• Kerry Chambers

Here we go again: into part two. I don’t expect everything I have to offer will be to everyone’s taste, but when I thought about what I was choosing today, it was with regard to how moved I was, enthralled I was. Some of these don’t get spoken enough about, and in Japans film history, much after 1980 is often minimally explored with fixations on two or three filmmakers currently working. So, it felt that I had to find some variety in my selection, on often underrepresented films or even ones I just want to get talking about again. After all it’s my list; surely I get some kind of say in what I like.

Kagero-za (Arrow Academy, 1981)

Seventies Japanese cinema suffered heavily following their radicalism phase with the rising popularity and studio interest in the Pinku Eiga. This led to much of the output being soft-core sex pictures and less narrative-driven or ground-breaking cinema. Not to say the Pinku films were all bad; due to censorship laws and the lack of sex on screen, they were able to be far more creative with how they posed such intimate and saucy scenes. For example, the works of Kōji Wakamatsu (who would later go on to make acclaimed drama United Red Army in 2007) were incredibly politically-charged and socially stimulated and gave us interesting pieces such as Secrets Behind the Wall (1965), Go, Go, Second Time Virgin (1969) and Ecstasy of Angels (1972). Furthermore, Pinku films have seen many brilliant filmmakers way into the film industry since, and some of the films have managed to outlast many of their critics, even becoming cult classics with sound cinematic gravitas. But all of this is beside the point.

This Transient Life (Arrow Academy, 1970)

In other news, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss some gender politics here, if I may. Women in Japanese film have a strange history of representation. The passivity of their expected roles and their victimized depictions has led many to believe that there are little impressive films carrying female roles. In fact, I wholly agree that many films are irresponsible in their handling of the objectification of women. There is a clear imbalance with regard to violence and misogyny against women. But we are slowly beginning to see a difference. And one cannot write off the brilliant films of old that have tried to give voices to women where passivity once reigned. Furthermore, despite a low representation of women directors (there are very few, and they’ll all appear in part three of my list) there have been some films I have found rather empowering for women. Perhaps Anime has a better coverage overall, but with the progression of this list, the films become far more varied exploring the role of a woman in in both Japanese society and modern society as a whole.

House (Eureka, 1977)

Okay… now I’ve done that bit, let’s do this. Let’s see me ramble on some more!

18. The Buddhist Trilogy (Dir. Akio Jissôji)

I am guilty of prejudice. I am cheating in my own list. This is three films… well yeah? I’m slapping them together and saying their one. They are an entity all of their own. I love them more than anything I could ever bring into this world. My wild, philosophical, controversial, perverted, beautiful babies!

This Transient Life (Arrow Academy, 1970)

These three films I have explored in a relatively extensive essay regarding my love of the work and the themes that it represents, so there is little here for me to say that I haven’t already said. But I suppose I could describe each film, so then you know what you’re in for:

- This Transient Life (1970) - An illicit affair between brother and sister brings misery to those around them yet the young man displays little interest as he pursues a life of hedonism, obsessed with carving Buddhist statues.

- Mandala (1971) - A cult whose violent form of recruitment is through rape drives apart two men who are absorbed into the perverse lifestyle from their worlds as a part of the student rebellions where there is antagonism between the socialist factions.

- Poem (1972) - A houseboy, the illegitimate child of the family head who is fixated with his strict schedules and shrine etchings, is dragged into the seedy existences the lady of the house, her husband, his brother, the maid and the apprentice all the while trying to oversee, maintain and preserve the family name that in the hands of the future generations holds no meaning.

Mandala (Arrow Academy, 1971)

Jissôji uses these films to explore the sensuality of spirituality, the ugliness of humanity, with the vices of his protagonists bringing the downfall of those seeking enlightenment. His disillusioned trilogy contends with the interpretation of spiritualism in modern Japan, its relevance and irrelevance and its unsettling hold over human nature that far outweighs that of any societal or political leanings. These aren’t for everyone. They are, as you can see, rather intense and difficult to watch. They are violent, sexually and physically yet unusually powerful experiences. Viewed collectively, especially for first time viewers, these are some of the most rewarding films of seventies Japanese New Wave, a pinnacle moment in cinema and an underappreciated masterpiece.

Poem (Arrow Academy, 1972)

For more on these amazing films, check out my article Existential Ecstasy: The Buddhist Trilogy by Akio Jissôji.

19. Throw Away Your Books, Rally in The Streets (Dir. Shuji Terayama, 1971)

It’s all about that New Wave. It always will be. Because it passed through the sixties and seventies with a style all its own despite being heavily influences by French New wave and Free Cinema. One of the best of the final days of the movement, a purely mesmerizing contribution is Terayama’s Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets. A young man is disillusioned by his current state of wellbeing, his family content with the social straits they are in, yet he desires to be and do more. And so we follow him down the rabbit hole.

Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (1971)

It’s a psychedelic rebellion, a fever dream of radical ideas and wild visuals that take you on a journey of a purely scathing revolution. I’ve never seen a film like it. Terayama’s experimental film, using different colours on frames, non-linear editing, jump-cuts, strange vignettes and performative art, was his first full-length feature, and what he managed to make was something that no other directors has managed to surpass in sheer creativity in such a boldly opinionated way. Of the radicalism that rang through the cities across the world following Americas involvement in Vietnam, the marches against fascism, consumerism and materialism, with a world of youths wildly dissatisfied with their government bodies globally, nothing captures the disarray and mania of those times quite so well as it is captured here. Though hard to find, if and should it get home release, or a theatre-run, I would urge all to drown themselves in something unforgettable.

Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (1971)
- Another rare but totally original film would be another of Terayama’s from 1972. Pastoral: To Die in the Country is about a young boy’s youth in a village filled with strange, off-beat characters straight out of a circus (nightmare), which was adapted from the directors own stage-play. Equally as experimental, this one feels incredibly other-worldly.

20. Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (Dir. Shunya Itō, 1972)

The seventies came; the politically charged radicalism slowly evaporated away for some cash-grab cinema. Pinku films were all the rage. So we also began to see more exploitation cinema. This in itself, in many ways, was even more regressive than the Pinku cinema… except for a particular actress’s awesome filmography: Meiko Keiji. With lead roles in 1973 and 1974’s breath-taking Lady Snowblood films (an inspiration to the best scenes in Kill Bill Vol. 1), Teruro Ishii’s Blind Woman’s Curse (1970), The Stray Cat Rock series (1970-71), she became the face of strong independent women, scorned by man and seeking vengeance on all she sees. Her legacy remains highly influential, with her films still referenced today by great filmmakers such as Sion Sono, Park Chan-wook and Quentin Tarantino.

Jailhouse 41 (Arrow Video, 1972)

But one of her most iconic roles is as Lady Scorpion, of the Female Prisoner Scorpion series (1972-73). That look, the all black with the wide brimmed sun hat; she’s cool as hell. Four films in total of its original run, the series follows Nami Matsushima who is betrayed by her cop boyfriend and thrown into jail for seeking revenge on him, failing in the process. Within the series, she tries to break out of prison, hunt him down, and inspire rebellion within the confines of her incarceration. A silent avenger, Nami becomes a cold-hearted woman on the hunt for those who have wronged her. My favourite of these films happened to be the second, Jailhouse 41. Here she escapes jail with a group of other women, some desiring to be reunited with family whilst others border on villainous. All the while, they are hunted by the warden who harbours a strong hatred of Nami, who he has kept in isolation up until her escape. It is the most experimental the films, with beautiful visuals and sequences far superior to that of the later entries. It’s simply oozing with pulpy styles, whilst also capturing some truly creative sequences; the waterfall of blood and the forest of autumn leaves being particularly striking.

Jailhouse 41 (Arrow Video, 1972)

21. In the Realm of the Senses (Dir. Nagisa Ōshima, 1976)

I absolutely adore this art film in all its repugnancy. A former prostitute has a violent but passionate, twisted affair with her married employer and soon they are consumed with one another. Things get gruesome after that. Banned from Japan and just about everywhere else, made in France, produced by an aforementioned Kōji Wakamatsu and heavily censored, slapped with an X rating everywhere in the west, In the Realm of the Senses is as notorious an entity as its subject.

