Contemporary Japanese cinema
January 30, 2010 12:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm seeking recommendations for contemporary (last 10 years) Japanese cinema. I'm no so bothered about crazy or ultra-violent manga / manga-style stuff, but open to anything that's really good. Thanks
posted by mairuzu to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Hirokazu Koreeda did two great movies, Nobody Knows and Distance. You should check out Satoshi Kon (animated, but adult), Tokyo Godfathers and Millenium Actress are really interesting.

Also, check out the picture of the year from the Japanese Academy Prize.
posted by smoke at 1:22 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Last August the movie "Summer Wars" hit the theaters in Japan. I've seen a low-quality bootleg of it and I think it's the best anime of 2009. The official DVD/BD release is beginning of March.

When, or whether, it'll get officially released in North America with a dub or even a sub is anyone's guess.

About half the story takes place in the real world. A high school student named Kenji gets invited by a girl named Natsuki to join her and visit her family. He secretly has a big crush on her; she's the prettiest girl in the school (or at least he thinks so). And she doesn't have a crush on him.

The other half of the story takes place in a virtual world called "Oz". It's kind of like what "Second Life" wants to be when it grows up. Or what Second Life would be if it actually succeeded and ended up with a billion paying users. Some sort of strange creature, or person, or something, manages to crack the system passwords and takes it all over -- and locks out all the people who are supposed to be running the place. Which is a problem, because a lot of real-world things are being run through Oz. The perp starts lousing up traffic, and messing with the water and power systems, and causing all kinds of problems.

Both of those stories are heavily interrelated, and the way the movie moves back and forth between them is really well handled. And it's got just about the best ending it could have. It's really a lot of fun.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:28 AM on January 30, 2010

I adore Zatôichi, which does have a bit of violence (being a samurai-ish movie), but it also has the most amazing dance numbers you will ever see.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:50 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Zatoichi, which was pretty good, (the cg-ness of the blood spurts a touch unecessary) but the dance scene, combined with a very Dancer in the Dark-esque musical score makes it sublime.

Depatures is supposed to be fantastic as well.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:29 AM on January 30, 2010

Still Walking
posted by gravelshoes at 4:24 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

This falls slightly out of your time range (1997), but I watched Fireworks just last night and was really fascinated by it. Because of the blurbs on the DVD jacket, I was expecting an crazy ultra-violent martial arts movie. It turns out to be a very moody and introspective and surprisingly moving film about an ex-cop's relationships with his dying wife and his paraplegic former partner. And yes, there were violent parts sprinkled throughout, but mostly I was shocked that it turned out to be a real movie (with a devastating ending, no less).
posted by hermitosis at 5:23 AM on January 30, 2010

Taste of Tea. Some people will tell you it's "slow." Those people are wrong. It does have some weird/surreal parts to it, but it's also a sensitive look at a family. It also has the most beautiful scene I've ever seen in a movie.

Other than the manga adaptions that you probably wouldn't be interested in, Viz Media has actually released a lot of interesting Japanese movies in the U.S. -- Linda Linda Linda is maybe a little young, but also really sweet and fun. I adore Kamikaze Girls, but that may have too much "manga" elements to it.

I'll go through what else I have that I haven't watched yet (my friend sends me a lot of things of questionable origin). He usually picks good stuff.
posted by darksong at 7:24 AM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

How about Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata. It also follows the everyday life of a family with an unemployed father but is not straightforward realism. Strange and fun. If you like spooky but not bloody, older Kurosawa's films are great. Like, say, Pulse.

I really love Shunji Iwai. All About Lily Chou Chou in particular is pretty great.

Kore Eda's Afterlife is lovely (although it's from 1998, more than 10 years ago). Also Nobody Knows.

Takeshi Kitano's films you may enjoy, although they tend to be rather sentimental.

If you are interested in the great-great japanese cinema, you would have to go back to Ozu, Naruse and Mizoguchi. And then to that exquisite weirdness that is Teshigahara. And, closer in time, to the documentaries of Kazuo Hara (especially the unbelievable Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974). Enjoy.
posted by MrMisterio at 8:00 AM on January 30, 2010

Twilight Samurai

Don't be fooled by "samurai" (a word which doesn't even appear in the actual Japanese title), it's not an action movie. It's a very well-made period drama, it won the aforementioned academy prize for its year.
posted by Ndwright at 8:27 AM on January 30, 2010

Depending on your interests, Koreeda Hirokazu is probably the most important director to come out of Japan in the last ten years. Although it's from 1996, "Maborosi" is still my favourite (mainly because I was living in the region of Japan where it was filmed).
posted by KokuRyu at 8:34 AM on January 30, 2010

Great recommendations so far - keep them coming please.

I'm not totally averse to violence (I saw Zatoicihi and loved it) - it's more the sort of Ichi the Killer violence that I can't be bothered with (if that makes sense?).

