This is Psycho-Drama's first Top 10 countdown of the best Japanese movies for 2012. Looking back, we saw a lot of amazing (and not so amazing) movies for the last 12 months.
While some of the movies may have been dated 2011, we refer to its international release date, hence some of them may have been shown in Japan last year. As with our past hitlist articles, we always go for the actors' spotlight - hence while we also praise the work of top Japanese filmmakers, we give highlights to young Japanese talents and their roles in these acclaimed movies.
In Part 1 of our countdown, we feature three amazing, yet completely different movies.
So here we go!
One of the most talked-about films of the year is Kotoko. This award-winning horror/drama/psychological film stars singer-songwriter Cocco in a career defining performance. If you are used to watching sugary romantic dramas, then this is not for you. If you like to watch a movie that will challenge you, compel you to think and allow you to explore the darker side of people, then you will love this movie. It's not easy to watch especially if you already sympathize with Cocco's character, but then again, her actions and the people around her will force you to watch the movie until the very end...
What the Movie is all about:The story of a single mother who suffers from double vision; caring for her baby is a nerve-wrecking task that eventually leads her to a nervous breakdown. She is suspected of being a child abuser when things get out of control and her baby is taken away.[ IMDb ]
Critical Buzz: Says The Lair of Filth, which puts Kotoko as the best movie of 2012:
I’ll tell you straight off the bat that Kotoko is not what you would traditionally call a horror film, it’s, in fact, more of a psychological drama, but some of the events and imagery displayed in this film would put many, if not most, horror films to shame. It’s a real tour-de-force of a movie that will leave you scarred. Tsukamoto puts the camera deep into the heart of the action; its movements seemingly mirroring Kotoko’s mental state. Due to this raw camerawork, some viewers might be put off, as the camera rarely stays still, but I would say that you should most definitely bear with it, as this is a truly stunning movie. [ source ]
Toronto International Fest described the movie with a lot of superlatives too, saying:
Using voice-over narration and whirling camera work, the film’s style mirrors the trajectory of Kotoko’s own increasingly fractured perception, which is plagued by confounding apparitions, scenes of horror and surreal nightmares. Tsukamoto’s subjective approach is gripping and relentless. Small spaces and claustrophobic compositions leave no room to escape. As Tanaka, Tsukamoto gives a subtle and at times gutting performance. The film’s star, Cocco, is an alluring Japanese singer in real life — the perfect fit for the part of Kotoko, for whom singing is a release from mental anguish. With her haunting melodies and visceral understanding of madness, Cocco fully inhabits this tortured role.
As mentioned already, we love to put the spotlight on Japan's young actors. In this case, we have Kamiki Ryunosuke and Ai Hashimoto, who are the leads in The Kirishima Thing. Ai Hashimoto is best remembered as one of the young students in the 2010 hit Confessions, and she also made waves in Another. Kamiki Ryunosuke, who is part of our 20 most promising young actors list, made a number of notable roles already, including Blackboard and Taira no Kiyomori.
What the Movie is all about: "Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo" tells the story of two high school students who crosses social boundaries between the elite and lower class at their school. Ryoya Maeda, from the lower class, is a member of the film club, while Hiroki Kikuchi, from the elite class, is a non-participating member of the high school baseball team.[ AsianWiki ].
Critical Buzz: Finally a movie that critic Mark Schilling at the Japan Times likes. He gave this movie a 3.5 out of 5 stars - a big shock since a lot of recent films was poorly rated by the critic who loves to use sarcasm in his reviews:
"Kirishima" might be called a morality play in the guise of a coming-of-age drama, though what Yoshida admires is less conventional film-hero goodness than qualities such as self-awareness, open-mindedness and stubborn persistence in the face of indifference, ridicule and the random interruptions that are a daily fact of high school (and, indeed, modern) life. In short, qualities that make for a good film director.
The characters are intended as audience mirrors, if not generic types, though I didn't quite see myself in any of them. Maeda-like, I was a teenage movie nerd; Hiroki-like, I joined a sports team and dated a cheerleader (who dumped me for a better cross-country runner).[ source ]
The Woodsman and the Rain is one of the most satisfying Japanese movies of the year. While the theme of a movie within a movie is not a novelty anymore, it takes a Shuichi Okita to introduce both a dramatic and comedic twists and make them work. Koji Yakusho and Shun Oguri play the leads and they were both amazing.
What the Movie is all about: Rookie movie director Koichi and his crew travel to the mountain village of Yamamura to film his next movie. The villagers are eventually enlisted to help film the movie and, in particular, 60-year-old lumberjack Katsuhiko helps against his will. [ AsianWiki ]
Critical Buzz: Beyond Hollywood made an insightful review, saying:
“The Woodsman and the Rain” sees Shuichi Okita successfully mixing the quirky idiosyncrasy of recent Japanese indie comedies with something a little more heart warming and down to earth, and in the process managing to come up with the best of both worlds. The film is funny in an offbeat fashion, with a marvelously dry and laidback wit that combines well with a few touches of near surrealism. Without ever resorting to anything too obvious, the film has a number of very amusing comic set pieces, as the villagers all pile in and get involved in the making of the film, shooting some wacky pitched battle scenes and going about their daily business with zombie makeup on. At the same time, the laughs are never allowed to venture too far into zaniness, and the film wins points for avoiding the kind of obvious comedy oddball supporting cast who might have detracted from its sense of everyday realism. [ source ]
The movie already made the list of 8 international film festival and won two awards - Nippon Cinema Award and the Special Jury Prize at the Tokyo International Fest.
You will also be amazed at the de-glamourized Shun Oguri. If your impression of the actor is that of a romantic leading man, then you'll appreciate how much effort he put into his role to make it as effective and as entertaining. But Koji Yakusho is the soul of the movie.... enough said!
More of the countdown in Parts 2 and 3 up next! (plus the rankings of the Top 10 Japanese movies of 2012).
Have you watched Kotoko? How about The Woodsman and the Rain? Or The Kirishima Thing? Let us know what you think of these movies!