Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, the 1995 film “Bio Hunter” takes place in a world where a malady called the Demon Virus is ravaging Japan. Those infected with the virus transform into horrific creatures with a taste for human flesh. Human bodies are ripped to shreds and blood spurts from open throats.
In this hellscape, there are two men determined to stop the virus. Koshigaya and Kamada are two molecular-biologists-slash-demon-hunters who are trying to both develop a cure and also hunt down the infected. However, their journey takes a turn for the worse when Kamada contracts the virus. He uses the disease to his advantage, trying to keep his demonic side under control so that he can save as many lives as possible.
This is the first film by Kawajiri on this list, but it definitely isn’t the last. This prolific director is known for transgressive works that push the limits of the animated body. Teeth burst from flesh, bodies twist and mutate, and any semblance of humanity is stripped away. This hyper-sexual, hyper-violent horror anime proves that not all animated films are meant for children.
Gothic horror lovers, get ready, because “Empire of Corpses” is the anime for you. This 2015 film takes place in an alternate version of 18th-century England. In this timeline, corpses are regularly reanimated using a technology called Necroware. They’re then used as laborers; they don’t think, feel, eat, or need to be paid. They’re a perfect new labor force.
However, it’s rumored that Victor Frankenstein has a machine that can reanimate not only bodies, but souls, too. These corpses would no longer be shells of people, but fully resurrected human beings. Scientist John Watson is chosen to go on an expedition to retrieve Frankenstein’s notes and find a new way to bring back the dead.
“Empire of Corpses” is a quintessential steampunk adventure, full of homages to other prominent historical and literary figures, including “The Brothers Karamazov” and Colonel Frederick Burnaby. But it’s also deeply emotional and upsetting, as Watson reflects on his own motivations for wanting to resurrect the dead and what it means for a corpse to have real autonomy over its body. “Empire of Corpses” deals with some downright chilling themes that provide a whole new perspective on the story of “Frankenstein.”
The second Yoshiaki Kawajiri film on this list is his solo directorial debut, 1987’s “Wicked City.” The film takes place in a world where Earth and the demon-filled “Black World” have struck a tenuous peace treaty to maintain some semblance of order. The Black Guard, a special police force made up of humans and demons, makes sure the treaty is upheld. But that treaty is about to expire, and agents Taki, a human, and Makie, a demon, must protect the diplomat charged with its renewal. However, a radical group of demons don’t want that to happen, and Taki and Makie must use their combined abilities to protect humanity from complete destruction.
Satoshi Kon appears on this list again with 2006’s “Paprika,” his last film before he passed away in 2010. Unlike “Perfect Blue” which features a psychological hellscape, “Paprika” is a psychedelic journey through dreams that addresses the terrifying malleability of the human mind.
Dr. Atsuko Chiba is using a device called the DC Mini to illegally access the dreams of her psychiatric patients. By assuming her dream persona, Paprika, Chiba enters people’s dreams to better analyze their subconscious. But, of course, such power is easily abused, and scientists with evil intentions steal the device and infiltrate unsuspecting minds, and manipulating people into killing themselves. Chiba dives into a world of colorful dreams to keep it all from oozing into the real world.
No written description can truly capture the jaw-dropping beauty of the film’s animation, nor its reliance on dream logic (Kon isn’t interested in making this film easy to understand). Christopher Nolan’s 2010 “Inception” took quite a bit of inspiration from “Paprika,” replicating a physics-defying hallway sequence and other pivotal scenes. But nothing compares to the power of animation. Kon rises to the challenge with this film, making something truly special.
This animated short film by Tatsuo Satō is a surreal, trippy tale about grief and the deep bond between siblings, all represented by anthropomorphic cats. Nyatta is a young male cat who loves his older sister, Nyako, who is very sick. One day, while playing in the bath, Nyatta accidentally drowns and sees Nyako walking with Jizuo, the patron saint of dead children. He grabs her and, after a game of tug-of-war, they split Nyako’s soul in half. When Nyatta is revived, he gives Nyako her soul back, but it is incomplete. So, they must embark on a journey through Hell to find the other half and make her whole again.
Eiichi Yamamoto’s 1973 film “Belladonna of Sadness” is a heart-wrenching rape-revenge masterpiece about a scorned woman who yearns for any type of control. In medieval France, Jeanne and Jean are newlyweds basking in the glow of a new marriage. However, it’s sadly short lived when Jeanne is raped by a baron in a ritual ceremony. Despite it being a tradition, Jean can’t handle it and abandons Jeanne. In her despair, Jeanne is offered powers by a phallic demon who guarantees revenge on those who have wronged her.
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