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Disney / Mushi Production
Disney / Mushi Production

10 Hollywood Movies That May Have Been Inspired by Anime

Disney / Mushi Production
Disney / Mushi Production

The recent Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow looks and feels like an anime—partly because it is based on an actual Japanese manga property (albeit one that has so far not been given the animated treatment). And we can speculate that a bunch of other Hollywood movies not credited as being based on any specific anime actually were.

While hyper-real fantasy pictures like Real Steel and Sucker Punch borrow the semiotics/visual vocabulary of Japanese animation, there are some films that lift whole storylines or shots from pretty famous properties developed by our neighbors in the east. Sometimes the filmmakers cop to it, sometimes they don't—but here are ten examples of movies inspired by anime to get you thinking.

1. The Lion King (1994)

Influence: Kimba the White Lion

In the early '90s, the VHS revolution was in full swing, but the internet was in its infancy—it would be a few more years before many people would be talking smack on message boards. So unless you were trading bootlegs at a convention, you were mostly ignorant of animation from other parts of the globe—which is probably what Disney was counting on when they totally ganked elements of The Lion King from Kimba the White Lion wholesale. Created by Osamu Tezuka as a manga in the 1950s, then broadcast as an animated series in the mid-1960s (including syndication in the U.S.!), the similarities to Disney's 1994 feature-film blockbuster go as far as exact shots (Mufasa on Pride Rock, his ghost appearing to Simba in the sky) to identical characters and story elements. In fact, Lion King star Matthew Broderick thought he was initially working on a version of Kimba.

2. The Matrix (1999)

Influence: Ghost in the Shell

Unlike filmmakers who are sheepish to discuss their influences, Lana and Andy Wachowski could not have been more direct: They pitched The Matrix to producer Joel Silver by showing him 1995's cyberpunk actioner Ghost in the Shell, saying "We want to do that in live-action." And indeed they did! From the green digital typography used to descend into the virtual world to jacking-in through ports in the back of a person's neck, the Wachowskis borrowed lovingly from Mamoru Oshii's Ghost as well as the overall cinematic speed-ramping language of anime. They even wore their thievery proudly with side-by-side comparisons on the making-of features! Talk about owning it. Oshii himself became tired of discussing the comparison, stating, "It is an entertaining movie, but I prefer their debut, Bound."

But the directors weren't done with anime: The 2003 direct-to-video feature The Animatrix saw the Wachowskis utilizing some of Japan's finest directors (Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Mahiro Maeda) to take The Matrix franchise back to its anime roots. Then they went on to 2008's Speed Racer, the closest anyone’s come to approximating the actual psychedelic flourish of anime in live-action… for better or worse.

3. Van Helsing (2004)

Influence: Vampire Hunter D

This one really only goes so far as an iconic costume. The movie finds Hugh Jackman playing the eponymous vampire hunter who originally appeared in Bram Stoker's Dracula—only in that story, Abraham Van Helsing was an old, half-mad doctor. Here, he's a hunky stud vigilante who turns out to be the earthly incarnation of angel Gabriel. Van Helsing's signature Johnny Cash-style black duds and wide-brimmed hat also happen to be style of choice for a certain Vampire Hunter D, the bloodsucker slayer immortalized in dozens of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi and two classic anime features that rely heavily on western motifs. Its concept of a "dhampir" (half vampire/half human vampire hunter) was also borrowed for the Blade movies.

4. Avatar (2009)

20th Century Fox / Toho

Influence: Princess Mononoke

When anything becomes successful, people tend to come out of the woodwork to claim it was stolen from this or that—especially when you're the most successful thing ever projected onto a plethora of large screens. Such was the case with James Cameron's Avatar, which was a target even before it hit theaters. There were charges of Ferngully-this and Pocahontas-that, but the spirit that the director's "Dances With Wolves-in-space" was really channeling was Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. It was the first anime feature to really gain worldwide box office traction, and featured many of Miyazaki's signature motifs, including environmental degradation, malevolent black goo, and a strong female heroine. Those are also signatures of James Cameron (well, maybe not the black goo), but both feature a human interloper entering a wilderness society, being "chosen" by the elements, falling in love with a warrior chick and ultimately fighting against the human oppressors who want to mine a metal out of the ground. 

