My favorite things Japan, cinema edition

1. Kurosawa movie: Ran is the most impressive on the big screen, but Ikiru is a profound study of the psychology of bureaucracy.  There are many many others, including the noir masterpieces and the criminally underrated late period, most of all Dreams.

2. Gangster movie: Should I go with Sonatine?  I don’t know them all.

4. Sexual perversion movie: Audition has an incredible piano wire scene.

5. Hobbesian movie: It’s Battle Royale, hands down, and yes I taught the film this year in Law and Literature.  One of the students was shocked we would cover something of this nature.

6. Ozu movie: Tokyo Story is the one that sticks with me.

7. Dance movie: Shall We Dance? remains a gem.

8. Anime: Grave of the Fireflies is a knockout, an anime movie for people who hate anime (and war).  Make sure you use the subtitles, not the dub.  I love all Miyazaki, maybe my favorite is Princess Mononoke, just don’t expect a coherent Pigouvian vision from it.  Other times I think Totoro is his supreme masterpiece.  Pom Poko, from Studio Ghibli, is essential viewing as well.

9. Mizoguchi movie: First prize goes to the stunning Ugetsu.

10. Godzilla movie: There is the original Japanese first movie, the cheesy but delectable Godzilla vs. Mothra, the implicit retelling of WWII in King Kong vs. Godzilla, Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (my personal favorite), one of the MechaGodzilla movies (surprisingly good but don’t ask me which one), and the sadly unheralded Godzilla Final Wars.  I’m not sure any of the others are worth watching.

The bottom line: I’m not sure I’ve ever covered a category with so much quality and depth as this one and I’ve just scratched the surface.  And yes, I like Tampopo too, but not as much as most of these.  Gammera deserves a mention too.

Comments

My favorites: Dersu Uzala by Kurosawa, Hana Bi by Kitano and Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi by Miyazaki

I concur with your Miyazaki's, although I have a third favourite depending on my mood - Porco Rosso.

The inspiration for Princess Mononoke came from the cedar forests of Yakushima Island, south of Kagoshima. Here is a photo I took in Princess Mononoke grove: http://everything-everywhere.com/Photography/v/Japan/Yakushima/Princess-Mononoke-Grove-Shiratani-Unsuikyo-Yakushima-Japan.html

"maybe my favorite is Princess Mononoke, just don't expect a coherent Pigouvian vision from it"

what does P. Mononoke have to do with Pigou?

Lately, I've found my tastes roaming when it comes to Japanese films. One recent movie I found to be very funny is marketed in the US as "Kamikaze Girls."

I used to know enough Japanese to watch them with the subtitles off, but without anyone to speak with, it has rusted away. I came away from watching My Neighbor Totoro and the original Godzilla in the original Japanese as that they're almost completely different movies in translation.

And at the risk of sounding pompous, I think Toshiro Mifune added a lot to Kurosawa's B&W movies, and after they broke up (due to Kagemusha), Kurosawa's movies seemed to lack something.

Two more that I like.

Seppuku (1962) Directed by: Masaki Kobayashi
The Burmese Harp (1967) Directed by: Kon Ichikawa

Uh, what about your favorite Samurai movie (Ran doesn't count)?

Yes, as mentioned above, the two Kobayashi movies Samurai Rebellion and Harakiri (Seppuku) are very fine samurai pictures. For anime, don't miss Ninja Scroll.

"Shinobi No Mono" (1962) is an excellent historical action-drama set in the world of rival ninja clans. It's the first film in a series of eight. (I believe Bujinkan ninjutsu grandmaster Hatsumi was a technical advisor for the series.)

I also recommend "The Yakuza" (1975), starring Robert Mitchum.

This may not be the most popular choice for yakuza connoisseurs, but for me the most transfixing film of the genre is "Afraid to Die" (1960 - "Karakkaze Yaru", so IMDB tells me)

The quasi-Decadent novelist Mishima Yukio takes on the role of an indecisive, temporizing gangster. It's like watching Huysmans (or perhaps the Oscar Wilde of "Salome") fast-forward 60 years and turn himself into a character from Breathless or A Band Apart. The juxtaposition of the two sensibilities is exceedingly strange. Given Mishima's later career as a right-wing militarist, the aesthete-as-tough-guy pose in this film feels like a dry run.

For those who like Japanese movies, the film After Life by Kirokazu Koreeda is something special.

Why no favorite Naruse film?

I'm surprised you didn't pick an early Miyazaki, The Caste of Cagliostro.

The movie starts out with Arsene Lupin III and Daisuke Jigen escaping pursuit after having robbed the national casino of Monaco, only to discover that their entire haul is counterfeit. The bills are of a very high quality and could be none other than the legendary 'goat bills', perfect counterfeits that have been used to rock the economies of nations since the invention of paper money.

Public Service Announcement:
Do not, under any circumstances, see Audition.

That is all.

If you want a funny movie that deals with money, A Taxing Woman is good. The sequel (A Taxing Woman Returns, which Amazon seems to lack) is ok.

I'm gonna gave to vote for Millennium Actress by Satoshi Kon as best non-Ghibli anime myself. Incidentally, the economics of the anime in industry in Japan are themselves very fascinating and truly bizarre.

best "real life" anime - Monster. A Japanese doctor living in Germany is accused of murder. Still one of the best I've seen, it deserves to be a miniseries.

Congratulations. You managed to name pretty much every Japanese movie that makes up the usual/superficial list of American favourites!

I have now watched the remainder of the elements from the animated series (I had already seen Princess Mononoke.

Grave of the Fireflies was pretty darn tragic. I don't see it as a masterpiece. There was no real use of the animation vehicle to improve the visual style of the movie--it merely served to soften some of the extremely harsh imagery. Furthermore, the medium doesn't allow much in the way of acting, so I was confused as to their motives in some of the choices they made. Although the portrayal of the little girl--like the little girl in Totoro--was pitch-perfect, I think that ultimately this film serves to show why anime sticks to its fantastical themes.

Pom Poko I did not find particularly compelling one way or the other.

Having seen these, I will say that, although it is not japanese, I strongly recommend the movie Persepolis; it is one of the best I have seen in years, and it is truly the answer to people who do not like animated films because they are not about people.

Japan is such a wonderful country filled with fantasy. All the movies we see are so colorful and preserve the local culture. Even animations also known as Manga and Hentai represent their civilization. My sister had to go in Japan for about three months with something related to her job. She came back with a set of Bleach swords for my two boys. They were so happy with their present. I later found out that Bleach is a cartoon my kids were watching.

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