In the Realm of the Senses (Studio Canal, 1976)

Ōshima revels in taboo, basing the story on the notorious crime committed by Sada Abe in the early 20th century, and choosing to shoot un-simulated sex throughout all the while capturing some absolutely beautiful shots. It’s amazing what these directors can do, even under strain from the powers that be. Its ruthless portrayal of desire-turned-to-madness shifts the film into possibly the most unsexy, exhausting and down-right grotesque sex film in all of cinema.

In the Realm of the Senses (Studio Canal, 1976)

What is notable about the film is its depiction of female sexuality, the focus on Sada Abe’s pleasure and gratification more so than her lover. Within the canon of Japanese cinema, to see this agency within a woman is rare, and despite being such a violent conclusion to their obsessive lust, destructive even to those around them, it’s debatable as to whether female desire is represented positively. But within Ōshima’s hands, I do suppose his statement and his controversialism is that he is giving a platform in which a females lust can be explored, displayed with in a dominant stance as much as a males. This is to say, that Ōshima’s films modern interpretation can be as equally revolutionary as its un-simulated sex controversy of the time. The film still pushes all of our buttons on the very nature of sex in cinema and our own sexuality.

In the Realm of the Senses (Studio Canal, 1976)

[Abridged from my previous article, Top 15 Japanese Films - 2020]

22. House (Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)

Widely renowned and yet currently scantily available in the UK, with just two features available on home release and meagre few on streaming platforms, it’s no wonder many have never had the pleasure of immersing themselves in Obayashi’s vision. But this one makes a pretty good starting point. A horror comedy, it’s an absurd teen movie with impressive sets and funky effects. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and even all the way back in 1977, Obayashi was revelling in the silliness of the genre.

House (Eureka, 1977)

A schoolgirl takes her friends to her aunt’s home, a mysterious recluse, for the holidays. There they encounter a demonic cat, a very, very, haunted house and a very, very, very, haunted piano, among other things. It’s the most original in the genre. All the girls are named as kind of what they represent, such as Gorgeous, Fantasy, Melody and so on. There are scenes of Kung-Fu fighting, floating heads, hungry floating heads (these are two different things), and even hungrier musical instruments. The house falls into the spectacular, like Jumanji meets the spirit realm and who really knows why it’s all happening. The effects are so extra, so phenomenally visual, with apparently no intention of them ever being realistic, all feeding into the mood of the film. It’s pure fun. It’s weird and entertaining and engrossing. Obayashi seemed to have a vision unlike any other filmmakers, choosing to immerse himself in the over-the-top, the spectacular, the uncanny all to marvellous effect.

House (Eureka, 1977)
- Obayashi’s anti-war epic Hanagatami (2017) is worth a viewing for his unique visual style, and Third Window Films has announced further release of the filmmaker’s works in the UK for the first time including his final film Labyrinth of Cinema (2019)

23. The Ballad of Narayama (Shōhei Imamura, 1983)

A remake of the 1958 classic of the same name, and equally as fascinating, Imamura returns to my lists with one of his best films of all time. Somehow surpassing its original - which is also phenomenal - he focused in on the intimacies, the physical and emotional intricacies of his characters. The tale explores Ubasute, the mythical practice (there has never been evidence of this tradition in Japan) in which the elderly are taken from the village and carried up a mountain, left to die. At the age of seventy, they will be taken. Orin is sixty-nine, and does not wish to burden her family and instead oversees her family, urging them to live their lives to survive, to ensure their survival, in the year she has left with them. But her eldest son, troubled by his father’s disappearance when he was young, is less than happy at the thought of losing his beloved mother, who when the time comes, he will have to take to the mountain.

The Ballad of Narayama (Arrow Academy, 1983)

The film is intercut with the turning tides of nature, of animals and insects gorging on one another, intertwined in their own mating rituals, birth and more death. It’s brutal. Time moves on, where the passage of life through the romanticized eyes of human life is little more than nature in the realms of the beasts; so we have love, lust and mourn our deaths, they just continue through it all. In this Imamura compares his villagers, living a brutal existence of harsh laws, both unsentimental and primitive in their thoughts of sex, marriage and death. It is just their way. Imamura is asking us if we too can see them for their circumstance, criticize them or realize that the absence of such meditations on familial love is just one formed through a manmade lens. However, Orin’s eldest son is something of, or perceived to be, something of an anomaly within the constructs of their society as he struggles in turmoil at the brutality of their traditions, longing to protect his family from the cruellest practices. He becomes rather emotional to the audience. But he also grounds us in a way that allows us to relate to the rest of the village. There is something unsettling, but raw about its depiction of the people, something wholly understandable and recognizable in ourselves.

The Ballad of Narayama (Arrow Academy, 1983)

More sexually explicit, violent and invasive, Imamura chooses to follow the narrative through the final months of his character, revealing the lives of the villagers who have a clear deadline on their lives. It has more life, more drama than the original (no to say that it’s not worth seeing, it really is) where he delves into the domesticities. The tragedy of our life ensuring the death of our parents and loved ones, that life is an affirmation of death and loss. Imamura won his first Palme d’Or for this film, the only Japanese director to win two, and it is clear to see why with its exploration of the fundamentals of people, of life.

The Ballad of Narayama (Arrow Academy, 1983)
Other amazing late-career Imamura I regrettably cannot include are:
- Black Rain (1989) the better of the two films of the same name to be released that year (The other was Ridley Scott's abysmal action crime thriller starring an unbearable Michael Douglas but a too-cool-for-school Yasaku Matsuda) centres on the after-effects of a surviving family of Hiroshima, and the lives and loves they must seek.
- The Eel (1997) was Imamura’s second Palm d’Or winner and follows a man who, after his release from prison for killing his unfaithful wife in a fit of rage, pursues a quiet life as a barber whilst struggling with the guilt of his crime, unable to reciprocate growing feelings for a woman in his employment.
- Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (2001) was the first Imamura I ever saw, and what a funky introduction with the story of an unemployed salesman who begins an affair with a reclusive, mysterious woman who, when orgasms, pours streams full of water from herself which flows into the river beside her home.

24. Tampopo (Dir. Jûzô Itami, 1985)

Food porn. The definition is this film. Featuring an array of talent including a young Kōji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe, Tsutomu Yamazaki and Nobuko Miyamoto it’s a delightful genre-blending, comedy, western adventure through ramen. An homage to cuisine, its importance in Japanese living, loving and learning. Sweet, funny and moving, Itamis’ is far from underrated I fact it’s highly acclaimed and for very good reason with its originality and heart.

Tampopo (Criterion, 1985)

Two lorry drivers arrive in town, and decide to eat at the noodle shop of a kind widow named Tampopo. However, her food is poor, and the men take it upon themselves to help her learn to make the best ramen all the while exploring love and passion for all things food. Interspersed with stories within stories, we are guided on occasion by a sensuous gangster who features in a scene that somehow makes sharing an egg yolk both strange and erotic, Itami voices young and olds fascination with food. The textures, the way to eat it, the way it brings people together and grounds us, it’s one thing we all have in common. Food, guys… just really tasty looking food.

Tampopo (Criterion, 1985)

25. Yumeji (Dir. Seijen Suzuki, 1991)

I got myself into a little pickle here. You see, I wasn’t sure how to treat these films: as either a trilogy or individually. They’re all pretty amazing… and all featuring a powerful performance, equal parts enticing and unsettling, by Yoshio Harada. But could I cheat again the way I did with Jissôji… not really. Also because, my absolute favourite was the one that is often cited as the weakest of the trilogy, and that is a cause I simply feel I must fight for.

Suzuki’s trilogy begins with Zigeunerweisen (1980) about a professor who meets up with an old friend, the strange crowley-esque figure accused of murder and obsessed with the colour of bones. The two fall for a widowed geisha and a strange love triangle of sort’s forms, in which sex and the uncanny play crucial part. This was followed up by Kagero-za (1981) about a playwright inexplicably drawn to a mysterious woman where they then engage in an erotic rendezvous. Eventually, growing evermore obsessed with her, the woman is not all as she seems as it is revealed she could possibly be the ghost of his patrons’ deceased wife. Finally, in Yumeiji, we follow the life of the acclaimed artist Takehisa Yumeiji, his art, an encounter with a mysterious widow and the characters of her past.

