies as a young adult and as a teenager, but I made the serious decision to not revisit them for Pacific Rim. Let’s operate from a place that has a real and intimate knowledge of these things but not imitate them - let’s just go at it.”
He says a similar thing in regards to the kaiju movies that preceded Pacific Rim, stating “I felt there was a chance to do something fresh, something new that at the same time was conscious of the heritage, but not a pastiche or an homage or a greatest hits of everything.”
Travis Beacham, the screenwriter, had some good things to say about mecha anime and how it honors technology. He stated “Look, Japan loves its mecha. It doesn’t have the technological warning of Frankenstein."
Del Toro actually wanted to make an anime series for Pacific Rim and went so far to shop it around the various Japanese animation companies. He wanted to tell a 13 episode story that linked the first move it the proposed sequel. Of course, it’s uncertain if that will ever come to pass.
A really super cute way anime also played into Pacific Rim has to do with My Neighbor Totoro. Mana, the Japanese child actress who played a younger Mako Mori, could not pronounce Del Toros’s name. So he gave her permission to call him “Totoro.”
Though there are some other statements by Nolan that conflict a little with this, according to the French magazine Excessif, Nolan acknowledged Satoshi Kon’s 2006 film Paprika’s influence on his 2010 film Inception. Both movies feature a technology that allows the a person to dive into the subconscious and dreams of another and both movies deal with the blurring between dreams and reality. Both movies also use elevators as visual motif that is connected to the dreams at one point.
However, the plots are fairly different- Inception is more of a straight-up heist movie while Paprika is far more surreal. The quote by Nolan states that the “dream architect” Ariadne, the sole female member of the heist team, was partly inspired by Paprika’s eponymous female protagonist. Does that mean if it weren’t for Paprika, we wouldn’t have even gotten the token girl? Who knows!
Big Hero 6
It’s easy to see the anime influence in Disney’s Big Hero 6, loosely based on the Marvel comic of the same name. The movie takes place in a odd mashup of Japan and California, called “San Fransokyo” and features a robot and lots of high tech superhero suits. The directors, Chris Williams and Don Hall, turned to Hayao Miyazaki films for inspiration of the series. Williams said, “In anime films . . . the action scenes are really pushed and dynamic, and on the other hand, they have scenes that are so quiet and still and sweet,” says Williams. “So we try to capture that spirit, those two opposing forces.”
They also talked about taking influence from toys based off Shogun Warriors, such as a hero with a shooting fist.
In Japan, Big Hero 6 was even introduced by a flipbook style anime short by comedian Tekken.
The Lion King (Maybe)
An infamous debate in the animation community is whether Disney’s 1994 hit The Lion King is a rip-off of Kimba the White Lion. The 1965 show was the first anime series ever done in color and was based off a 1950 manga by the “father of manga” Osamu Tezuka, which was originally called Jungle Emporer. Both directors of The Lion Kinghave denied ever seeing Kimba and the movie’s story is more based off Hamlet than anything.
On the other hand, Kimba is accompanied by a bird, hyenas and a baboon, animals that all feature in The Lion King. Kimba also sees his dead father in the sky once, similar to a scene from The Lion King. And he fights an evil lion with a scar who tries to overtake the throne while he’s away…and the opening to Kimba has him standing dramatically on a rocky cliff, much like the iconic image from The Lion King.
In fact, an early screenshot of The Lion King shows a white lion playing with a butterfly and Matthew Broderick, the voice of young Simba, actually assumed the project was related to Kimba when he was hired for it.
Despite the professed ignorance of the directors, Disney has a history with Osamu Tezuka and their animators were even hired to train the makers of Kimba the White Lion on use of color in animation. One of the co-directors also worked as an animator in Japan in the 1980’s so it’s a bit odd to imagine he wasn’t familiar with such an influential anime.
But then again, Kimba’s plot really dealt a lot with humans and The Lion King has an absence of them. Whether The Lion King is a rip-off or not, it still has enough of its own unique elements that it can connect with viewers in a different way than Kimba.