Millennium Actress (2001) Japan rated PG
Summary: Past and present collide as a film director discovers a mysterious key that unlocks the secrets of a legendary actress who vanished at the height of her career. There are multiple angles to watch this story unfold from regarding how connected the viewer is – one of the documentarians is not only a fan of the actress, he’s met her before during work. His perspective is fascinating as is hers from the inside.
Recommendation: This is the most like a biographic memoir of all the anime I’ve seen (even including 2013’s The Wind Rises). It’s especially fun from the perspective of the documentarians since they are experiencing both modern time and the past as she tells it. When the movies or decades change, so might the coloring or art style for the setting, but all of it is told from the same familiar actress’ point of view. The running mystery is ‘solved’ by the end and it is all kinds of emotional. I suggest having a box of tissues nearby.
Summer Wars (2010) Japan rated PG
Summary: Kenji is your typical teenage misfit. He’s good at math, bad with girls, and spends most of his time hanging out in the all-powerful, online community known as OZ. His second life is the only life he has – until the girl of his dreams, Natsuki, hijacks him for a starring role as a fake fiancé at her family reunion. Things only get stranger from there. A late-night email containing a cryptic mathematic riddle leads to the unleashing of a rogue artificial intelligence.
Recommendation: There are two settings in play: the real world and the online world of OZ. Both are given great effects and details through the animation styles, but they differ from each other for obvious reasons. Natsuki’s crush on her own family member is a mite disturbing at first (he’s called “uncle” because he’s the same generation as her parents despite being the illegitimate son of her grandfather). Everything is resolved by the end with success celebrated in many quarters. Grandmother is a hoot and both main characters do some growing up.
Ernest & Celestine (2014) – Belgium, France, Luxembourg rated G
Summary: Deep below snowy, cobblestone streets, tucked away in networks of winding subterranean tunnels, lives a civilization of hardworking mice, terrified of the bears who live above ground. Unlike her fellow mice, Celestine is an artist and a dreamer. When she nearly ends up as breakfast for ursine troubadour Ernest, the two form an unlikely bond.
Recommendation: There are literally two worlds presented: one for the mice below and one for the bears above. There’s a great deal of heavy subject matter if one wishes to delve into it (prejudice, miscegenation), but you can also watch the water-color and charcoal-sketched story for its adorable animal characters without worry. I especially loved the voice actors and matching their work to their names (once I looked them up on the Internet Movie DataBase). The whole concept of a mouse being able to replace their tooth with a bear’s is outrageous, but you don’t care once you’ve fallen in love with the main characters.