5. Inception (2010)

Influence: Paprika

Christopher Nolan acknowledged that Satoshi Kon's colorful 2006 fantasia Paprika was a source of inspiration for him, in that both stories involve an electronic device that allows an outsider to access and affect a person's dreams. Of course, like The Matrix, Inception’s influences are myriad—from Total Recall to James Bond to Philip K. Dick's Ubik—though the most striking thing you can say when you put the two films side-by-side is how vastly better Paprika is, in the sense that it truly revels in dreams as a mental plane where anything the subconscious can muster will happen. Wolfgang Peterson (The Perfect Storm) announced he was working on a live-action version of Paprika just before Inception came out, and it's not hard to believe that Nolan's movie might have stolen his thunder considering we haven't heard a peep in four years.

6. Black Swan (2010)

Influence: Perfect Blue

Another masterpiece by Satoshi Kon was given the (informal) Hollywood treatment in 2010 in the form of Academy Award-winning psychodrama Black Swan, which took both specific shots and story details from Perfect Blue. Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky had previously used several frames from this 1997 animated film for scenes with Jennifer Connelly in Requiem For a Dream, going so far as to buy the rights from Kon. When touting his ballet drama Swan during awards season, he acknowledged similarities—a talented young woman with a tenuous grasp on reality alienates her friends and overbearing mother in order to achieve fame, all while being tormented by a doppelganger who appears in reflections—but insisted he did not draw any inspiration from it.

7. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010)

Universal Pictures / Shueisha

Influence: 'Naruto'

Yes, director Edgar Wright was looking to the world of video games and martial arts movies as the primary ingredients in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. However, being that the original comic book's creator Bryan Lee O'Malley was deliberately aping the style and formatting of Japanese manga, the whole thing has anime in its DNA. The film pulls liberally from the old 8-bit Street Fighter and Mario Bros. games, but during the final boss confrontation with Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman) the baddie uses hand signs straight from popular manga/anime Naruto to summon his deadly digitized sword.

8. Looper (2012)

TriStar Pictures / Toho

Influence: Akira

Arguably the most revered anime feature of all-time, Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 breakthrough Akira was a cyberpunk landmark that took sensory overload to new heights. Rian Johnson's Looper is a clever pastiche of sci-fi tropes—particularly The Terminator—and tells the tale of a young buck (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who murders people sent back in time by the mob, and what happens when he fails to kill his future self (Bruce Willis). Besides the time travel element, you also have a kid named Cid whose psychokinetic abilities will eventually turn him into a monster, something that also plays heavily into the Tetsuo character in Akira. The futuristic setting is much less Blade Runner and more Detroit ten years from now, but Johnson freely admits to cribbing from not only Akira but also Otomo's other manga work in the uncontrolled-id genre, Domu.

9. Pacific Rim (2013)

Influence: Neon Genesis Evangelion/Mobile Suit Gundam/Patlabor/etc

If Japan were to have a pop culture ambassador to the United Nations, it would be a giant robot. Since the dawn of Astro Boy and Gigantor, their culture has literally been stupid with big mechanical marvels, whether they're duking it out with Godzilla or transforming into a boombox. It's fair to say Japanimation has ripped itself off so many times it would be impossible to pinpoint one influence on Guillermo del Toro's mech-vs.-monster epic Pacific Rim. Besides the obvious "nations banding together to defeat giant creatures with big robot defenders" angle, popular anime series Evangelion has the drivers of said robots given a neural link to their rigs. Rim doubled up on this concept by having two drivers telepathically connected and sharing memories, but the influence is there. Both del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham have denied watching Evangelion, but do cite Gigantor (originally Tetsujin 28-go) or Mobile Police Patlabor.

10. Her (2013)

Influence: Chobits

Spike Jonze's Her and the anime Chobits (created by Japanese manga collective Clamp) are both about average, antisocial dudes who fall in love with an artificial being. Although they both boast this central idea—and despite impassioned cries by anime fans—it really is hard to get past a fundamental difference, which is that Chobits' female A.I. named Chi has a body in which to "interact" with her man Hideki, whereas Samantha in Her is a disembodied voice (Scarlett Johansson) with which Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) can impart all of his innermost desires in order to simulate true intimacy. Eventually, both Chi and Samantha become transcendent beings, but Her is so different both aesthetically and emotionally that it's hard to say there's more than the kernel of the idea in Jonze's work.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Cost Plus World Market

Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

Buy on Amazon.

2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

Buy on ThinkGeek.

4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

Buy on Amazon.

5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

Buy on Amazon.

15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

Buy on Amazon.

16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

Buy on Amazon.

17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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