Yumeiji (Arrow Academy, 1991)

I want to be clear. They are all impeccable films; truly masterful and enrapturing glimpses into the ever glorious vision of Seijun Suzuki. He chose to make a series of films that covered a version of Japanese history few get to see. The lusciousness, the western sensibilities conflicting with their Japanese aesthetics, with the culture and spirituality, the mysticism and mentality of the ancient culture; The Taisho Trilogy gives us a rare glimpse into that. The Taisho era is a brief period from 1912 to 1926 in Japan, often underrepresented despite being a lively time for art, music and fashion. The influence of western style is evident in this era within theirs and engineering. So Suzuki took this period in time, and crafted haunting tales, ghost-stories of sorts that captured the conflicts of interests.

Yumeiji (Arrow Academy, 1991)

Yumeiji hit’s different. Not just for the delicious score by Shigeru Umebayashi, it’s most familiar track made infamous by Wong Kar-wai’s corridor glance in In the Mood For Love (2000). It’s visually as delicious as all the others, but the incorporation of the artists’ works and the other-worldly state of the story incorporated into his vision, along with the mysterious ghostly tale at its core ticks all the right boxes for me. Yumeiji is an unlikable lead; his hubris, shallowness and brattishness, moving from one muse to the next and lusting for whatever is young and beautiful. But, his story cast a spell over me, engaging me from start to finish with its lushness. As the story unfolds, and dream and reality blur with every passing scene, his vision plays equal parts a blessing and nightmare to the audience. It’s a divine experience and, to me, a true masterpiece of late-career Suzuki.

Yumeiji (Arrow Academy, 1991)

26. Love Letter (Dir. Shunji Iwai, 1995)

I really went off on one over that last entry. This one is a little less complex for me. It’s just a love story. Where I usually turn for romance in Japanese media thought their literary fiction or anime, occasionally I find some brilliant soppy pieces that really flip my pancakes. Melodrama is, after all, far superior to drama because we all know, we just need emotions, all the time running on high to remind us that just a little bit of feeling is tolerable… we suppose. Usually, I just shove it way down deep. Love Letter decided to dig it up for me, dust it off and force me to soggily dry my own tears with it.

Love Letter (1995)

A woman still grieves years on after her fiancé died mountain climbing. Discovering his old childhood address, she decides to write to him on a whim, but is surprised to receive a reply. The sender is a woman who shares the same name as the deceased man, and the two begin to exchange letters as the man brings their lives together, helping them both come to revelations about him and themselves. Running a parallel narrative, and rather confusingly for myself at first, casting Miho Nakayama in both roles, it is both incredibly sweet, romantic slice-of-life and a life affirming piece. We see grief explored, who promises of futures beyond our hardest losses and tragic yet beautiful truths of our youths within its tale. After all these years, Love Letter is still a beloved classic across South-East Asia, often referenced and homage in many anime and K-drama’s, and for myself it held a very special place. It was so different from what I was used to seeing. It was hard-hitting and moving with amazing performances. And that finale… my goodness. That music... I better stop.

Love Letter (1995)
Honourable Mentions of Japanese romance I sob about:
- Crying Out Love in the Centre of the World (Dir. Isao Yukisa, 2004) is based on the light novel Socrates in Love by Kyoichi Katayama telling the bittersweet account of a man reminiscing about his first love in high school.
- The Milkwoman (Dir. Akira Ogata, 2005) follows the story of an older woman who reconnects with her school crush, never having confessed her feelings to him, as he tends to his dying wife.
- A Gentle Breeze in the Village (Dir. Nobuhiro Yamashita, 2007) tells the story of six students that make up the class of a small school in their sleepy village whose lives are changed when a new boy from Tokyo moves there.

27. Shall We Dance? (Dir. Masayuki Suo, 1996)

Better and funnier than the remake with Richard Gere, this often forgotten film is possibly the lightest and one of the most accessible on this list in terms of content. It’s also simply delightful. Starring the great Koji Yakusho, it follows an accountant who feels unfulfilled in life despite his loving wife and daughter. One day, on his commute home, he sees a woman dancing in the window of an adjacent building. From here he signs up for ballroom dancing.

Shall We Dance? (Miramax, 1996)

When I watched it, I didn’t expect to see something so similar to the western comedy and done so much better. Its focus lies in the businessman’s fulfilment rather than a complicated relationship triangle that often Hollywood wants to follow. The complexities within the society and it’s expectation of working men within Japan is explored here, with the strain it has on both their and their families lives leads into the explorations of a creative outlet that is both healthy and fun. It certainly did something different here, which was totally lost in in its American remake, with the original making a strong statement about its society. It’s a film about freedom of expression, on a button-up sort of way. Plus its dance sequences are fun, its humour is tip-top. You can see why it was one of the biggest films of the year in Japan.

Shall We Dance? (Miramax, 1996)

[Abridged from my previous article, Top 15 Japanese Films - 2020]

28. Dangan Runner (Dir. SABU, 1996)

How much fun can one have with a crime film? For me, having grown-up with too many cockney geezer flicks and raging masculinity pictures, I found it hard to find much past Al Pacino movies and Get Carter (the 1971 version of course) to get my radar switched on. Of course, I then discovered South-East Asian cinema and now I have a long list of loves. One of which is this debut feature by the infuriatingly under-seen SABU (not to be confused with the actor… Sabu). A style all his own, SABU had dark-comedy criminal escapades nailed down on his first try and followed up with films of equal worth. And to think only one of his twenty-one films is available in the UK.

Dangan Runner (Third Window Films, 1996)

In Dangan Runner, a would-be bank robber, left by his girlfriend and sacked from his job, forgets his mask for his first heist but in an attempt to steal one from a nearby convenience store, he is chased from the premises by the clerk. The store clerk just happens to be a washed-up rock star, drug abuser currently on a frenzied high who is intent on catching the shoplifter. In their own chase, they pass a Yakuza thug who the rock-star owes money to, and he begins his own pursuit of the man. Together, the three chase one another through the streets of Tokyo into the night, their demons, and their sorrows playing out with each step they take.

Dangan Runner (Third Window Films, 1996)

It’s a simple premise with brilliant, entertaining intricacies. I love the films sense of humour and pacing that leaves even viewers exhausted by the end. It’s both satisfying and infuriating, who to root for we are never quite sure. With minimal dialogue from its leads, much of the drama taking place within their memories and fantasies, SABU gives some of his best dialogue to the foolish policemen preparing to intercept a gang war. Best of all, brilliant actor Shin’ichi Tsutsumi (most known outside of Japan for his roles in Hirokazu Koreedas’ 2015 film Our Little Sister and Sion Sono’s 2013 Why Don’t You Play in Hell?) made his film debut here and would go on to make four more films with the director. The combination of the two is brilliant, with some of the best, highest-octane and passionate performances by Tsustumi are found under SABU’s direction. It’s certainly an underrated cinematic pairing on screen. I’m hoping in the near future we will begin to see some of these works becoming available in the UK, not to be missed as some of the most engaging cinema of the last thirty years.

Dangan Runner (Third Window Films, 1996)
Other amazing SABU in need of a UK release:
- Postman Blues (1997) follows the mistaken identity of a humble postman by the police for a highly dangerous criminal.
- Unlucky Monkey (1998) is the story of a bank robber who is beaten to the robbery by another criminal, witnessing the man run off with the money he had meticulously plotted to steal. In his desperation, he is able to get hold of the money but accidentally kills an innocent girl and he flees the scene.
- Monday (2000) is the hardest to see of SABU’s films, a really rare gem in which a salary man attends a funeral and finds his life inexplicably turned upside down.

29. Cure (Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997)

Japan reigns as the masters of the unnerving, often clever and intricate. This one is a bit of Hybrid. Moody, atmospheric and unsettling, Cure is often considered Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s crowning achievement. Koji Yakusho rears his head again as the detective tracking identical murders in which victim are marked with a cross, with murderers seemingly unconnected, always beside the crime scene and with no memory of the events.

Cure (Eureka, 1997)

Psychologically intense and offering little in explanation to the bizarre going on’s, Cure is a crime/horror drama that resembles something of David Fincher’s Seven but with deeper philosophical contemplation and a more unsatisfying state of play. Within its narrative, Kurosawa explores the persuasion of humans, the extent of which a people are capable of being influenced and is repression of emotion as much the incentive of intent to kill as those I tune with their emotions. Kurosawa is predominantly a genre director so often never treads similar ground once he has, but many of his films explore familial bonds though the perceptions of out-casted individuals in society. Yakusho’s character is as much an outsider here, his repression a shield that hinders his day-to-day life, struggling with a psychologically disturbed wife, incapable of such restraints.

