Anime Feminist’s Favorite Films of 2023

By: Anime Feminist January 31, 20240 Comments
Suzume and a cat with enormous green eyes

We’re trying something new this year! Folks have requested more coverage of films, and we aim to please. Welcome to our first year-end film recommendation round-up!

How did we choose our recs?

Participating staff members can nominate up to three titles and can also co-sign other nominated films. Rather than categorizing titles as “feminist-friendly” or “problematic,” they are simply listed in alphabetical order with relevant content warnings; doing otherwise ran the risk of folks seeing these staff recommendations as rubber stamps of unilateral “Feminist Approval,” which is something we try our hardest to avoid here.

The titles below are organized alphabetically. Because licensing and distribution processes often takes longer for films than television series, we’ve demarcated a film’s “year” by the date of its English-language release–in other words, the year that we would’ve had access to it. Likewise, because films are harder to access reliably than TV series, note that a title’s lack of inclusion here might not mean we hated it, but that no one on staff was able to view it prior to publishing. We’ll work on ironing out any issues going forward and possibly looking back at films of previous years, so now more than ever we welcome your feedback.

Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!

a young man playing saxophone

Blue Giant

Recommended by: Cy

What’s it about? Life for Miyamoto Dai is pretty routine, at least until he sees a live jazz performance which touches his very soul, setting him on the path of becoming one of Japan’s best. But before he and his tenor sax get to the top, Dai’s got a lot to learn and a whole lot of experiences ahead, all of which will change his life in ways he never could have imagined.

Blue Giant came as a surprise to me when I saw it in its limited 2023 run. Its focus is on jazz, a genre that’s big in Japan, and its perspective comes from a young man on the cusp of adulthood. Enter Dai, an endlessly optimistic kid with stars in his eyes and the pleasant, smoky buzz of a saxophone as his constant BGM. Together with Yukinori, a senior student of jazz and a musician since four, and Shunji, Dai’s friend and eventual amateur drummer, Blue Giant offers the foundation of youth blending with ambition.

And wow, it is good.

It’s hard to sum up all my feelings about this movie: it’s got a lot of moving parts, but what shines most is the music. True, you could easily say that the plot is predictable, but I don’t think anyone should watch Blue Giant for the plot. It’s perfectly fine and, at many moments, heartrending. Instead, this movie is a love letter to jazz in all its honeyed, rowdy, plucky tones. It’s an ode to the power of music, accompanied by surreal visuals that paint a lovely contemporary image of the powerful blend of passionate music, even if Dai and his makeshift band are still very much beginners as a group. 

There were many times I was brought to the edge of my seat because of the music. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can hear the wham-bam-POW impact of “N.E.W.,” one of the songs Dai’s group, JASS (yes, it’s silly, okay), creates. Blue Giant’s soundtrack is just that powerful.

I’ll fully warn you that the ending is bittersweet, the kind of bittersweet that makes you remember, in one stark moment, that life sometimes doesn’t consider your desires. It’s gut-wrenching, but the resolution is truly beautiful, and will likely leave you crying. And while we don’t know Dai’s fate outside of a few hinted snippets, Blue Giant ends with you wishing all of its characters the best while leaving a lingering hunger for jazz.


Mahito glaring eye to eye with a large heron that has human teeth

The Boy and the Heron

Recommended by: Dee, Peter, Toni, Vrai

What’s it about? After his mother is killed in an air raid, Mahiro and his father move to the countryside to live with Mahiro’s aunt—who is also his new stepmother and expecting a baby. Not long after they arrive, a grey heron begins appearing to Mahiro, claiming his mother is still alive and waiting to be saved.

Content warnings: War crimes (civilian bombings); mass death; mild gore; animal death.

We already gave The Boy and the Heron a dedicated discussion at the beginning of the year, but it felt worth including here for folks who might’ve missed it. Suffice it to say, The Boy and the Heron is an easy film to recommend to anyone who’s been touched by Miyazaki’s extremely influential canon.

