According to IMDb, there were 373 Japanese movies released in 2015, while some of the biggest box office winners include Attack on Titan (Part 1) which grossed $5.1 million on its opening weekend, Hero (2015 version with Takuya Kimura) grossing $21.8 million, Heroine Shikkaku (Mirei Kiritani, Kento Yamazaki) with $19.2 million and Bakuman (Takeru Satoh, Ryu Kamiki) with $13.5 million. Other films with impressive numbers include Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister) with $12,9 million, Library Wars (The Final Mission) - $13.6 million, and Shinjuku Swan - $10.6 million. Still being shown in theaters is the movie version of the WOWOW thriller Mozu, which already grabbed $7 million.

While we have yet to see the complete box office record for Attack on Titan (Parts 1 and 2), last year the two Rurouni Kenshin movies grabbed close to $90 million aggregate total and Part 1 of Parasyte registered admissions of $2.9 million (which is half of what AoT Part 1 did this year).

On the awards and international film festival circuit, a few Japanese movies made headlines, including Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Journey to the Shore, which won the Cannes Un Certain Regard prize for Best Director. Hirokazu Koreeda's Umimachi Diary also participated in "competition" at the 68th Cannes Film Festival. Naomi Kawase's An (starring Kirin Kiki) was also part of Cannes Un Certain Regard together with Kurosawa's Journey to the Shore. Shinya Tsukamoto's war movie, Fires in the Plain, was finally released July 2015 in Japan theaters after participating in prestigious film festivals around the world last year.

Here are some details about the movies [ from above ] 

Fires on the Plain [ 野火 ] Live adaptation of Ooka Shohei‘s same-named seminal novel about war, produced after two decades in germination. Although an indie film with Tetsuo: The Iron Man director Tsukamoto Shinya handling six roles including director, lead actor and cinematographer, the world premiere took place at the 71st Venice International Film Festival in the official competition. The island of Leyte in the Philippines at the end of World War II. Tubercular Private Tamura (Tsukamoto) wanders through the jungle while being tormented by hunger and menace from enemy soldiers after being driven from a field hospital overburdened with wounded soldiers.

Our Little Sister [ 海街diary ] A live-action adaptation by Koreeda Hirokazu (Like Father, Like Son) of Yoshida Akimi's eponymous 2013 Cartoon Grand Prize-winning manga. It depicts the emotional journeys of four sisters after the death of their father, with beautiful cinematography that captures the four seasons in Kamakura. Officially selected for the Competition section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Sachi (Ayase Haruka), Yoshino (Nagasawa Masami), and Chika (Kaho), three sisters living in a seaside town, receive word of the death of their father, who they have not heard from for years. Upon attending his funeral, they meet their younger half-sister Suzu (Hirose Suzu) and decide to take her in.

Journey to the Shore [ 岸辺の旅 ] Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu) is a piano teacher who has lived alone ever since her husband Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano) went missing three years earlier. One evening, Yusuke suddenly materializes in the apartment and informs Mizuki that he is dead, his body lying at the bottom of the sea off Toyama in the Northlands region. When Mizuki accompanies him to meet the people who were kind to him during his long trip home to her, Yusuke introduces her to a host of unquiet spirits seeking rest — and as the couple approaches the site of Yusuke's death, the ultimate purpose of their voyage begins to emerge. While many of the themes and obsessions dear to Kurosawa — especially the coexistence of the dead with the living and the fusion of the real and the otherworldly — are present in Journey to the Shore, they are elevated to a higher, more explicitly spiritual level. The dread that so often pervades his films is replaced here with a gentle sadness, the unspoken regrets and hidden hurts that course through the lives of ordinary people. Beautifully shot by Kurosawa's long-time cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa, Journey to the Shore is a moving and enthralling work by a true master of contemporary cinema. [ Narrative by Giovanna Fulvi @TIFF ]

Outstanding performances from young actors - this year - captured by three amazing, yet different coming of age movies:

Gassoh [合葬 ] - It is 1868, the fourth year of the Keiou era. The Tokugawa Shogunate is ending, after a period of dominance that continued for 300 years.

Goku (Yuya Yagira) suddenly breaks off his marriage engagement with the younger sister of Teijirou (Amane Okuyama). Teijirou becomes outraged when he learns of this, and heads off in pursuit of Goku, until they reencounter their friend since childhood, Masanosuke (Koji Seto). When Goku discovers that Masanosuke has been driven out of his family home, Goku encourages him to join their Shougitai resistance movement. When these three lifelong friends are reunited, their destinies are catapulted into extreme directions.