Cure (Eureka, 1997)

[Abridged from my previous article, Top 15 Japanese Films - 2020]

30. Kikujiro (Dir. Takeshi Kitano, 1999)

Now something light and cute. I’m not always about crying or sweating or unsettling the bones right out of my skin. Sometimes, I’m all about heart-warming road movies. In the hands of multi-talented everyman Takeshi Kitano, it’s an about-ness realized to perfection. Known to the nineties to early 2000’s crew as Takeshi of Takeshi’s Castle, that madly entertaining farcical programme that has some incredible re-watchability, in Japan Kitano is a renowned comedian, writer, actor, editor and director with tons of credits to his name. So I could have picked a few of his films. He began his directing career within the crime genre and eventually branched out into more dramas. One thing most notable about Kitano’s style is how pensive and contemplative his works are, they often have minimal dialogue with a poetic beauty to his filmmaking, infused with elements of humour. But when I think of something that embodies the heart of Kitano, I think it lies in Kikujiro.

Kikujiro (Pathe, 1991)

A young boy, who lives with grandma, desperately wants to find his long lost mother and dedicates his summer to the task. His grandmother’s friend, an irresponsible older man (played by Kitano himself) decides to accompany the boy on his journey across country, making the adventure memorable and fun when things don’t go quite as planned. A family-friendly film, it’s got a lot of wit and soul as it tells a big moment in such a little life. Kitano has done something very special with this story, without creating too much doom and gloom; instead a painting of pure joy, creativity and imagination that makes memories for the little boy that asked for so little but received so much in return. His choice of simple framing, patient and observant shots, the score by Joe Hisaishi, creates a a warm and cuddly feeling. It feels like a breath of fresh air. It's just lovely.

Kikujiro (Pathe, 1991)
Other Kitano films I highly recommend:
- A Scene at the Sea (1991) is about a young hearing-impaired garbage collector brings joy into his and his girlfriend’s life when he discovers his passion for surfing.
- Kids Return (1996) is the story of two high school dropouts who find success as an amateur boxer and a low-level gangster only to find that their past choices are marring their future.
- Hana-Bi (1997) is about a police officer who leaves the force after personal tragedy strikes, sending him into a melancholic spiral of violence and self-destruction.

31. Audition (Dir. Takashi Miike, 1999)

A year ago, when I made this list, I was adamant that I would not include Audition, instead focusing on the super enjoyable Lesson of Evil. And I still hold this in high regard. But upon reviewing more of his films, even enduring the filthy but shamefully enjoyable Visitor Q (2001), I realized that when I think Miike… like really think Miike, I gotta think of skin-crawling, thought-provoking nightmares. He has managed to pull off so many genre pieces, his Dead or Alive (1999 – 2002) films are great, 13 Assassins (2010) is glorious, The Happiness of the Katakuri’s (2001) has some good sequences and effects even if it’s kind of a less satisfying amalgamation of Obayashi’s House and South Korean dark comedy The Quiet Family (Kim, 1998) with musical in for good mix. I liked Ichi the Killer (2001)… Blade of the Immortal (2017) was pretty darn cool too and even his recent First Love (2019) was unexpectedly sweet. There’s so many within his filmography, to encapsulate it in one go is madness. But Audition is the one I think of.

Audition (Arrow Video, 1999)

Based on the novel of the same name by Ryu Murakami, this depraved drama follows a widower who, in search of a new wife, holds auditions in the guise of a fake production with the help of his producer friend to select the perfect woman. Who he chooses seems straight from his dreams; demure, beautiful and withdrawn, he is enraptured. Until he begins to notice she is not all as she seems.

Audition (Arrow Video, 1999)

This film boasts some truly grotesque imagery, one including a dog bowl that I straight up don’t bother to even look at anymore; ultimately it represents all those things that draws Miike to cinema. His interest in media as a form of perversion, the use of film industry to hook women in and the consequences of that manipulation, pushing the boundaries of what can be seen on screen. As Ōshima did before him (Miike is a self-proclaimed fan of the masters work), he takes taboo subjects and throws them in our faces. But somehow, he finds humour in this human depravity. There’s no doubt that he is right about it either, there is something beyond ridiculous about human nature and capability, and what society constructs expects from us and what people are willing to do for the ultimate pain and pleasure. Audition feels more mature than his other works, an unsettling mystery/drama for much of the run-time. Sometimes he throws all his grossness at the wall to see what sticks, but in Audition, he lets it simmer for as long as possible before turning up the heat. And it becomes his most well-earned.

Audition (Arrow Video, 1999)
Some easy-breezy Miike I can’t help but love:
- One Missed Call (2003), a schlock horror that never fails to entertain me above all else and I return to over and over. Some films just have that kind of power over you.
- Lesson of Evil (2012) is about a handsome teacher with homicidal tendencies who has found a new killing ground at the school he works at.
- For Love’s Sake (2012) is a musical hybrid of a slice-of-life meets yakuza redemption tale.

32. Gohatto (Dir. Nagisa Ōshima, 1999)

The first director to get three places on my list. I did say I loved him. And how can’t I when his last feature was the glorious Gohatto, translated into English as Taboo. Taboo! This film reminded everyone that he never really lost his magic touch; he just needed the right kind of stuff. What could be more appropriate for him than homosexuality within the notorious Shinsengumi militia unit? The hyper-‘masculinized’ Samurai were known to pursue relationships with other men, but by the 19th century (like most countries stuffy 19th centuries), it was severely frowned upon. It happened. Of course it did. But it’s something the history books wanted to keep under wraps. So Ōshima wanted to bring that up and remind everyone that the stifling, nobility of the Shinsengumi and their ancestors of the last two hundred years were not what everyone wanted to remember.

Gohatto (Momentum, 1999)

In Ōshima’s hands, the story gets messier when a young, talented recruit, at the end of the 19th century, catches the eyes of many of his colleagues threatening to disturb the rigid code, a code that maintains their order meticulously. The final set-piece is something reminiscent of the old studio ghost tales, in a dark romanticized set. The friction amongst the men oozes through the screen, unbearable as they fight for the new recruit’s attention. The youngster enjoys every minute of it, manipulating them to ascend the ladder. Ōshima creates the Shinsengumi’s ordered existence so far off from he rest of the world, a bizarre breed all their own made stranger by their strict rules that creates something off-balance in the most perfect way. They are expected to maintain civility and rules, never to show their passions and hearts… You have to see it to feel it.

Gohatto (Momentum, 1999)

For a final film, I think it’s pretty astounding and captures the spirit of Ōshima’s filmography, that sense of rebellion. As a filmmaker and a fighter, he find the injustice in a silences history of sexuality and forces us to face the not so terrible truth. Because he believed that things would no longer be taboo once we talked about the forbidden thing. His desire to expose us as a society and thinly veil it as a spectacle for us is genius; as though he says look over here, leaves us for a moment and the throws a sack of rocks in our face. I like to think that he criticizes as much out of hate as he does love for his country and their traditions.

Gohatto (Momentum, 1999)

There we go: Part Two over and done with. Now just one more to go. I hope you find something delicious to enjoy and have a look at some of my other recommends if you’re hungry for some Top 15 Akira Kurosawa, Top 10 Hirokazu Koreeda, Top 15 Sion Sono, Top 15 Studio Ghibli, Top 20 Anime series and Top 20 Anime Films.

Tampopo (Criterion, 1985)


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  • Kerry Chambers

It has been a year. Ahh, to think how naïve I was when first assembling a list of top Japanese films. Fifteen was all I managed. FIFTEEN? And after a year of bingeing DVD’s, crying, reading a little bit and bingeing again, I simply can’t settle for that anymore. I would love nothing more than to compile a top fifty and be done with it. Alas, how can one manage this? By assembling a Top fifty list using this nifty blog of mine.

Late Spring (BFI, 1949)

Japan is one of the reigning cinematic figures. Still one of my favourite international cinemas, it is off-beat, poignant and worldly inventive. There is very little to be put-off by when weaving your way through the imaginative labyrinth of their work. Around as long as cinema in the west, Japanese films have found ways to be ground-breaking, beautiful and powerful. Sometimes outrageously funny, sometimes epic action films of old, still as riveting to watch as they were sixty years ago, sometimes true tear-jerkers, these storytellers have mastered something many have not. In animation and live-action, the worlds they create are some of the most astounding out there.

