We are more than half-way through 2013, and what better way to celebrate Japanese movies than to make a hitlist! Having watch 27 Japanese movies since January, I narrowed it down to the 10 best - taking into account the genres, the directors and the outstanding performances of a few favorite actors and actresses.
One of the Japanese movies shown this year already grabbed a major award - Hirokazu Koreeda's Like Father, Like Son - won the Jury Prize, the second highest award, at the Cannes Film Festival. It also sets the tone for 2013 - critical acclaim!
By the way, we're also simultaneously posting our 30 Favorite Korean Movies, where 2013 is a banner year for that country's movie industry - with Secretly, Greatly breaking box office records.
Part One of our 10 Favorite Japanese Movies of 2013 after the jump!
A Story of Yonosuke - Kengo Kora continues to amaze and surprise movie audiences with his versatility. While many would categorize Kora as a supporting actor, The Story of Yonosuke, changed that rather inaccurate classification. At 160 minutes, it might appear to be a long and winding movie...
But I was surprised as how much engrossed I became - the timeframe is set in the booming 1980s where Japan is one of the richest nation on earth, and a lot of exciting things are happening all at the same time. Yonosuke is a different kind of character - naive yet confident about himself, he alienated almost everyone, annoyed of his matter-of-fact and extremely honest opinions. Arriving at the big city can be quite overwhelming for some, but Yonosuke, who came from the port city of Nagasaki, held his own and in time, earned the love and affection of a group of friends.
He also began a romantic relationship with Shoko Yosano (Yuriko Yoshitaka), the daughter of a company president... Is this just a rich girl, poor boy type of romance? Guess again!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Lesson of the Evil - Hideaki Ito does a Richard Gere 'gravity boots' exercise while completely naked in Lesson of the Evil, thereby surpassing the American actor in terms of 'showing off'. There's plenty blood and violence (and some nudity) in this 2012 Takashi Miike film, which competed in the Japanese box office with the star-studded Fly With the Gold.
As expected from Miike, the blood flows like water (or orange juice, if you like) from start to finish. Death, it seems, is something to be celebrated again and again, in a non-challant, comedic kinda way.
Our anti-hero Seiji Hasumi (Hideaki Ito) is a charismatic and energetic home teacher who has a questionable past and is just beginning to play his deadly game in his new school. Another teacher Masanobu Tsurii (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), who is himself quite eccentric, began to suspect Hasumi's true nature, but he was not permitted to pursue his suspicions... guess why?
Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido play schoolmates, a reunion of sorts, after playing the leads in the award-winning Himizu. No fatalistic characters for the two young actors this time - but one of them ends up dead, courtesy of our home teacher from hell. [ read full review ]
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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The Garden of Words - The visual effects alone of this Makoto Shinkai animation is enough to guarantee a slot in the 10 best Japanese movies of 2013. Luke Carroll did an interview and asked the director whether The Garden of Words is his best so far:
I think most directors and people who make anime would agree that their latest film is probably the one they feel the most confident in, that they have done their best and put everything into. So I do believe that The Garden of Words is my best film so far. But only after it has been released in Japan for a few months do I see all the reactions and all the bits that I might have needed more work on. Until then I can't really say, but I do think at this moment in time that I have put everything into The Garden of Words, and that it is one of my best films. [ read more ]
The scenes at the Japanese garden where the young student and his new-found lady friend, Yukino, remain the most memorable. As an aspiring shoemaker, Takao, our hero, is a bit more sensitive than most boys his age, and it is this sensitivity that made him endearing to Yukino.
A bittersweet mix of coming of age and love story, The Garden of Words, is probably the next best animation from Makoto Shinkai after 5 Centimeters Per Second.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Tsunagu - Tori Matsuzaka is Yumi Shibuya, an intermediary between the living and the dead. He serves as a 'middle man' giving people one final chance to see and talk to the ones they loved. Teaching him the ropes is his grandmother (Kirin Kiki) who took care of him ever since the tragic deaths of his parents.
During his apprenticeship, his grandma allowed him to lead some of the connection or "tsunagu" between certain individuals who wanted to glimpse their dearly departed. In a hotel room, Yumi gives a small piece of paper (which serves as a pass) allowing the connection to begin - a father and his dead wife and the strained relationship with his son, a friend and her dead classmate (who has a crush on Yumi), a grieving young man and his lovely girlfriend. These three connections allowed Yumi to determine if he has what it takes to one day take over his grandma. [ read full review ]
Young actor Tori Matsuzaka, who headlines his first lead movie role, really gave an impressive performance.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Tokyo Family - Eiga posted a screenshot comparison between Yoji Yamada's upcoming 'Tokyo Family' and the Ozu masterpiece 'Tokyo Story'. For the uninitiated like me, Yasujirō Ozu is considered one of the most influential directors of all time.
Tokyo Story was released in 1953 and the upcoming Yamada flick is considered a homage to the 50 year old Ozu movie. Ozu's Tokyo Story tells the story of an aging couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children. The film contrasts the behavior of their children, who are too busy to pay them much attention, and their widowed daughter-in-law, who treats them with kindness. It is often regarded as Ozu's masterpiece, and has appeared several times in the British Film Institute lists of the greatest films ever made. It is currently ranked #3 after Vertigo and Citizen Kane.
The new movie's plot is similar, and features some of today's best actors in Japan, with Satoshi Tsumabuki playing one of the sons of the elderly couple.
I have watched both films - the black and white Tokyo Story has a simple story yet it has a very poignant, powerful and timeless message. The beauty and influence of the film may not be felt upon first viewing, but it grows on you. I became attached to it emotionally - remembering scenes even when I'm doing something else. It haunts me like a well-loved book or a favorite song that I listen to over and over.
Tokyo Family also held me with such power. While the Ozu original is one of the best movies ever made, the tribute film Tokyo Family also deserves accolade and praise for its genuine atempt to pay homage to the great Ozu movie.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Part Two is coming up!
|JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film, the largest celebration of new Japanese cinema in North America, is 11 days of blockbusters, documentaries, animations, new classics and avant-garde from Japan’s latest and most exciting directors, writers, and actors. Many films will be making their United States premiere. A few will even be having their international and world debuts. And, in celebrating the JAPAN CUTS’ 10th anniversary, an unprecedented number of screenings will feature exclusive introductions and Q&A’s by special guest filmmakers, stars, and artists.|
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