10 years was only a rough guide.
posted by mairuzu at 8:52 AM on January 30, 2010

Takashi Miike is a study all onto himself. My personal faves are Gozu and Visitor Q. If you've already see Ichi & hate it, then you might not be a fan.

Shohei Imamura is a little hard to get into without a fair amount of understanding of Japanese culture. That said, The Eel is one of my personal faves. Not quite the last ten years, but close enough.
posted by Dmenet at 9:51 AM on January 30, 2010

If you can possibly get your hands on Ogawa Shinsuke's documentary Red Persimmons aka Manzan Benigaki, you will not be disappointed.

At some point in his directorial career, Ogawa got fed up with the fact that he was making movies about farmers, townspeople, etc., but was actually disconnected from their way of life. He and his studio packed up and lived in a rural farming area for a long time and started filming things from the vantage point of living in that culture. They're less films than just footage of nothing in particular happening.

The above mentioned is an entire movie given to the exploration of a community of farmers that make dried persimmons, from the stages of growing, cutting, desiccating, dusting with sugar, etc. Amazing stop-motion footage, too.

If you don't appreciate slowness, this will bore you to tears. If you do, it's the best non-eventful 2 hours you can spend. In my cosmology, it's the best documentary I've seen, never mind best Japanese documentary.
posted by softsantear at 10:01 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, should have said time-lapse, not stop-motion. No clay involved here.
posted by softsantear at 10:01 AM on January 30, 2010

Seconding The Eel, I really love that movie. Another slightly older film that is good is The Ballad of Narayama. Odd but interesting .... Bright Future.
posted by gudrun at 10:47 AM on January 30, 2010

Departures (I haven't seen it) was nominated (won?) for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film last year.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:19 AM on January 30, 2010

Just watched Summer Wars last night, and enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as Hosoda's previous movie, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

I thought Linda Linda Linda was a big bag of fun. Adrenaline Drive is older, and more of a broad-humor adventure.

None of these is very serious, but all quite entertaining.
posted by rikschell at 11:35 AM on January 30, 2010

I thought Departures was okay, but a little too predictable, and a little too glossy, a little too melodramatic. And they didn't show enough of Yamagata Prefecture/Sakata in the movie, apart from the occasional glimpses of Mount Chokai.

I thought that Itami Juzo's Ososhiki was a way better treatment of the subject matter.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:57 AM on January 30, 2010

I found Adrenaline Drive hilarious.

Shall we dansu? is older, but I enjoyed it a lot.
posted by SPrintF at 12:48 PM on January 30, 2010

Not sure if you are interested in animation, but I feel that the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli would be worth considering here, and no one has mentioned it yet. Amazing work.
posted by oulipian at 1:27 PM on January 30, 2010

Haven't seen Jun Ichikawa mentioned yet. Tony Takitani was rather melancholy, but I loved it. How To Become Myself was a lighter, sweeter story.

Cafe Lumière is a Japanese film directed by the always excellent Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien as a homage to Yasujiro Ozu. It has Tadanobu Asano in it, who I hear is often considered the "Johnny Depp of Japan". He was in The Taste of Tea as well. Actually, Zatoichi too. And Ichi the Killer. And the pen-ek ratanaruang's, which though not explicitly Japanese (Thai, but with some fun cross-lingual setups) are very very good.

Speaking of Asano, I was about to start watching Eli Eli Lema Sabachthani the other night, but got distracted. I hear it's basically a dystopian sci-fi piece where he and his bandmate go around recording sounds and playing extremely loud noise rock. Minimal dialogue, beautiful cinematography, that kind of thing.
posted by casaubon at 2:27 PM on January 30, 2010

Two films referenced in the above article and not mentioned here that I can add a recommendation for: "Memories of Matsuko" (some real invention in this one) and "Kamome Diner" (a nicely done take on the "quirky characters interact quirkily in quirky environment, punctuated by quirky music over quirky establishing shots" genre).
posted by No-sword at 3:12 PM on January 30, 2010

Also, if you like "Linda Linda Linda" and/or "Water Boys", you might also dig "Swing Girls" and "Hula Girls."
posted by No-sword at 3:16 PM on January 30, 2010

I liked the recent "Aruite mo aruite mo" (Still Walking) as well as "Departures". "Tokyo Sonata" like "Nobody Knows" was kinda bleak, the latter too much so. From a few years back, Densha Otoko (Train Man) was remarkable for its online aspects. And both "Linda Linda Linda" and "Hula Girls" were fun.
posted by Rash at 4:28 PM on January 30, 2010

I saw a quirky comedy called 'Fine, totally fine' a couple of years ago - it won't be one of the classic Japanese films of the era by any means, but it was very enjoyable and a little bit different.
posted by 8k at 8:37 PM on January 30, 2010

nthing tony takitani, taste of tea, the eel and twilight samurai. I would add adrift in tokyo.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:24 PM on January 31, 2010

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