The Human Condition (Arrow Academy, 1959-1961)

Revisiting and recycling my old list (find the original here) where necessary, I have made some adjustments to include them here. But with so much more to explore, I had to reject a ranking system. All of the films I have chosen today have struck me as brilliant examples of the great cinema leaving Japan; from the Golden Age to New Wave, from the J-horror to the modern works of the last twenty years, this is evidence of the amazing cinema leaving Japan and the extreme diversity of its storytelling.

Eros+Massacre (Arrow Academy, 1969)

No more than three films per director... I may recommend some cheeky, cheeky nods, but still. Three... ‘Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three.’ What you will also not find here are Anime or the works of Sion Sono (Top 15 Sion Sono Films), Akira Kurosawa (Top 15 Akira Kurosawa Films) or Hirokazu Koreeda (Top 10 Hirokazu Koreeda Films). If they were to make any appearance on this list it would hardly be fair to all of the other entries. Besides, they have their own little hobbit holes designated to them. As you can see via the links. Check them out if you’re hungry for something Director specific. For Anime, check out my Top 20 Anime Films That have Influenced Me, Top 15 Studio Ghibli films and Top 20 Anime Series.

Hara-kiri (Eureka, 1962)


1. Late Spring (Dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1949)

My second Ozu in my lifetime; shock horror. Well, it became a fast loved classic following the tender relationship between its father and daughter played by the icon Setsuko Hara. The two live happily together, the father widowed and the daughter content unwed. However, it is an aunt that convinces him that his daughter must marry at her age (27 years old) or she never will. And so we witness the devastating story of two people who want to do what’s best for the other whilst sacrificing their own happiness. It’s moving and sweet without the hint of malice, simply highlighting a culturally relevant fact of the time that society is willing to leave those deemed too old behind. Shot as all Ozu films are, capturing the quiet moments, studying his subjects and overall pondersome. It’s a family tragedy at its heart despite its ordinariness.

Late Spring (BFI, 1949)

[Abridged from my previous article, Top 15 Japanese Films - 2020]

2. Ugetsu (Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)

Mizoguchi captured woman’s plight on film, and for the time, that was something pretty astounding. The best of all these depictions comes in the form of Ugetsu, a haunting ghost story amidst an anti-war classic. In sixteenth century japan, two peasants struggle to survive and provide for their families as civil war ravages the land. The greed and pride of these men leads to the suffering of the women who love them dearly, as the draw of wealth and success lead them into down paths of no return.

Ugetsu (Criterion, 1953)

I remember being rather conscious of Mizoguchi place in the academic realm of film studies. It made for a rather intimidating landscape. Worse of all, I began to think that the stuffy critics would only like a stuffy film. So they could just stuff it. Until one afternoon, I found a spot of time for it and became so enraptured its storytelling, its set pieces, it’s writing, that god forbid I ever say anything against the film master again. Ugetsu is his most beautiful. It captures a realm far beyond our understanding and tells its tragic tale with cynicism and caution

Ugetsu (Criterion, 1953)
- The Life of Oharu (1952) is another amazing piece by Mizoguchi, centered in reality following the devastating fate of a love-sick, jilted woman’s fall from nobility.

3. Tokyo Story (Dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)

I admit I’ve been poor with my Ozu exposure although well-equipped to be getting on with his filmography. But with most Japanese cinema, it’s not really something one can put on in the background and I would never want to waste an opportunity. Ozu requires a lot of attention from me. So I put it off quite a bit. Tokyo Story was one such and my first.

Tokyo Story (BFI, 1953)

An elderly couple, living in a quiet village, travel to Tokyo to visit their adult children, only to find that they are unable to make much time for them. The widow of their youngest son, Japans Sweetheart Setsuko Hara, steps in to keep them company. A tragic scenario in its own right, Tokyo Story explores the youth culture leaving the elderly behind. Not native simply to Japan, it’s a story that resonates still in the West and it’s simply heart-breaking to watch such a family fail to connect. It took me two viewings to appreciate this masterwork, with its ‘talking head’ style and meandering plot, but when I came around I finally understood why it’s hailed as one of the greatest films of the 20th Century. Just the sequence of the elderly woman with her grandchild on the hillside is enough to invoke a desire to call your own grandmother.

Tokyo Story (BFI, 1953)

[Abridged from my previous article, Top 15 Japanese Films - 2020]

4. Godzilla (Dir. Ishiro Honda, 1954)

I-CON-IC. Godzilla is where it is at. And not the American heavily edited version, nor the lame remakes. We’re talking, pure, unadulterated, politically and socially sound Kaiju class. You have to go back to 1954, witness that bloke in the costume – leading the way of Suitmation - emerge from the sea to really appreciate why Japanese Cinema reigns in the monster movie department.

Godzilla (BFI, 1954)

Lacking in scares but incredibly thought-provoking, Godzilla is the story of a fire-breathing monster that is created through the result of American nuclear weapons. The government must seek the help of a scientist to defeat the creature that was a result of man’s mistake. Political/Social commentary or what? One of the first major films following the American occupation of Japan and just nine years after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic bombings, this film explored the terror of the bomb in the most striking way. Until this point, the Americans had control over the output of Japan and anything romanticising its past or alluding to anything with regard to the occupation (Note you will never see an American soldier in a film from 1945-1952), but as soon as this was lifted, filmmakers let loose what they really thought about it. Godzilla is iconic in the monster universe but also in history and it marked the first significant statement made by the Japanese arts following WW2.

Godzilla (BFI, 1954)

[Abridged from my previous article, Top 15 Japanese Films - 2020]

5. The Samurai Trilogy (Dir. Hiroshi Inagaki, 1954-1956)

Based on the life of the legendary swordsman and duelist Musashi Miyamoto, the film follows him as he grows as a warrior, faces death and love in feudal Japan. This Samurai epic, must be viewed as a whole although this is no task. The films are incredibly intricate, with amazing choreography, realistic character arcs and a heart-wrenching love story intertwined. Toshiro Mifune brings the much loved figure alive, his own skill as an actor and swordsman making every scene breath-taking. Director Inagaki was another significant filmmaker during the Golden Age, taking a powerful story and drawing the iconic from its roots with beautiful cinematography, earthy memorable sets and impressive acting. The final duel on the beach at sunrise is in part three, Duel on Ganryu Island, is exhilarating viewing and a reminder that no one quite does fight scenes like Japan.

Duel on Ganryu Island (Criterion, 1956)

[Abridged from my previous article, Top 15 Japanese Films - 2020]

6. The Human Condition Trilogy (Dir. Masaki Kobayashi, 1959 -1961)

Kobayashi’s masterwork, his crowning achievement is his series of anti-war films known as the The Human Condition Trilogy. Harrowing and heartfelt, this is the directors plea for peace and humanity in it rawest form. It's perhaps my favourite from the director and the one that requires most time running at nearly ten hours long. It still sends shivers down my spine and I can only imagine what it would have been like for audiences upon the time of release, controversial though it was, with images that will longer in one's memory.

The Human Condition (Arrow Academy, 1959-1961)

Following the life of a pacifist during WW2-era Japan, his love and loss, of both hope and sanity as he endures the torturous destruction of his world around him. It does not hold back in its depictions of the horrors of war, but with the help of Kobayashi’s sweeping style and epic scale, the consuming tragedy of this story reaches overwhelming but beautiful heights. A story of survival during man’s darkest hour.

The Human Condition (Arrow Academy, 1959-1961)

[Abridged from my previous article, Top 15 Japanese Films - 2020]

7. Good Morning (Dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1959)

Oh, Ozu. You know me so well. How could I not fall for such a sweet tale? Bets of all, there’s no underlying melancholy to haunt me for a week as I contemplate my own relevance in this life… A story of two young boys desperate for a television set just like their neighbours, make a vow of silence until their parents decide to buy them one. A commentary on the intergenerational relationships, a common theme amongst director’s work, it’s also light-hearted and funny. Cute even. It displays the best of his scripts, with some wonderful child acting, the combination is simply divine.

Good Morning (BFI, 1959)
Before we leave the 1950’s behind, here are some others I can’t fit:
- Hiroshima (Dir. Hideo Sekigawa, 1953) is the harrowing docudrama that cast alongside popular actors of the time in roles of the victims. It's 'hellscape' was recreated through real life accounts, it was one of the first of it's kinds following the conclusion of the American Occupation post-war.
- Giants and Toys (Dir. Yasuzo Masumura, 1958) is Wall Street but with confectionary companies, this satire is an amazing concoction of visual delight and biting snark all wrapped into one fabulous commentary.

8. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Dir. Mikio Naruse, 1960)

Naruse needs some representation. When’s the UK going to re-release some of his work? BFI, I’m looking at you... one simply cannot justify stooping to the OOP prices. His best known work is another amazing study on women and their place in modern day society. A social commentary, Naruse tells the story of a widow who makes ends meet as a bar hostess. She is well-liked and kind, but taken advantage of by greedy relatives whilst finding herself duped by her affairs with men. Leaving her financially unstable and lonely, she must decide her fate as she pines for a married man, whilst entertaining the idea of marriage to another in order to save her from the likely reality of a cruel future once she out-ages her line of work. Heart-aching performances and quietly nuanced storytelling, it’s mastered with grace, striking a chord for many years after its release.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Criterion, 1960)

9. Hara-kiri (Dir. Masaki Kobayashi, 1962)

Kobayashi may not be as well-known as Kurosawa and Ozu but he carried the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema alongside them with ease, jumping across genres. Perfect example: this great Samurai classic. Stylish, violent and unsettling it follows the tale of an elder Samurai who has gone to the home of a feudal lord requesting a place to commit suicide (the ancient samurai practice of ritual disembowelment, Hara-kiri). However, things are not all as they seem. From the first scene we are thrown into a brutal world, full of deceit and foreboding. This melancholy film with its beautiful tracking shots, its picturesque composition brings class into a genre often bloated with that. Ahead of its time, this film not only looks sleek but feels modern even in this tale of rebellion against the system. If that’s no selling it, its fight scenes are some of the most wonderfully choreographed displays of prowess caught on film. This is Kobayashi exploring the brutal hypocrisy of samurai culture, robbing it of it's glory and reinforcing it's horrifying humanism.

Hara-kiri (Eureka, 1962)
Other worthy watches I couldn’t fit on this list:
- Samurai Rebellion (1967) starring the great Toshiro Mifune. With a final scene full of so much despair and desperation, in one of Samurai cinemas best fight scenes, it’s another examination of a broken system and the warped view of honour over soul.
- Kwaidan (1964) is an amazing horror anthology in full colour. It’s mind-blowing in the imagery and atmosphere, beautiful and unsettling. It’s further proof that Kobayashi really was a force to be reckoned with.

[Abridged from my previous article, Top 15 Japanese Films - 2020]

10. An Actor’s Revenge (Dir. Kon Ichikawa, 1963)

Some of the greatest cinema has taken place on the stage. But none has been quite so funky, so bold and experimental whilst encapsulating an exciting tale of revenge quite like Kon Ichikawa’s 1963 classic. Criminally underrated, the cinema of this director has been slipping under the radar far too long. His vision is sleek, wildly modern and powerful. His visual treats feed into his character psychological nightmare, and no film has he does this best. A Kabuki female-impersonator seeks to avenge the deaths of his parents, driven to insanity and suicide by corrupt men. However, things grow ever complicated as his reality slowly becomes fractured by his turmoil and the illusion of his art. A remake of the 1935 film of the same-name (with the same lead Kazuo Hasegawa, reprising the role and marking his 300th role in screen), what Ichikawa achieves is something wholly original. With widescreen shots, beautiful sequences of the stage performances and choreography, that creep into the realm of the surreal, it’s one of the best studies of the actor, encapsulating, living and losing themselves in their art, in cinema.

An Actor's Revenge (BFI, 1963)
Other amazing work of Kon Ichikawa that I urge anyone to seek out:
- Fires on the Plain (1959) is the story of sickly soldier in the latter half of World War II doing all he can to survive, desperation proving to allow humanity to stoop to its lowest. It was remade in 2014 by Shinya Tsukamoto.
- The Inugami Family (1976) is incredibly influential but relatively unheard of outside of Japan. Based on the works and life of crime author Kosuke Kindaichi, it’s a film that establishes itself as a bog standard murder mystery surround a noble family that soon descends into a psychedelic nightmare, with visuals still skin-crawling to this day.

11. Onibaba (Dir. Kaneto Shindo, 1964)

Never has grass felt so ominous. In feudal Japan, a mother and daughter-in-law kill wandering soldiers, stealing their belongings to sell off in order to survive. When an old acquaintance returns, revealing that the young woman’s husband has passed away, she begins an illicit affair with him. When the mother learns of this, she dons a demonic mask she finds to scare her daughter into sating with her. Another influential entry, it’s also surprisingly fresh. Having watched it in the past few months, I found it surprisingly watchable, beautifully unsettling and shocking. Japanese fables on screen are often eerie and other-worldly, but this film enters a brutal realm unexpected of sixties cinema. It’s brave and oozing sexual tension, all the while haunting; Onibaba is a still amazing viewing.

Onibaba (Eureka, 1964)
Some horror recommends of the decade include:
- Kuroneko (1968) is Shindo’s other feudal horror exploring misogyny, a story of two women who are raped by samurai whose spirits return to exact revenge on the men who bought about their suffering.
- Horrors of Malformed Men (Dir. Teruo Ishii, 1969) – Gross and weird, I could not say that it’s a brilliant film. But it’s wildly entertaining, a strange take on The Island of Dr. Moreau only far creepier and a bit more salacious.
- Blind Beast (1969) is Salvador Dali meets Pinku Eiga as a blind artist with a co-dependency on his mother kidnaps a model to create a sculpture of. It’s not great, but those sets are something else let alone the perversity that could match ever Hitchcock.

12. Gate of Flesh (Dir. Seijun Suzuki, 1964)

Suzuki is always a visual treat. And nothing is quite as rebellious and fun as his sixties contributions. The most shocking of all? That it was exactly what got him sacked by the major studios of the time. Yet after years, critics and film lovers are beginning to rediscover his brilliant oeuvre. Colourful noir, pop-art tendencies, cooler than cool sequences, roguish anti-hero’s, his work is the most original of the filmmakers of the era. There are so many to choose from when it comes to the filmmaker, and I had to ponder for a long time before I settled on a favourite of mine. That would be Gate of Flesh.

Gate of Flesh (HB Films, 1964)

A group of prostitutes in post-war Japan, rule the streets as hardened women turning tricks. But their solidarity is threatened when an ex-soldier, hunted by the police for the assault of an American soldier, seeks refuge in the deserted building they reside in. As time passes, the women become besotted with him, but deny their true feelings for the ruthless rules they have enforced that rejects sentimentality. Suzuki regular, the ‘cheeky’ star Joe Shishido, oozes sexy menace like no other, wrapping the women around his little finger. With each woman representing a vibrant colour, set pieces purposely over-the-top, bordering on Oliver-esque as the cast weave their way through the war-torn slums, it’s lively and sultry.

Gate of Flesh (HB Films, 1964)
Brilliant Swinging Sixties Suzuki includes:
- Youth of the Beast (1963) was what many considered Suzuki’s climb to stardom. A Yojimbo-esque narrative with a man torn between warring gangs and the authorities, it’s stuffed to the brim with cool scenes that could put James Bond to shame.
- Tokyo Drifter (1966) is smooth. A whistling wanderer eludes the rival yakuza hunting him following a betrayal within the syndicate. The cinematography is iconic, the visuals sumptuous and where one can begin to see what Quentin Tarantino has been reveling in.
- Branded to Kill (1967) is a noir with a twist. A strange, perverse crime story of a failed hitman now being hunted by assassins, its visuals thrive on the bizarre. A room full of butterflies, an obsessive affair with a strange woman is interspersed with intense scenes as the protagonist tries to avoid his fate. I love it. It was almost my choice.

13. Woman in the Dunes (Dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

My first Japanese New Wave was also an absolute trip. I hadn’t done my research so did not know what I was in for, so upon conclusion I was befuddled. Until I revisited it sometime later, within the context of the movements surrounding it, I became engrossed in its bizarre surrealism. An absurdist work of art based on the book of the same name by the master of the literary genre, Kōbō Abe.

Woman in the Dunes (BFI, 1964)

In the sand dunes, an entomologist searches for insects. He misses the last bus home and the locals persuade him to spend the night in a house at the bottom of a sandpit. A widow lives there. When he cannot leave, he is forced to share her fate digging sand to the villagers to sell, imprisoned in a grainy nightmare whilst a strange, erotic tension blooms between the two. It’s a repetitive torturous affair, sweaty, and grotesque, hyper-focused on textures; of skin, sand and sweat. It’s stifling but enrapturing. Its Kafkaesque ideas of mundanity and hopelessness feed into audience’s anxiety and perhaps it was all of this that went over my head at first. But now, sand will never been the same again.

