J-Film Thoughts & Commentary: 1990-2000
Musings, praise, critique, descriptions, commentary…all in a few sentences.
Alright, here is a collection of some of my comments and thoughts on various films between 2000 and 1990. The films that I have written reviews on elsewhere in my blog are not included here, find links to them in my J-Film Review Database. This post will be continuously updated.
I have seen a massive amount of contemporary Japanese films, most of which were released post-2000. Admittedly, I need to watch more classic cinema, and you’ll see more comments and thoughts trickle in as I watch more. Many of these films here will be highly rated, just because I have chosen to watch good films that were recommended to me. An entry on films released before 1990 will be posted in the future, as will entries on films released after 2000. This is primarily a reference post that I will link to in my J-Film Review Database. Please feel free to recommend any Japanese films released in this time period by commenting below. Enjoy my opinions!
Battle Royale (バトル・ロワイアル) — Fukasaku Kinji — 2000 — ★★★★★
Thoughts~ I noticed that this film appears quite a lot on Midnight Eye‘s list of Japanese films of the past decade. Battle Royale is an incredibly influential and unique film that I could write a lot more about. Cheesy, but perfect. A Jr. High class is sent to an island to battle it out until one student remains. You can imagine the entertainment, violence, and angst that ensues. I believe this movie to be much deeper than the casual viewer may believe. The more I watch it, the more I believe that it is indeed pretty close to a masterpiece.
Brother (IMDb link) — Kitano Takeshi — 2000 — ★★★
Thoughts~ Kitano Takeshi plays a yakuza exiled to America. He is, as usual, bad-ass. It’s a Kitano yakuza film with American actors (Omar Epps) and some heavy violence. Though not quite living up to some of his previous efforts, Brother is not a terrible movie. Some of the English-language acting is suspect, but overall acceptable.
Kikujiro no Natsu (菊次郎の夏) — Kitano Takeshi — 1999 — ★★★★★
Thoughts~ This is my favorite Kitano film so far. It tells the story of a young boy who decides to search for his mother during summer vacation. Kitano is hilarious as a man who accompanies the boy, often straying off path to gamble, drink, and enjoy himself in odd ways. They journey through the countryside, making friends and learning about life. Kikujiro is a very touching and intriguing film about experience and growing up. Hisaishi Joe once again contributes a beautiful score to another Kitano masterpiece. Watch this film.
Audition (オーディション) — Miike Takashi — 1999 — ★★★★½
Thoughts~ A very artistic, well-done horror film. Audition is a slow and mysterious film in which everything is a build up to the final 20 minutes, which consists of some very disturbing torture. I will forever be haunted by the creepy voice of the girl… “Kiri, Kiri, Kiri…” In my opinion, this is one of the horror genre’s must-see films.
Taboo aka Gohatto (御法度) — Oshima Nagisa — 1999 — ★★★½
Thoughts~ Oshima’s final film; Matsuda Ryuhei plays a young samurai blessed with a beautiful face who is lusted after by many fellow samurai, particularly one played by Asano Tadanobu. Kitano Takeshi is also among the cast, contributing to a solid acting effort by the cast as a whole. Sakamoto Ryuichi’s score also contributes to the effect of the film. The English title Taboo is contrasting to the Japanese title Gohatto, which translates to something like The Code. In the film, it is shown that homosexual relations between the samurai are not expressly forbidden, yet illicitly borrowing money is, according to the military code. Though far from Oshima’s older masterpieces, Taboo still succeeds as a film (though not completely to my liking).
Hazy Life aka Donten Seikatsu (どんてん生活) — Yamashita Nobuhiro — 1999 — ★★½
Thoughts~ This is Yamashita’s first feature film and feels truly no-budget and amateur. I had watched a few Yamashita films before Hazy Life and absolutely loved them, but felt like Hazy Life fell short of my expectations. It is not a long film, only 84 minutes long, and that is a good thing. It is quite boring and very awkward, Yamashita-style, with a few laughs. I grew detached from the characters and ultimately came to dislike every single one. Watch this film to discover Yamashita’s roots as a director.
