5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See: The Preamble
Japan is one hell of a great country if you like low budget schlock. But every now and again there are some actual good movies that get made on a shoestring budget that come along and surprise the hell out of you. Now I am not talking a gorefest like Tokyo Gore Police or something by Noboru Iguchi, I’m talking about a move that genuinely is a good piece of cinema that isn’t based on the “it is so bad it is good” criteria. No sir, just like any other country the Japanese turn out some pretty great low-budget films that one can enjoy without fear of watching a human being spew blood everywhere. The next 5 articles I am going to roll off 5 reviews for low-budget Japanese cinema that has no people exploding, people being abducted and turned into cyborgs or over the top martial arts fights. Now this isn’t to say these movies aren’t violent. Quite the contrary, a few of them are very violent but not, say, on violence level of Battle Royale (which in retrospect isn’t that violent anyway).
I think Japanese cinema gets a bad reputation with the United States mainstream because when the majority of people think of Japanese movies people think you mean one of the following:
1. Anime – Still one of the most misunderstood Asian niche forms despite its overall fanbase having grown larger since the mid-90s. Lots of people lump all anime into the same hentai category as Urotsukidoji: Legend of The Overfiend. Hell the only Japanese anime director that gets widespread acclaim is Hayao Miyazaki and I keep running into people who try to deny that what Miyazaki does is anime. No really, I’ve had this conversation with non-anime fans who think that just because he makes family films that Miyazaki isn’t an anime director, that he is something more and shouldn’t be lumped in with other anime directors like Mamoru Oshii, Mamoru Hosoda or the late Satoshi Kon. Miyazaki does not “transcend anime” as one person said to me once. What he happens to be is a very talented and passionate director and storyteller. But make no mistake, he directs anime.
2. Kaiju Movies – Who doesn’t love a good Godzilla movie? Yes, watching a guy crush models of Tokyo and step miniature tanks can be kind of campy, but some of those movies are actually entertaining as fuck. Hell do we remember what happened when Western directors and producers decided they could make a “better” Godzilla than the Japanese? Yeah, you remember the evil of Roland Emmerich directing a CGI Godzilla that really wasn’t quite Godzilla enough and way more a refugee from Jurassic Park. Hell I’d rather watch Son Of Godzilla 10 Million Billion times than sit through the US Godzilla ever again! There is good to excellent Kaiju that has been made and all of them have been done by the Japanese. Whether it is Godzilla, Mothra or Gamera, each has at least one good movie to their credit that you can sit-down, watch and have a good time with.
3. Samurai Movies – Yes, the Japanese make a ton of period movies and TV shows but it isn’t all they do. Hell Akira Kurosawa made a ton of Samurai films but also made some amazing non-period films like Dreams and Rhapsody In August. These days there more non-period movies and television being made than ever before. Samurai and Ninjas don’t rule the landscape nearly as much as they used to. I mean they are still out there but there is so much more to modern Japanese culture than focusing on ancient Japanese culture. The 70s and 80s were the days of period drama, we are now in the second decade of 21st century and while these films still get made we hear less about them than we used to.
4. Horror Movies – Yes, the Japanese make some pretty great horror films. The thing is Ringu led to the U.S. version of The Ring which led to Hollywood trying to remake every Japanese good horror movie of the last decade. The problem with that was, none of these remakes were any good. Hell Hollywood even remade one of the movies with its original Japanese director and still managed to screw it up. Didn’t the U.S. Godzilla teach them anything?
5. Yakuza Movies – Yakuza movies still get made with alarming frequency because no matter what country you live in people go to see movies about gangsters. Since the 50s the Japanese have been turning out Yakuza films and Bullet Operas. Anti-heroes play well at the box office and video rentals. Kind of odd given that Japanese dynamic focuses on team players and doing things for the benefit of the group or company. Of course there is the matter of just how much Yakuza money gets pumped into films about the Yakuza but I’ll leave that to the Japanese police to figure out. Hell it can’t be nearly as bad as how much influence the Triads used to have in the Hong Kong film industry in the 80s and 90s right?
Hell there are probably more categories that I am forgetting. I know after I post this like 3-5 more Japanese Cinema Sub-Genres will dawn on meStill, most Western audiences do not tend to think romantic comedies or doomed romances when they think Japanese movies. That is a damn shame. Hell I reviewed one teen romance movie not so long ago, on this very blog. We kick off the reviews tomorrow with a personal favorite of mine, 2LDK.
Is it fucked-up? You bet your ass it is fucked-up but not like say, a Takashi Miike movie fucked-up. Oh I’ll be covering 1 Takashi Miike film in this, a very well known one at that, hell probably THE ONE that most people know and cringe the most during and after. I’ve got a few good movies lined up for review that I hope will lead to those of you reading will seek out and watch.
Here is your movie list, that I have carefully selected for your potential viewing pleasure. I’ve got 1 Psychodrama (2LDK), 1 Miike Film (It is a surprise but not really), 1 Superfun Campy Romp from Hideaki Anno (Cutie Honey), 1 Ryuhei Kitamura film (Aragami) lined up for review. Now that is only 4 movies and I said 5. The fifth movie will be a random film, just ot keep things lively and slightly insane. Each of these are movies that are more than what they can seem to be and I’ve picked them for very specific reasons. So strap in kids, starting tomorrow 5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See begins with 2LDK, a tale of 2 women, 1 movie part and all the craziness that 2 women can bring to any situation!! Bring The Family! Make some popcorn! We are going to have some fun together I promise!