Whether or not it’s actually the last film he makes, it has a capstone quality to it: not just in the meta casting elements, but in the ways it meditates on Miyazaki’s pet themes and motifs from over the years. That includes broad elements like the evils of war, certainly, but feeds all the way down to subtle touches, like Mahiro’s war profiteer father manufacturing parts for the Zero fighter, a plane that was central to The Wind Rises’ exploration of the intent versus impact of passionate artistry.

The film’s biggest downside is in the writing of Mahiro’s aunt Natsuko, who gets little to do before being rendered an unconscious damsel for most of the film. Most of the female characters, uncharacteristically for the filmmaker, slot into caretaker or mother roles, though Himi and Kiriko are absolute scene-stealers when given the chance.

The Boy and the Heron is a loosely plotted there-and-back-again story whose vignette-heavy style invites the viewers’ interpretations, but one needn’t be a veteran Miyazaki fan to enjoy it. The film’s original title, “How Do You Live,” is key enough. In a world where violence seems to be the only prized trait, what do you do to survive? And how do you live with those choices? For all its layers, it’s a pure distillation of Miyazaki’s anti-war theming at heart, and a beautiful spectacle well worth seeing.


Sasaki and Miyano lying on the ground with their fingers entwined, leaning in to kiss

Sasaki and Miyano: Graduation

Recommended by: Dee, Vrai

What’s it about? Sasaki and Miyano have finally started dating but there are unanswered questions about their futures, together and apart, as Sasaki prepares for college entrance exams and the two contemplate coming out to their families.

Content considerations: Queerphobic microaggressions from friends/family.

We heaped plenty of praise on the original SasaMiya when it came out in early 2022: it’s a sweet, quiet slice-of-life that mixes loving parodies of BL manga and fandom with subtle, grounded scenes about navigating real-world prejudice and objectification. The movie hits those same notes but also, befitting its title, feels like a chance to say a proper goodbye. This goes down smooth, although the decision to put it up on Crunchyroll as a single video file with the companion short film “Hirano and Kagiura” is a little confusing.

With their relationship official, the focus of the story shifts to early dating hurdles, which is nice to see when so many romance anime stop at “let’s date.” The BL meta/parody elements are somewhat muted here compared to the TV series, but they come on strong as the two navigate physical intimacy. Both are keen but also nervous about whether they’re supposed to be fitting into a defined role, a narrative that’s echoed by the well-meaning straight people in their lives.

That well-meaningness bleeds over into the pair’s coming-out experiences. SasaMiya is a very hopeful story, so even the most disastrous conversation ultimately ends with tearful apologies and reconciliation, but the mundanity of how the series handles prejudice is honestly one of its appeals. It’s about little things that pile up and make one feel perpetually unwanted rather than singular, easy-to-pinpoint violence; comments from loved ones that are harder to shake off than those from strangers.

If you liked the series, this is an easy recommendation; if you missed out on the original, think of this is a great reminder of all the things that make it charming.


a girl leaning in to kiss a chair


Recommended by: Toni

What’s it about? Suzume lives with her aunt in a town bordering some abandoned ruins. One day as she is exploring those ruins, she discovers a strange door with no frame to hold it, that, upon opening, reveals a portal into the Ever After. She quickly discovers that leaving that door open was a big mistake—and now must travel the country closing the doors which have sprung up all over, with the help of a mysterious man.

Content Warnings: Natural disaster; death in the family; emotional abuse; heavily implied romantic relationship between a high school minor and a grad student.

Suzume is another addition to Shinkai’s growing body of supernatural romance films—only in this one, rather than girl-meets-boy, it’s more like girl-meets-chair.