Woman in the Dunes (BFI, 1964)
- Another cool adaptation of Abe’s work by Teshigahara includes The Face of Another (1966), an Eyes Without a Face (Franju, 1960) affair in which a burn victim discovers a mask that he can wear to cover his wounds only to develop a sinister change in character.

14. Intentions of Murder (Dir. Shōhei Imamura, 1964)

Imamura is another director whose filmography is so filled to the brim with great work that I simply could not decide on what I wanted to include. From this period of his work, some of the best New Wave cinema came to be. In Intentions of Murder, he turns a woman’s fate into something far more ferocious as he explores the plight of a housewife who is assaulted by a home intruder. Following this, she chooses to break away from the chains of her life, her negligent husband and the trauma of her attack, determined to fight back against the patriarchal society that had held her back for so long. Imamura, a filmmaker who often explores framing and cinematography to the best of his advantage, interweaves stunning sequences of dreams and flashbacks, creating a hard-hitting mediation on what it is to be a woman in modern Japan.

Intentions of Murder (Criterion, 1964)
Worthy classic Imamura I couldn’t fit on this list:
- Pigs & Battleships (1961) is the story of a young couple’s survival amongst a desperate power-struggle in the port town of Yokosuka and how their love and futures are challenged.
- The Insect Woman (1963) is a tale of three generations of Japanese women as they move through the early 20th century, weaving their way thought the trials of womanhood.
- The Pornographers (1966) is a Lolita infused black comedy based on the novel of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka, exploring a sleazy adult filmmaker’s world, his illegal pornography ring, his leechy affair with his widowed landlady and his lustful conquests with her teenage daughter, watched by the widows fish who she believes is the reincarnation of her dead husband.

15. Death by Hanging (Dir. Nagisa Ōshima, 1968)

I’m a little bit bias when it comes to Ōshima. He’s a New Wave director that is so outrageous, so taboo, that I simply can’t help but adore his work. And to find that so late in his career he was still titillating, tantalizing and tormenting audiences, critics and film censors alike, there is no way one cannot see the significance and cultural impact of the films he made. He became a nuisance for me to narrow down on this list. He features prominently within this article and with such a consistent output over his career; I had to spread it out a bit. Of his sixties work, I settled for his most creative and ground-breaking.

Death by Hanging (Criterion, 1968)

The story of a Korean man is sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two young women. When hung, however, he does not die but succumbs to amnesia. Unable to hang him again for he is no longer of sound mind, the warden, chief of guards and the lawmen decide to act out his crimes to help jog his memory. However, they soon begin to enjoy the farce, putting on eccentric productions, proving the buffoons they are. A wildly theatrical satire with a pointed barb for a tongue, its Ōshima’s testament to human rights. Both repulsed by the outrageous racism of the Japanese towards the Koreans Post-war and by the outdated death penalty that is still in practice today, the director is brutal in his mocking of his fellow countrymen and the government the supposedly pacifist country has placed it’s faith in. It’s funny, reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick, 1964) in many ways, and perhaps one of the best political films ever made.

Death by Hanging (Criterion, 1968)
Other astounding Ōshima of the decade I had no room to include on this list:
- Pleasures of the Flesh (1965) is a close second to my selection here, a tale of a man who is entrusted with the embezzled money of another being sent to prison for his crime. Instead of watching over it, he decides to spend it as love, lust and indulgence consume his life.
- Violence at Noon (1966) is the strange tale of two women interlaced in the life of a rapist and unable to face the reality of his crimes, withholding a strange sympathy for him as he grows ever more insatiable.
- Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (1967) explores the intense relationship of a rebellious woman and a suicidal man during political upheaval and student uprisings in the city streets.

16. Eros + Massacre (Dir. Kijū Yoshida, 1969)

The epic of the Japanese New wave is truly an impressive piece of cinema. Eros + Massacre, the first of a radical trilogy by the brilliant director Yoshida, is an original even amongst such subversive works of the decade. Two interwoven stories of a period decades, it duo-logy of narrative explores the radical feminism blooming in 20th century Japan, with impressive cinematography, psychedelic shots and pure rebellion in every scene. That a film can sustain such power over more than three hours of runtime is truly a feet. But Yoshida, manages it.

Eros+Massacre (Arrow Academy, 1969)

A biography of sorts to the anarchist Sakae Ōsugi, his final years before his assignation in 1923 and the three woman who dominated his life, his wife radical feminist Noe Itō and his two lovers. Combining this with the modern tale of Mako, the daughter of Itō, we are informed of the backstory to the fascinating historical figure whilst also revealing the life of the younger woman and the Free Love she explores. The final scenes are visually exquisite, the performances powerful, helping to make this one of the best representations of New Wave and what it stood for in a time of such political and societal upheaval.

Eros+Massacre (Arrow Academy, 1969)
Others within Yoshida’s trilogy exploring anarchy and radicalism are:
- Heroic Purgatory (1970) is an art-house film about the political unrest of the early seventies, within the lives of an engineer his wife and a lost teenager.
- Coup d’Etat (1973) is the retelling of the failed overthrow of the government in Japan in 1936 by ultranationalist Ikki Kita.

17. Funeral Parade of Roses (Dir. Toshio Matsumoto, 1969)

Funeral Parade of Roses is genius. This Oedipal odyssey is a major must for any interested in some truly experimental art cinema. It’s one of the best LQBTQ+ out there and still manages to shock and awe today. Ahead of its time in so many ways, it still feels fresh, eye-opening and powerful decades on.

Funeral Parade of Roses (BFI, 1969)

In Tokyo’s gay culture, a transgender woman has killed their mother and found their way into the arms of their father. Interlaced with talking heads, non-linear Segway’s, Jean-Luc Godard like sequences and funky psychedelic editing, the film is a pop-art pilgrimage through the streets and underground lives of the radical groups repelling heteronormative stereotypes. It’s unapologetic. Its lead, ‘Eddie’ is a divine heroine for the ages as she leads us through her messy, if not hypnotic, life, her love rivals and day-to-day abuse, whilst being gloriously on top of it all. It was controversial at the time of release, but now it feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s both a tragedy and delight that holds the audience in its spell, encourages you just to give in and revel in all it has to say, do, think and feel. It’s entirely welcome.

Funeral Parade of Roses (BFI, 1969)

Well, that’s part one for now. Hope you look forward to my next two instalments and hopefully find a new favourites. Later's, Skaters!

Funeral Parade of Roses (BFI, 1969)

Check out Top 50 Japanese Films: Part 2

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The night I learnt of Richard Branson’s safe return following his space flight I stared up at the stars. The galaxies far away shied away from my penetrating gaze, and the cosmos halted in its steady navigation, united in wary shame-facedness under the scrutiny of my hard stare. I was unable to look the moon in the eye. Up there, those twinkly lights gathered around it, unfathomably old, bearing witness to the worlds many rise and falls and taking little notice of each passing era, now only a fading memory of what once burned brightly before it. The night sky was once a miracle for humans. As the sun settled on the horizon, on its heels rose a dream to our kind and a comfort to many, after thousands upon thousands of years. A reminder of time, of the here and now. Children lay in the long grass, counting as many stars as they could, unaware of the dew muddying their once clean clothes, that mother would scrub at with a serenade of complaints. Lovers entwined beneath the silver caress of the gentle moon on the banks of a stream or in a far-off meadow, hoping their parents would not find their beds empty. The old admired with wavering sight, memorising every constellation, further invented by man before who marvelled at the mysteries beheld above us. Those stars were there for everyone.

But not that night. The sky became a billionaire’s playground. Something no longer worthy of the gaze of lowest class. It has been sullied. And the moon readily shines down us, tainted in its summer crimson, furious with us earthlings, for treating such a magnificent, mysterious space as our own playground. No longer a voyage of discovery but a frivolous exploit of the richest fools beneath the lunar rays. ‘How could you?’ it seemed to cry, cheeks red with rage, ‘How could you let them up here?’

In a plea, both sorrowful and outraged, I replied, ‘How could you let them up there? After all you’ve seen how could you let them triumph?’

And the moon grew silent. So did I, no longer able to look up at the night sky.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (Anno, 1995)

I can hear it now. To anyone whose made it this far, and possibly know me in person , a collective sigh must be erupting from you, 'Now she's angry at the moon?'

