I've got a somewhat love/fear relationship with Miike. Dead or Alive
and Ichi the Killer
are hilariously over-the-top, but Audition
was deeply disturbing. I'm not sure I'll ever have the guts to try Visitor Q
. But he's a bit of a goofball as well, and Sukiyaki Western Django
is a really great send-up of both the spaghetti western and the jidaigeki. Not too splattery, if I remember right. And Thirteen Assassins
is the usual tale of samurai against all odds done really really well--a back-to-back of that and Seven Samurai
would be a pretty impressive experience.
Some of my personal favorites are almost cliche when speaking of Japanese film, but regardless they're really goddamn good. Ozu's Tokyo Story
is really great, and some of the less-visible Kurosawa films are must-sees in my opinion. Ikiru
is probably the most beautiful movie I've ever seen, but the Kurosawa/Shimura Takeshi combo is unbeatable anywhere.
I second Sonatine
as a fantastic twist on the yakuza film genre. Kitano's take on Zatoichi
is fun and a lot more light-hearted. This one's a bit tough to turn up in the US, but Minna Yatteru ka!
) has Kitano directing but not starring in a bizarre comedy about a dude who just wants to get laid, preferably in the back of a cool car. Japanese pop-culture references abound, and it's a lot of fun when you're able to pick those out. With your time in Japan, you should be able to nail most of them.
Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
probably needs no introduction, but David Bowie as an Allied POW starring opposite Ryuichi Sakamoto is absolutely mesmerizing, plus there's a great soundtrack by Sakamoto and Kitano as a sadistic prison camp guard. I've got streaming access to a good part of the Criterion Collection through school and am trying to convince myself that it's really worth my while to try and watch In the Realm of the Senses
, but I can't quite pull the trigger on that one. Wonder what sort of effect that may have on a five month-old.
Getting a little more obscure, there's this fantastic drama called Go
that I saw during my first study abroad way back when and am kicking myself for not renting and ripping at the local Tsutaya last time around. It's zainichi boy meets uptight and prejudiced girl who doesn't know he's Korean--or that there's pictures of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung hanging in the family home, and his Dad is constantly mulling over whether to just break out the old North Korean passports and try to move home. The film really digs into the shit that ethnic Koreans have to face no matter if they've never set foot in either Korea, and the added layer of expat North Koreans just makes for a much more interesting spectacle.
Finally, one of my personal favorites is the incredibly bizarre and criminally underrated Survive Style 5+
. I'm a total whore for Tadanobu Asano, and this is five layers of the most bizarre metaphors for dealing with personal relationships with an all-star cast of Japanese film and TV actors. There's Hiroshi Abe, and several people I really should know by name but don't. Also Vinnie Jones as a hitman not given to much small talk. Perhaps because of his inclusion, the film got a DVD release in the UK, and the Japanese version has competent English subtitles (certainly not necessary for you but a boon for me).
That's about it for right now. I'm sure I'll think of a few more, but there's very little in my list that's not already well-known. Perfect Blue
, if you haven't seen it, is good but really disturbing. It's also quite disturbing in how closely Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream
and Black Swan parallel parts of the film. But hey, since we're talking about animation and Oshii was mentioned previously, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
is one that flies a bit under the radar. Part of Oshii's Kerberos saga, it's full of political intrigue in the secret police forces of a fascist Japan that lost World War II and was occupied--by Germany. Really unique animation that seems almost rotoscoped, and really not your typical "anime" sensibilities at all.