I was honestly on the fence about whether to recommend this film. On one hand, I found the romance extremely unconvincing. I found it hard to connect with Suzume’s desire to save Souta, and genuinely think it would have been a better film if Shinkai has been allowed to go with his original plan of making it a lesbian romance. It also isn’t helped by the fact that Souta is in grad school while Suzume is seventeen. The film doesn’t make Souta’s feelings explicit, so it’s possible to read the romance as one-sided, but the subtext strongly suggests they’re about to start dating.

However, as time has passed, I found myself thinking again and again about some of the central images of the film: the dilapidated amusement parks abandoned after economic calamity; the villages devastated by disaster; and, of course, the strange doors dotting the landscape of Japan, always seemingly on these sites of collective grief. Over the course of the film we meet the many women and girls having to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of tragedy, and we see how they come together and apart, stretched thin by the burden of their lives. 

I also appreciated the specificity of the character writing in the film, particularly the adorably strange Serizawa, who is one of my favorite characters of the last year. Suzume herself makes for a compelling protagonist, and it was satisfying to see the boyfriend turning into a chair as a gender-reversal of the usual damsel-in-distress dynamic. Ultimately, of course, it is Suzume’s self-work that is the true journey of the film, and one that goes to places sublime and relatable. In Suzume’s acceptance of her reality, we can see the journey of so many who must somehow make sense of the unimaginable and keep living—often with no true closure, only messiness and hope that feels akin to delusion. 


Kaoru and Anzu walking down a deserted country road; Anzu looks back at the camera

The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes

Recommended by: Dee, Toni, Vrai

What’s it about? Kaoru has learned to keep to himself. He skates the surface, barely connecting with those around him. This all changes when a girl named Anzu comes to school, and she doesn’t take crap from anybody–day 1, and she’s already punched the school bully! Shortly after her arrival, he discovers a tunnel that transports the person inside into the future–while also possibly giving them lost things from their past. And outside that tunnel? Anzu is waiting.

Content Warnings: Emotional and physical abuse of a child, implied age-gap (at the ending), death in the family, clinical anxiety, first-person depiction of a panic attack.

I’ve written many words about Tunnel to Summer, including an interview with the creative team as well as a review. Since I mostly focused in those on the way the film represents the process of grief and surviving abuse, I want to focus here on its position in the larger genre of supernatural romance. I suppose this is fitting, given the other film I wrote up on this list (Suzume) is also a supernatural romance film about accepting grief. These two films are difficult not to read in conversation with each other: they both portray characters who are unable to fully accept a loss entering a strange, parallel universe where they can literally re-enter the past.

While Suzume is arguably about collective grief for a nation suffering from economic and natural devastation, Tunnel to Summer feels far more intimate. It is focused instead on two survivors of abuse who at first enable each others’ worst coping mechanisms, skipping school and generally isolating themselves from the people around them in their pursuit of a magical solution for their grief. However, over the film, they learn to trust and care for one another, even if they are unable to fully protect each other. The central relationship in Tunnel to Summer, far more than Suzume, feels real and honest. The supernatural elements are fully integrated into their relationship in a way I’ve found rare in this genre.

And let’s be honest, I’m a sucker for a compelling concept, okay? And Tunnel to Summer has an extremely compelling concept, with the eponymous tunnel seeming to represent how being stuck in the past can paradoxically pull one faster and faster into a future you are less and less prepared for. I love everything about the tunnel scenes: the atmospheric, gamelan-inspired music, the strange and otherworldly glowing trees, the watery floor that reflects the characters.

This is thanks in no small part to writer-director Tomohisa Taguchi of Akudama Drive fame, whose bold approach to color, playful character animation, and unending commitment to thoughtful writing of social issues has quickly made him one of my favorite directors and writers. Mei Hachimoku, the original light novel author, has also come to be somebody I deeply respect—and I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming English release of his long-running LGBT light novel series The Mimosa Confessions, which, as far as I can tell from the description, has a trans girl colead.


Editor’s Note: This article was edited after publication to correct minor formatting errors and typos, as well as to add more context to the Suzume writeup.

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