TOP 15 JAPANESE FILMS OF 2017
- dir. Jun Tanaka
is a film that frustrates me as much as it does entertain and haunt me. That said, the good outweighs the bad and here Jun Tanaka crafts one of the creepiest and effective ghost stories seen in a very long time, from anywhere in the world. With its long plethora of festival runs, I wouldn't be surprised if this snags some international releases, and rightfully so. If you are looking for a solid J-horror experience in 2017, look no further.
14.) Party 'Round the Globe - dir. Hirobumi Watanabe
Watanabe's 4th and most recent feature premiered at this year's Tokyo International Film Festival, where Hirobumi and his brother Yuji have become sort of rock stars at. His newest effort may technically be my least favorite of his output thus far but it is by no means a bad film whatsoever. In fact it is a lot of fun and Hirobumi and Gaku Imamura both give wonderful performances coupled with the same hilarious chemistry they displayed in their previous Poolsideman. Party 'Round the Globe is a beautiful and funny celebration of life in all of its simple glory!
13.) Going the Distance - dir. Yujiro Matsumoto
Though it premiered in 2016 technically, Camera Japan 2017 picked Mr. Matsumoto's debut film as part of its official selection, giving me the opportunity to put it on this year's list. Going the Distance
is a heartbreaking tale of brotherhood and a failing relantionship, with a broken boxer at the center of a choosing between these two on which to save. While the film stumbles at times, Shinichiro Matsuura really carries the film on his shoulders with gravitas and his chemistry with Masahiro Umeda really elevates it where the story does not occasionally. Yujiro Matsumoto will be a director to keep a close eye on!
12.) Yamato (California) - dir. Daisuke Miyazaki
At this year's Japan Cuts film festival in New York, a little indie film beatboxed and rapped its way into the heart of this unexpected fan. Miyazaki blends elements of hip-hop and rap with the gritty isolation of youth theme found in plenty of indie features this day in Japanese cinema. In doing so he has crafted a unique and unforgettable world, focusing with a sharp social commentary on life by the U.S military bases in Japan. Kan Hanae delivers one of the finest perfomances of the years as the budding young rapper looking for her own way and voice in this hectic world.
11.) At the Terrace - dir. Kenji Yamauchi
One of the most unique cinematic experiences of the year goes to Yamauchi's very stage theatric celebratory nod, the one location centric At the Terrace. Some of the finest written dialogue in quite sometime with some of the funniest banter I've ever witnessed. I don't want to spoil anything but nice little twists and turns coupled with some very interesting and eye-catching cinematography make for one of the year's most entertaining films. Also, the end credits still linger with me after many months and bring a smile to my face.
10.) Alley Cat - dir. Hideo Sakaki
Keeping up with most releases coming out of Japan, it shocked me that I knew nothing of this one going into it for Japan Cuts this year, but I'm very glad to have experienced this one blind. A wonderful and at times dark but highly entertaining and fruitful journey. A sort of throwback to the buddy cop (albeit they aren't cops at all) movies of yesteryear, Alley Cat
is one of the most charming films on this list. Really a shame this movie won't see much play outside of its home country. I could see this one doing quite well stateside. It's a little niche naturally, but fairly accessible in its narrative structure and delivery. Plus it has some pretty awesome boxing moments scattered throughout and an adorable cat that ties everything together quite nicely.
9.) Hengyoro (Queer Fish Lane) - dir. Go Takamine
To say I don't entirely comprehend this experimental work is a vast understatement, but to say it is one of the most strangely profound cinematic experiences of the year seems to be representative of the truth. When someone embarks on this unique journey, it is quite clear from the get go whether you are on board or not. I loved every second of it, and frankly can't wait to revisit. Does that sell anyone? No. Do I highly recommend you see for yourself? Absolutely.
8.) Antiporno - dir. Sion Sono
Sono, the meistro of chaotic cinema, gives his biggest middle finger to the system yet with the powerful and highly enraged examination of the objectification of women in cinema with the very loud and equally beautiful Antiporno.
Fans, like myself in this case, that were worried that Mr. Sono was travelling off the beaten path should have no worries with this wonderful and welcoming return to form. Must be noted that I have yet to his 2015 arthouse endeavor, The Whispering Star
, which everyone hails as a masterpiece. Regardless, this marks a high point in Sono's recent and more entertainment than thought provoking oriented output and I applaud it for its brave and blunt approach to the topic at hand!
7.) Love and Other Cults - dir. Eiji Uchida
Not since the aforementioned Sion Sono, have I been as thrilled by a modern Japanese director with constant intriguing output. 2013's indie gem Greatful Dead
and 2016's even more rewarding Lowlife Love
helped to force Eiji Uchida into my heart and this year's outing by the genius cemented my affinity towards his works and moved him into the upper echelon of my favorite working directors today, from anywhere. Uchida seemed to take the best elements of his previous two works and meshed them into a near masterpiece. Love and Other Cults
is one of the most original pieces of work in years. Everything about it is near perfect and since I'm only doing little blurbs here, to save you time, go seek it out... now!