Solomon's Perjury [ ソロモンの偽証 前篇・事件 ] -  Junior high students attempt to hold a mock trial after one of their classmates apparently falls from a building and dies within the school grounds. Its director is Narushima Izuru, a two-time Japan Academy Prize winner. On Christmas morning at Joto Daisan Junior High School, Year 2 Group A student Kashiwagi Takuya (Mochizuki Ayumu) is found dead. Police conclude it was a suicide, but an accusatory letter sends the media into a frenzy. Group A class council member Fujino Ryoko (Fujino Ryoko) suggests that a trial is held within the school to uncover the truth.

Chocolietta [チョコリエッタ ] - Chiyoko’s (Aoi Morikawa) mother died when she was young. Since that time, Chiyoko has closed her heart to others. After her pet dies, Chiyoko feels loneliness. Her mother liked the Italian movie "La Strada." Due to film study club senior, Masamune (Masaki Suda), Chiyoko can watch the Italian movie "La Strada," which her mother liked. Chiyoko soon acts in a film directed by Masamune.

Soredake/ That's It [ソレダケ ] - “Soredake” is inspired by the 1999 song "Soredake" by Japanese rock band Bloodthirsty Butchers. Aside from Kabukicho Love Hotel, Parasyte and Bakuman, I think this is one of Shota Sometani's best film for the year.

Without papers, Samao Daikoku is stuck in the life of a street drifter. To break free, Samao decides to steal gold kept in the locker of gangster Daikichi Ebisu. But what he finds in the locker is more than what he bargained for: a computer hard drive containing the names and information of people to be eliminated. People at the bottom of social ladder: vagrants, homeless people, prostitutes. He hides the disk but gets caught and locked up along with a young prostitute, Ami. More valuable than gold, Samao gets to learn about where he came from...

The Mourner [悼む人 ] - Shizuto Sakatsuki (Kengo Kora) is a mourner. He goes to scenes of accidents and mourns for the victims. Yukiyo Nagi (Yuriko Ishida), who killed her husband and served prison time, goes to the scene of the murder and meets Shizuto. She follows him from that time. Other people that exist in their lives are Shizuto’s mother Junko who is terminally ill with cancer and waits for Shizuto’s return, his younger sister Mishio who is pregnant by her now ex-boyfriend and a magazine reporter who chases after Shizuto. The movie examines life and death, love and hate and sin and forgiveness through these characters. 

The Emperor in August [日本のいちばん長い日 ] - In July 1945, during the end of World War II, Japan is forced to accept the Potsdam Declaration. A cabinet meeting has continued through days and nights, but a decision cannot be made. The U.S. drops atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. General Korechika Anami is torn over making the proper decision and the Emperor of Japan worries about his people. Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki leads the cabinet meeting, while Chief Secretary Hisatsune Sakomizu can't do anything, but watch the meeting. At this time, Major Kenji Hatanaka and other young commissioned officers, who are against Japan surrendering, move to occupy the palace and a radio broadcasting station. The radio station is set to broadcast Emperor Hirohito reading out the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War. 

These three movies are my personal favorites for 2015 [ together with Gassoh ]

Litchi Hikari Club [ライチ☆光クラブ ] - Set against the backdrop of an imaginary "industrial town" called Keikoh in Japan, Litchi Hikari Club tells the tale of 9 young boys who are obsessed with beauty and the search for the fountain of youth. Their other mission is to take over Keikoh and exact revenge on the adult population for being the source of decay, death, and ugliness. To gain eternal beauty, they created an iron-made "monster-hunter" named Litchi - programmed to search for beautiful young girls. Of all things, the robot is fueled by the lychee fruit, which symbolizes not only the club's carnal intentions but their desire for beauty and superiority. [ read our film review here ]

Pieta in the Toilet [トイレのピエタ ] - A drama conceived and written by Gospel director Matsunaga Daishi, who took his inspiration from the sickbed diary of manga creator Tezuka Osamu. Noda Yojiro of the rock band Radwimps makes his acting debut in the lead role of a young man with terminal cancer. Hiroshi (Noda) has given up on his dream of becoming a painter and makes ends meet by working part-time as a window cleaner. One day, he collapses on the job and is told by a doctor that he has only three months left to live. After immediately admitting himself to the hospital, Hiroshi meets a bold high school girl named Mai (Sugisaku Hana), and his interaction with her leads him to come to terms with his life and death.