April Story (四月物語) — Iwai Shunji — 1998 — ★★★★½
Thoughts~ This is a charming, beautiful film. Matsu Takako is stunning in one of her earliest roles and effectively demonstrates how one acts with their eyes. Her character has moved away from home to attend a University, and the film explores her early days in an unfamiliar place. Camerawork is top-notch, as expected from Iwai. Classical masterpieces are strewn throughout the film, which really adds to the overall feel of loneliness but gives the feeling of hope. April Story is a satisfying, insightful, and touching film that I fully recommend.
Fireworks aka Hana-bi (はなび) — Kitano Takeshi — 1997 — ★★★★★
Thoughts~ Considered to be Kitano’s yakuza-film masterpiece, and I was not disappointed. Being such a highly praised and heavily awarded film, I did have high expectations. Hana-bi is very much a film made for the festival circuit, and it is executed perfectly. Kitano is great for the role that he plays, as is the rest of his ensemble cast. The film is very slow-paced, which will turn most people off, but if you can sit through it, enjoy, and absorb, it is a rewarding experience–especially after multiple viewings.
Princess Mononoke aka Mononoke Hime (もののけ姫) — Miyazaki Hayao — 1997 — ★★★★★
Thoughts~ *Anime film* The first Miyazaki film that I had the pleasure of experiencing. It is a wonderful fantasy that combines top-notch animation, beautiful music, and a meaningful story. Miyazaki is a genius that is truly at the top of his craft.
Kids Return (キッズ・リターン) — Kitano Takeshi — 1996 — ★★★★★
Thoughts~ One of my favorite Kitano films. Beautiful music composed by Hisaishi Joe, as usual. The movie is about two high school dropouts who attempt to find meaning in their lives. Shinji (Ando Masanobu) becomes a successful boxer and Masaru (Kaneko Ken) joins the Yakuza. Very entertaining film with top-notch acting and directing. Kitano at his best.
Swallowtail Butterfly (スワロウテイル) — Iwai Shunji — 1996 — ★★★½
Thoughts~ A film considered a masterpiece by many, though not me. It is a deep film that deals with many social issues such as the hardship felt by foreigners in Japan. There are three main languages spoken in the film–English, Chinese, and Japanese–which adds to the feeling of “foreignness” in many ways. Acting is excellent and cinematography is unique yet sometimes confusing (it was filmed entirely on handheld cameras). The movie is long, and while the first half drags a bit, the second half is magnificent. Iwai Shunji is a genius director and this is an okay movie, but not my favorite of his.
Picnic (ピクニック) — Iwai Shunji –1996 — ★★★★½
Thoughts~ An interesting blend of both visually ugly and beautiful, Picnic‘s central characters are patients at a mental hospital who decide to just leave (and they do so quite easily). The three are Coco (Chara), Tsumuji (Asano Tadanobu), and Satoru (Hachizume Koichi). In this 68-minute film, these seemingly crazy people explore the world, interact with others and themselves, and ultimately come to terms with their state of mind (in unexpected ways). Picnic is beautifully shot, filled with dark, fuzzy, and washed out colors but containing Iwai’s signature intimate camerawork. The actors do a great job of portraying their characters, it is really a shame that Chara has only acted in two films (this and Iwai’s Swallowtail Butterfly), she is an impressive actress.
Love Letter (情書) — Iwai Shunji — 1995 — ★★★★½
Thoughts~ Iwai Shunji burst into the popularity in Asia with this film. It is possibly one of the greatest love stories ever written, in my mind. Great music, cinematography, directing, and acting (Nakayama Miho is great in a double role). Too bad it lost its way a bit in the middle. Still, Love Letter is a multi-award winning film that deserves all the praise it gets.