6.) The Sower - dir. Takeuchi Yosuke
One of the most heartwrenching films this year as stands as one of the finest directorial debuts in recent memory. Takeuchi Yosuke takes inspiration from the famous paintings of Jean-Francois Millet and Vincent Van Gogh sharing the same title as the film, The Sower
focuses on the downfall of a close knit family when a tragedy strikes after the children's estranged uncle Mitsuo shows up one day. Without spoiling, what ensues is one the most beautiful and pure cases of raw acting I've seen displayed. The acting comes so natural, it felt like a documentary at times. Not a single misfire nor mistep throughout the entire film. A near masterpiece.
5.) Journey of the Tortoise - dir. Tadashi Nagayama
A last minute pick that I only watched the day of crafting this list, Journey of the Tortoise
is a hilarious and moving road movie about a man, his son and their tortoise. Living a seemingly "normal" life, the three are bombarded in their daily routine as the boy's uncle and his fiancee suddenly burst into their house. They force them to go on a road trip to their suddenly slapdash wedding ceremony and once they embark towards the destination at hand, things quickly begin to spiral out of control. The entire plot of the film itself is goofy and the tone is fun overall but shifts throughout. It's very much a you're in or you're out kind of film, and for those willing to take the ride, you are in for a special treat. It's a unique comedy with an endearing and fearless performance by its leading man, Tomoki Kimura, making for one of my absolute favortie performances of the year, if not my very favorite. Fingers crossed a boutique label picks this one up for release outside of Japan.
4.) Noise - dir. Matsumoto Yusaku
Another directorial debut that absolutely blew me away this year was Matsumoto's masterfully woven labyrinth of broken souls, the highly thought provoking Noise
. The film focuses around the aftermath of the Akihabara massacre that occured in 2008, where a man ran over and then proceeded to stab over a dozen people in a random attack in the world renown shopping plaza in Tokyo. We follow several victims, related said tragedy, and see their daily lives. I could go on but the plot itself requires more space than I should use up. Simply put, Noise says a lot about broken society circles in Japan and how one event can change the course of your entire life forever. Echoes of Lee Sang-il are felt throughout and for a first time director to compete on the same level as a master of the medium, I cannot wait to see where this young filmmaker goes next.
Note: Easily 2017's best cinematography.
3.) Love and Goodbye and Hawaii - dir. Shingo Matsumura
A simple yet delightful and poignant story of a man and woman going through a break up. Going into this one initially I wasn't really sure what I was going to get out of it, but ended up pleasantly surprised. It feels very warm and endearing with the two leads having perfect chemistry. It's very funny at times and sad at others. Shingo Matsumura crafts the perfect type of romance movie that feels so true to life. Filled with plenty of memorable moments and one of my favorite endings of the year, Love and Goodbye and Hawaii
is familiar yet fresh. Just the right amount of every ingredient you could want for this type of work. In a world filled with so much negativity and darkness, this little movie shines brightly and needs sought out by many more movie goers.
2.) Tokyo Idols - dir. Kyoko Miyake
The sole documentary on my list this year shook me to my core and left me feeling disgusted. Tokyo Idols
focuses on a few up and coming pop idols as these ladies essentially sell themselves out to typically old perverted men, feeling as if that is their only choice at meaning something and being known in their society. There is so much more to it than that and it shows at heartbreaking side of Japanese culture that I had only heard about. It opened my eyes to something I frankly wish I hadn't had to have experienced but I'm very glad I have. The industry that puts these young girls on a pedestal as these "superior men" gravel at their feet, worshipping their every breath, has left a bad taste in my mouth and broken my heart. This is the kind of documentary that will have people talking and the type of filmmaking to truly make waves in a society and hopefully change the course of its people. Tokyo Idols
one of the most important films of modern times.
1.) Poolsideman - dir. Hirobumi Watanabe
Back at the beginning of the year, in January if memory serves correct, I had the great pleasure of seeing this indie gem, which premiered at 2016's Tokyo International Film Festival, which I thought would prevent it from making this list. Thankfully someone came along and gave Poolsideman
its proper theatrical run in Japan and justified my putting it here. Hirobumi Watanabe took the best elements from both of his previous works and crafted the funniest and chilling experience of 2017. The mundane and repetitious life of an inside pool worker who engages in only the most vile of real life world news headlines in his spare time, slowly and meticulously builds to the single most haunting ending I can think of in a very long time. The cinematography is simply beautiful and the rhythm of the editing and scenes accompanied by equally effective music by Yuji Watanabe and a silent but powerful perfomance by first timer Gaku Imamura, puts Poolsideman
at a very deserved number one spot. This is the unique type of cinematic experience that only happens once in a while, and its relevance in the current state of the world demands it to be seen by more. Let's just hope it finds the crowd it deserves!
Written by Josh Parmer