Japan’s most recognized contributions to cinema are Anime, Kaiju movies, Samurai films and J-horror. And while I like all those things, the Japanese films I’m most interested in are the arthouse and genre movies that were made after the end of the studio era. Between apx. 1980 to the present. Here are some of my favorites
  1. Cure (1997)
    Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa - I got to this one a couple years after I was out of film school and looking for ways to tell stories that could have an entertaining use of genre, while still being intellectual and artistic. For that desire, Cure is essential. Supposedly inspired by the success of Se7en, Cure is a serial killer / cop movie with better concept and some stuff that I still find truly haunting.
  2. All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001)
    Dir. Shunji Iwai - I think I first came across this one in an interview with Quentin Tarantino, (which is kind of odd in retrospect.) It’s hard to sum up the film’s appeal. I guess it’s a 2.5 hour long dark, emotional, coming of age story about a teenager obsessed with a pop star. It’s also one of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced on both a visual and aural level. I saw this in 2003 or so and it pretty much blew my mind and changed a lot of what I thought was possible for a movie to be.
  3. Eureka (2000)
    Dir. Shinji Aoyama - I remember reading about this in filmmaker magazine when it was on the festival circuit. A 3.5 hour long movie about 3 characters dealing with PTSD after being part of a busjacking in the opening scene. oh and its presented in anamorphic sepia 35mm (a ridiculous and improbable format in all the best ways). One of the best films I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure any movie respects and loves its characters more.
  4. Tokyo Decadence (1992)
    Dir. Ryu Murakami - Like most people, I was initially made aware of this one because of its “extreme” sexual content. But it being written and directed by one of Japan's most famous novelists (yes he's the other Murakami) should imply that there is a lot more to this than just sex. In some ways it feels like Taxi Driver, except about a Japanese prostitute. Not in terms of plot, but a certain feeling of detached, existential drifting that I guess I can’t get enough of.
  5. 13 Assassins (2010)
    Dir. Takashi Miike - Most people know Miike more for his violent exploitation movies. Many of which I enjoy but none that prepared me for such an elegant, thrilling, emotional, action adventure film like 13 Assassins. It's a slowburn men-on-a-mission story that erupts into unrelenting action about mid-way and has scenes and performances that make me tear up just thinking about them. Note: this is the third film on this list starring Koji Yakusho, for my money the finest living Japanese actor.
  6. Love & Pop (1998)
    Dir. Hideaki Anno - this one is a real curiosity. Anno is revered as a god in the world of anime. But Love & Pop is his first (and one of his few) live action films. It's a funny, sad and disturbing story about teenage girls who work in the world of 90s "assisted dating." But Anno's choice to shoot the entire movie on consumer video cameras placed in improbably subjective angles makes the viewing experience more fascinating than it is dark.