La La La Rock Bottom /Misono Universe [味園ユニバース ] - A musical coming-of-age drama set in Osaka and directed by Yamashita Nobuhiro (Linda Linda Linda). Shibutani Subaru of the idol group Kanjani Eight stars as an amnesiac who clashes fiercely with a young woman played by Nikaido Fumi (Himizu) and sings passionately.
A man who has lost his memory (Shibutani) interrupts a concert by a band managed by Kasumi (Nikaido). His powerful singing voice catches her attention, and she decides to take him on, calling him her lapdog. However, the man is unaware of his shocking past...

Hand in the Glove [ Ariel Oji to Kanshinin] - From independent Japanese filmmaker Yusuke Inaba, Hand in the Glove is a rare gem. I don't know if you can call it a sleeper hit since I have no idea what sort of box office numbers it achieved, but having seen it, I fell in love with its slow, very cozy way of presenting a story. It is about a young prince from a far-off country who stayed in Japan for a few days and met a lovely Japanese girl who introduced him to the Japanese simple way of life. 

Prince Ariel of the Kingdom of Levelle, together with his minder, Chris, visit a Kumamoto hotel for a secret holiday, where Hide, an old friend of Prince Ariel’s father, works as the general manager. Immediately upon arriving, the prince attempts to wander off by himself, but is discovered by Chris and returned to his hotel room. Struggling with the daily pressure of being heir to the throne, the prince sees the holiday as the perfect pretext to experience “freedom”: Meanwhile, Chris demands that he act as befits his royal heritage. However, no stranger to how Ariel must feel.Chris comes up with a plan and entrusts Hide to find a "minder" in the form of an approved date partner.

Asleep [白河夜船 ] -  A year without Sakura Ando (or Fumi Nikaido, Mao Inoue and Hikari Mitsushima for that matter) is just tragic. While Ando's 100 Yen Love is Japan's official entry to the Oscars, her other film, Asleep is also worthy of mention.

Why do I sleep so much when I am alone... Terako, who falls into a deep sleep at times, often remembers her best friend, Shiori, who has committed suicide. She quits her job and sees an older boyfriend, Iwanaga, who has a wife in a vegetative state. The phone calls from him are recognizable for Terako even when she is asleep. The shock from her friend’s death and anxiety and loneliness from the love affair make Terako’s sleep deeper and deeper.“ASLEEP” is the latest film starring ANDO Sakura, a remarkable presence in the contemporary Japanese film industry. Photographer-filmmaker Shingo Wakagi adapts Banana Yoshimoto’s eponymous bestselling 1989 novel into a film for the first time. His camerawork vividly portrays the protagonist's changing emotions, inner darkness, and hope. Its world premiere is the opening film of the Osaka Asian Film Festival.

Low Life Love [下衆の愛 ] - From Adam Torel of Third Window Films!

Tetsuo is a lowlife. As a film director, he had an indie hit many years back but refuses to go against his artistic integrity. One day, two new students come to his school: Minami, a naive girl from the countryside who wants to be an actress, and Ken, a scriptwriter. Tetsuo thinks Minami could be a real star, and Ken has a brilliant script that could relaunch his career as a director. With the help of an unsavory film producer, they strive to turn this project into something tangible, but Minami's ability starts to impress others, and Tetsuo's world soon falls apart.

- - -

As of this writing, I am currently watching Kakekomi (駆込み女と駆出し男) and Being Good (きみはいい子), which are two completely different movies, but star some of my favorites - Hikari Mitsushima in Kakekomi and Kengo Kora in Being Good. I like both movies, and I have to say, it's always an excellent movie experience to see Hikari Mitsushima - this time she's playing a historical character (Ogin) who is a concubine who runs away to the Tokei-ji which is a Buddhist temple in Kamakura, Japan. The Tokei-ji helps women who are abused by their husbands and get divorced if they so desire.

Kora, on the other hand, plays a young teacher who discovered that one of his pupils is physically being abused. Being Good also stars Machiko Ono and is directed by rising Japanese filmmaker Mipo O (who did The Light Shines Only There last year).

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