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Pop Culture Imports: Getting in the Robot With Hideaki Anno and ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’

best foreign movies and tv streaming now

(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)

I’m doing something a little different this week in celebration of the Netflix release of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the seminal anime series that has launched a million essays and even more memes. This entry of Pop Culture Imports is themed to Neon Genesis Evangelion and its creator Hideaki Anno, including the acclaimed 26-episode series itself, as well as the follow-up feature films The End of Evangelion and Evangelion: Death (True). Also featured is Anno’s excellent kaiju film Shin Godzilla and an NHK documentary series on Anno’s mentor Hayao Miyazaki.

Fire up those subtitles (because we’re sub, not dub, people) and let’s get streaming.

Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now

Neon Genesis Evangelion – Netflix

Country: Japan

Genre: Sci-fi anime series

Director: Hideaki Anno

Cast: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Y?ko Miyamura.

One of the densest, most divisive anime series ever made, it would be nearly impossible to summarize Neon Genesis Evangelion in a short paragraph. So I’ll go with your most basic plot synopsis: Set 15 years after the world has been rocked by a cataclysmic event, a teenage boy named Shinji (Megumi Ogata) is recruited by his father to pilot a giant bio-machine mecha called an “Evangelion” to ward off invading alien beings called “Angels.” What seems at first to be a typical mecha anime evolves into one of the most emotionally grueling, abstract deconstructions of the genre and explorations of the concept of the self and soul. Laden with Judeo-Christian imagery and shot in stunning cinematic fashion, Neon Genesis Evangelion is probably the closest we get to watching creator Hideaki Anno having a nervous breakdown in real-time. And yet, despite the endless barrage of hopeless imagery and healthy doses of navel gazing, Neon Genesis Evangelion is an ultimately hopeful and cathartic series about self-acceptance. At least, that’s how I’m choosing to read it.

Watch This If You LikeTwin Peaks, Lost, Under the Skin, Pacific Rim but if everyone were depressed and nursing Oedipal desires.

Evangelion: Death(True) – Netflix

Country: Japan

Genre: Sci-fi anime series

Director: Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki

Cast: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Y?ko Miyamura.

The ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion is infamous for being so controversial that the backlash (and death threats) led to Hideaki Anno creating an alternate ending that he rolled out in two feature films. The first, Death and Rebirth, is a glorified clip show with a final 27 minutes of new footage. Evangelion: Death (True) is the condensed version of Death and Rebirth, re-edited by Masayuki to remove much of the new footage from episodes 21–24. But don’t look to this short film for a good summary of the series — it acts more as a refresher before we dive into the real meat of The End of Evangelion.

Watch This If You Like: Clip shows but sad!

The End of Evangelion  – Netflix

Country: Japan

Genre: Sci-fi anime series

Director: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki

Cast: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Y?ko Miyamura.

One of the most fascinating aspects about Neon Genesis Evangelion is how amorphous the series has become — not just in the millions of ways that it has been interpreted and taken apart by fans, but in how Anno keeps changing the ending. The first instance of this is The End of Evangelion, a 1997 feature film that was created in direct response to the backlash that Anno received for his series — the death threats against him even flash for a few seconds onscreen at the end. The film picks up where the show’s 24th episode ended, offering an alternate reason for Shinji’s breakdown and showing the Evangelions’ organization NERV come under attack by the shadowy group SEELE and the Japanese government, bringing about the humanity-devastating Third Impact. But the most tantalizing part of this film isn’t the opaque ending, but the way it points the camera back at the audience and condemns them in several dreamlike sequences filmed in live-action. It’s the most direct response to entitled fans and their toxicity that I’ve seen, and one that feels all the more withering because of the film’s ultimately nihilistic bent.

Watch This If You Like: I don’t know anymore, I need a nap and flowers.

Shin Godzilla – Funimation

Country: Japan

Genre: Kaiju disaster

Director: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi

Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara.

There’s an episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion that follows one of the characters forced to take action when an unexpected malfunction of a robotic war machine endangers the world, but its creators are frozen in inaction due to the miles of bureaucratic red tape. It’s a darkly comic episode that Anno seizes on and expands in the 2016 feature film Shin Godzilla. Part scathing satire, part disaster movie, Shin Godzilla offers a fresh take on the monster movie by showing it from the perspective of the inept government bureaucrats whose inaction costs thousands of lives when a mutated monster from the deep suddenly attacks Tokyo. Social commentary is the order of the day in Shin Godzilla, as Anno loads the film with contemptuous depictions of Japanese bureaucrats and the U.S. government and draws inspiration from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. But as satire gives way to tragedy, the film evolves — much as its monster does — into a kaiju film far greater than any other Godzilla titles hitting theaters as of late.

Watch This If You LikeThe Host, Dr. Strangelove, Godzilla, The Death of StalinVeep but with monsters.

10 Years With Hayao Miyazaki –NHK

Country: Japan

Genre: Documentary series

Director: Kaku Arakawa

Cast: Hayao Miyazaki

All right, this one is a little out of place with the other Hideaki Anno-related titles, but 10 Years With Hayao Miyazaki is a fascinating glimpse at the legendary filmmaker shot over a period of 10 years up through Miyazaki’s short-lived retirement in 2013. Why am I suddenly recommending a Miyazaki documentary series when this column has been all about Anno? It’s a bit of a stretch, I admit, but Miyazaki and Anno have a close mentor-mentee relationship stretching back to Miyazaki’s inaugural Studio Ghibli movie Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, on which Anno worked as the key animator and was responsible for one of the film’s most iconic sequences. Anno himself doesn’t make an appearance in this four-part minseries filmed for Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, but it’s enlightening to get a fly-on-the-wall look at the filmmaker who has acted as one of Anno’s greatest influences. Not to mention the spotlight on the strained relationship between Miyazaki and his son Goro, whose feature film debut with Tales of Earthsea is chronicled in the early episodes, is oddly reflective of the themes of fatherhood that Anno touches on in Evangelion.

Watch This If You LikeNever-Ending Man, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, rewatching that clip of Miyazaki and Anno insulting each other for 10 minutes straight.

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