You could count on your fingers how many Japanese-animated films have been nominated for an Academy Award, and you only need one finger to count the winners.
Bluntly put, the Oscars have an anime problem—the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has an animation problem in general, and anime in particular is often left out of awards season. However, if you ask any anime fan, any fan of the works of Makoto Shinkai or of Studio Ghibli films, they’d comment that out of the dozens of anime films that come out each year, a good chunk of them, at the very least, deserve to stand among their peers in the best animated film category.
There is a general apathy (and sometimes outright disdain) towards animation and non-Western international films from the Academy, so it comes as no surprise that anime has been snubbed once again from the Oscars, only given brief recognition in the form of shortlists and Western-filtered influence.
Best Animated Feature?
Though an international film category exists, it is predominantly awarded to European films, and the animation category is often an afterthought for members of the Academy—the category is filled with any and all family animated films and usually go to Disney and/or Pixar. This isn’t a knock against the talent or recognition of these films, but simply a signal that there is always more out there.
The result is the perfect formula for excluding anime from the Academy Awards, despite Japanese-animated films having rather large and impressive American theater runs that qualify them for nomination. It’s…upsetting to say the least, especially when anime has always been a source of powerful, unique and beautiful storytelling—everything that “Oscar-worthy” films tend to be associated with.
These barriers for anime in the Academy Awards are tough to break through, and so far only a few Japanese animated features have managed to do so. The first anime feature film to be nominated was also the first to win, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
The film, which had the distribution power of Disney behind it, opened the doors for anime at the Academy Awards…or so it seemed. Following Spirited Away’s nomination, the only Japanese-animated films to receive nominations were also produced by Studio Ghibli up until as recently as 2018, when Mamoru Hosoda and Studio Chizu’s Mirai received a nomination and broke the pattern.
Just as Best Animated Feature felt like a “gimme” for Disney or Pixar, this token anime nomination was specific to Studio Ghibli. Again, these are fantastic films, but the scope must widen.
As mentioned above, the exclusive presence of Studio Ghibli as the anime inclusion at the Oscars isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Ghibli produces incredible work, and are often the only anime films (along with Dragon Ball and My Hero Academia) that debut widely enough in America to break through to mainstream attention.
But the anime fandom in the West is enormous, and isn’t a niche collective any more. It hasn’t been in decades. So it’s disappointing to not see the wider array of anime films among others during Oscar season, especially those that capture such a wide audience.
Perhaps the most upsetting aspect of the Academy’s lack of anime is that it does recognize the works of great anime directors and mangaka like Mamoru Oshii, Masanori Ota, Satoshi Kon and Osamu Tezuka…but only when they are filtered through Western directors’ works.
Satoshi Kon’s films Paprika and Perfect Blue are perhaps the best examples—their trippy direction, cinematography and even major plot points and shot-for-shot scenes have directly influenced directors like Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky.
The Academy has given praise and recognition for anime…if they’re not anime and are instead made by American filmmakers. Movies like The Lion King and Kubo and the Two Strings are also guilty of this, receiving praise from the Academy for interpreting Eastern animation through a Western lens.
A sea change
And yet, hope is not lost for anime fans hoping to see the Academy recognize the beautiful and unique film that anime is known for. For one, Mirai broke the Studio Ghibli streak, and for another, Sony Pictures’ Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse broke Disney/Pixar’s 7-year animated film win streak, proving that there is an openness to other types of animation.
Add these moments to Parasite‘s Best Picture win in 2020 and a closer recognition of films like Minari, and the Oscars are changing, and in some ways are leagues ahead of their contemporary counterparts. Even this year, anime was represented in the initial pool of potential nominees, with Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train, Earwig and the Witch, On-Gaku: Our Sound, Ride Your Wave and A Whisker Away all listed—though none made the final cut.
Will the next year bring an anime win for Best Animated Feature? Maybe not, but hope springs eternal as the entertainment industry ever-shifts and the work of anime takes on a greater spotlight.