Well... Yes. Yes I am. And the Stars. And the Universe. How could the universe let them up there? Richard Branson went into space with all his billions, his lies, and exploitations. The man who tried to sue the NHS, the man that claimed his company was in financial trouble during the Covid Pandemic as he funded billions into a space race, competing against the other grotesquely rich men, all for commercialism. All of them boasting that they got into space so much faster than the experts had. Jeff Bezos followed in close second… His workers are on minimum wage, working offensive hours in which lavatory breaks are considered a privilege but he jetted off through the stratosphere for no reason but because he could. His billions could make everyone in the UK a millionaire and he would still have billions left. And we were supposed to be impressed by this?

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Hosoda, 2006)

Right there on the TV, they’re trying to distract us from it. Covid is far from over, wiping out millions in lesser-developed countries who must pay extortionate amounts for a vaccine that should be every human beings right in a pandemic. Meanwhile, our proud nation decline the free vaccine, seeming to question our government over its contents, of what’s being pumped into their bodies but not that the same government allow the billionaires to avoid paying their taxes, far too low anyway for the wealth they generate every minute? The same people are willing to consume inorganic crap off the shelves and enable the chains to devour every independent company under the sun from fast-food to clothing lines. They will eat everything processed at hand, as long as it’s reasonably priced. They will take the medicines their doctors prescribe them. They are walking around worrying about themselves and not the vulnerable people unable to take the vaccine or are at a greater risk…

The football reminded me how little we have grown, the hate amongst us all, the racism and intolerance. The ugly ignorance. I feel so ashamed to be a part of it. Whilst we become so enraptured with this sport, with the joke that Brexit has become and the differences between us in a world that should be united in and celebratory of our diversity, there are rich men exploiting us every day. Laughing at us as we become distracted by the minute. Before Covid it was the first-world Political correctness, social justice warrior, cancelling platforms of the last few years there to distract us from the real discrimination taking place right outside our doorstep. And now one of the UK’s richest men, who has weaselled his way into our homes with his Television, broadband and mobile phone services, his record label and travel services, has spent some of the most hideously earned money to jet off into space. And we’re supposed to be amused, says ITV’s This Morning… What does that say about the seemingly Great Britain?

Burning (Lee, 2018)

So we're just sitting back. Floods have been killing thousands; the planet has been burning itself up from the inside with record breaking heat waves across the globe. All the while, man is annihilating man in wars that never seem to end with peace and acceptance far from anyone’s understanding. My attempts at recycling, to be responsible with the running of my car, of water of the products I buy, to be environmentally friendly where I can be on such a miniscule budget has gone to waste. My attempt at educating myself, to understand my own privilege and embrace the beautiful cultures and amazing histories of those I share this land with, has only left me feeling more hopeless as I became to understand that man’s cruelty and self-righteousness is the biggest joke of the universe. Intolerance is another way to divide us… but how do we unite when everything we see is hatred and hopelessness?

‘Those whom the gods love die young…’ what a dreadful sentimentality for injustice in this world. Starving children across the globe even Britain is facing its highest poverty in years, with the class divide wider than that in Russia before the revolution of 1917. Yet no one is batting an eyelid. History no longer seems so far away and yet we are so very arrogant to believe that our ancestors did it all wrong and that we are facing the future with optimism and progression.

This Transient Life (Jissoji, 1970)

All the while, the rich are trying to profit on space travel? And they will when the out-of-touch millionaires of the world jump at the chance to look at a dying earth from way up high. No remorse or shame. The media reports on it like it’s some light-hearted fun. Those rockets are burning up a fortunes worth of fuel, spouting even more into the atmosphere, essentially inviting the climate crisis to walk right through the tatters of our ozone layer.

The space race can wait… In fact the Billionaire Space Race should be terminated with every contributor to this lunacy held accountable and forced to restore those wasted funds into good causes. I would care if we were in Space again for something that would benefit the planet we are on, find a resource that could save us. Make people want to save it. But it’s a money-making scheme. And, probably, it’s a conspiracy. Because surely, the rich must know something we don’t if they are hoarding their billions; billions that could remedy world hunger, animal extinction, destruction of the rainforest, poverty, homelessness, education and so much more. Instead they are shooting off into space. Maybe they know there’s no hope. And they’ll sit in their asteroid mansions as earth burns up into the inferno that their carbon footprints have accelerated the process of. Maybe they’ll even see the imprint of some mighty Louboutin sneakers. They'd get a giggle out of that too.

End of Evangelion (Anno, 1997)

The planet is dying and I thought I’d been doing all I could. Does no one else find it absolutely terrifying? Is this what it felt like, wondering if and when bomb would fall on one’s head, beating any air-raid siren? Since I was child, that’s all I heard about, that we needed to look after our environment. Save the planet. And now I’m older, I’m seeing that no one cares. The money are the ones destroying the planet. Yet here we are being guilted every which way with our own carbon footprint and forced to admire the rich men for all their ridiculous follies. I hate them. Like a child throwing a tantrum, a toy from the pram, fighting off Supernanny and her naughty step, I need to be heard loud and clear and I really hate them. I am so angry. How do people live through these times? How do they endure the choices of a nation made through the narrow, clueless minds of the elite running everything? I don’t understand how the anxiety of the future has not driven humankind to madness or how we have faced each day as it comes with no promise of a future.

Some believe in fate. That karma will come to claim those who tried and tested it for their own gain. We are led to believe from a young age that good things happen to those who wait, to those who are kind, that hope is a beautiful thing. But mankind is incredibly ugly. It is those of this nature who blind us with this trickery of words to distract us with trivialities and shoulder the blame, unaware of the perversity of the rich.

Poetry (Lee, 2010)

That I have articulated anything here today is something of a blessing. So disgusted have I been by the state of play in the last few weeks, I am amazed that any coherency fell into place. Good thing I am no politician, for were I to voice this I would most definitely break down and cry, so infuriated have I been. I want to be an optimist, a romantic. Without a doubt I am an escapist, seeking refuge in stories with in the binding of my favourite books or the genius minds of my favourite filmmakers. I am both frightened to explore and madly enraptured by this planet, with all its elaborate cultures and civilisations rich with heritage, folklore and history. I am whimsical and contrary, irrational and loud, often incredibly thoughtless with mad passions about inanimate objects and fantasies straight from the minds of great literary figures. Yet I feel a burden upon my living. That with each item I use, plug I switch on, Mishima novel read, I am destroying the planet I love more than I care to admit. Each tree I feel obliged to apologise to, each flower bombarded with praise for how wonderful a job it is doing blooming as the bees buzz efficiently about it (These also receive enthusiastic admiration from myself) as I try to encourage them to grow even as I stamp carelessly through the fields in which I crush unsuspecting insects. My very being is a hindrance to the earth. Yes, politics is certainly not for me.

I cannot lie that I have been unproductive. My mind is flowing, drowning in ideas, and then at the pull of some mood-ignited chain flushed away around and away down some metaphorical u-bend I am only just realising is a sentence away from being described as graphic. That’s how I’m feeling right now. My brain is as much a mess as the foot I’ve mangled whilst walking- because apparently even that activity is now impossible for me to manage. Despite the cause, I’m fed up.

Still the Water (Kawase, 2014)

This planet feels so small. A notebook is in front of me right now, and despite a weight of some significant comparison to the world perched obnoxiously on my shoulder, the pages lie blank. If I put it down, it becomes real. But is it authentic? Is my feeling, my experience authentic or a desperate attempt at integration? Am I pretending a life that resembles anything close to the human condition? The beliefs, the reactions, the overreactions. Is it a fault within me or a something others just hide very well? If I believe the latter, I would like to think it would reassure me. But I don’t know the answer.

I feel guilty. I feel burdensome; a responsibility I begin to feel is bore upon the shoulders of so few. My unproductivity, cowardice has blown into something rather unreasonable and I fear I am driving all those closest to me far from me. Perhaps it’s to protect them from the impending detonation that could wipe out all in its path. Something will change soon and I don’t know if I want to know it any longer. Perhaps this purge is what I need… with it I will write again. Finish a project; see the light incinerate the shadows and the sun through the trees as the birds wake up to another glorious morning.

Who knows? Maybe I should just write about it.

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A Space for Reviews, World Cinema Appreciation, Essays and Reflections by Writer Kerry Chambers

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