With the year just about over, we’ve decided to (light-heartedly) list our top ten favorite Japanese movies from the last 10 years (2001-2011).
We don’t think these are “the best” Japanese movies by any stretch, just movies that kept our attention or films that we had a lot of fun watching.
The list is intended to be completely subjective and the reviews casual so don’t be too upset if you don’t see your favorite movie here. Maybe we didn’t see it.
Leave a comment and let us know if there is one we absolutely need to see!
#10 – Parade
Parade follows the story of 5 residents (ranging in age from 18 to 28) living in an apartment in suburban Tokyo. One is a male college student with no motivation or ambition; the second is an unemployed aspiring actress who longs for her celebrity boyfriend; the third is an alcoholic female illustrator; the fourth is a male prostitute; the fifth is a salaryman who works for a film company and says strange things in his sleep. As the story progresses, you can see relationships develop and the growing affection toward one another. In the end, however, none of them really know each other.
This movie starts out as a daily-life drama/comedy as you follow the characters and their own dealings with life. The movie ends with a dramatic shocking twist that will leave you stunned and contemplating how well people really know you. It’s Japan’s answer to L’auberge espagnole.
We love twists and rich character development, so… on the list it goes.
Trailer for Parade
#9 – Fish Story
Fish Story is about a 1975 punk song called “Fish Story”. Despite the band knowing that their music wouldn’t sell, their supportive producer decided to record the song knowing that one day it might impact the life of at least one person. The film jumps around different decades ranging from 1975 to 2012, where a meteor is on a collision course with the Earth. In the beginning of the movie, you are told that the song will save the world.
Fish Story takes you on a wild ride that will leave you smiling at the closing credits. It is one of those films which rewards repeat viewings as it will leave you thinking and wanting to watch it again almost immediately. Fantastic acting and an incredibly well put together set of events leads to a movie that is a must see.
Trailer for Fish Story
#8 – Machine Girl
Machine girl is about a seemingly ordinary Japanese schoolgirl who won’t to turn a blind eye when bullies at her school subject her little brother to needless cruelty. She retaliates against the bullies and their parents, which turns out to be a dangerous decision when she find out some of them are connected to the yakuza. She is eventually captured by them, whose torture methods include cutting off one of her arms. However, she refuses to let the criminals go unpunished. With the help of a mechanic, her arm is replaced with a large machine gun, which transforms her into a single-minded killing machine in a school uniform.
For a mindless (over the top) action flick, it isn’t lacking (much) in terms of depth as one might expect from this type of movie. The first 20 minutes of the film are devoted to character development which add to the film later on. This is one of those films where you turn your brain off and enjoy the ride, and oh what a ride it is. If you like over the top action flicks, this is an absolute must see.
Trailer for Machine Girl
#7 – Kisaragi
Kisaragi takes place one year after the suicide of C-list model Miki when five of her fans come together for a commemorative meeting. Face to face for the first time, they reminisce about their idol, wondering how someone with such a bright future ahead of her could have possibly taken her own life. It just doesn’t make sense. That’s when they reach a revelation – she must have been killed. The five discuss her death, voicing their suspicions and weighing the many clues and possibilities. The more they talk though, the closer they come to the truth.
When it comes to twists, M Night Shamalamadingdong has nothing on Kisaragi. This movie reminded me of a modern day Japanese version of “Clue” – only better. This movie had me guessing – and laughing – from beginning to end.
Trailer for Kisaragi
#6 – Casshern
Casshern takes place in a post apocalyptic future, in a society called Eurasia. After a war against Europe, the planet is devastated by the effect of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. A geneticist, Dr. Azuma, develops a technique called “neo-cell”, which is capable of regenerating the body of human beings, but is sponsored by an evil corporation. His son Tetsuya dies in the war, but after an accident in the laboratory of Dr. Azuma, Tetsuya revives as the powerful warrior Casshern, while a breed of mutants called “neo-humans” is generated in the plant. The neo-humans decide to annihilate the humans to create a new world.
It’s a bit disjointed and a tad hard to follow, but the story is still solid, touching and will make you question why we fight wars and one another. The CGI in the movie lends itself to fantastic visuals and amazing fight scenes. Another must see for action fans.
Trailer for Casshern
#5 – Cyborg Girl
A lonesome and dull college student, Jiro, is spending his 20th birthday alone, when suddenly, a beautiful girl takes an interest in him. The few hours that he spends with her are the best moments of his life and he is overwhelmed by his luck in meeting her. His happiness is short-lived as she disappears just as suddenly as she appeared. One year later, on his 21st birthday, Jiro runs into her again at the same restaurant, where she saves his life and countless other lives from a deranged assassin. She looks the same, but this time she is somehow different. It is the beginning of a relationship that would change his life forever.
If you mashed aspects of The Terminator together with aspects of Forrest Gump, and added a serving of romantic comedy, you would have something that resembles Cyborg Girl. Despite that analogy, the story is largely original and unique. We especially loved the ending. Also, Haruka Ayase. Need we say more?
Trailer for Cyborg Girl
#4 – Death Note 1&2
Death Note begins when a law student, Light Yagami, discovers a mysterious notebook in the middle of the street. Shortly after, he discovers that if he writes a name in the notebook, that person will instantly die. It doesn’t take long for Light to realize the extraordinary power he now holds. Before long, he hatches a plan to rid the planet of crime by scribbling the name of notorious criminals in the pages of the supernatural notebook to make the world a safer place for decent people everywhere.
Death Note is a true and pure battle of the wits show. The plot is original and nothing like it exists in the states. It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. See it before the American remake is released is 2013(?).
Editors note: Don’t see the third film in this trilogy – it’s terrible.
Trailer for Death Note
#3 – Goemon
Goemon is a Japanese folk legend that echoes the tale of Robin Hood. This ninja thriller follows the exploits of Ishikawa Goemon, who leaves his clan after its chief is murdered. Goemon uses his skills as a thief to help the poor and also himself. But after he learns the identity of his leader’s killer – the traitor Hideyoshi – Goemon sets out on a bloody path of vengeance, joined by his loyal friend, Saizo.
Action movies with good stories are rare. Goemon happens to be one of them. Much like Casshern (same director), Goemon has some absolutely gorgeous CGI and is a visually stunning movie. The acting is also fantastic with some of Japan’s top actors having roles. Don’t miss this movie.
Trailer for Goemon
#2 – Love Exposure
Love Exposure focuses on three emotionally abused young adults from the fringes of society who end up in a convoluted love triangle. Yuu, a Catholic boy searching for true love ends up taking “panty shot” photos of women in public until he meets Yoko, whom he sees as his Virgin Mary. Yoko, who happens to be an anti-family, misandrist finds that her foster mother will be marrying Yuu’s father. Koike, an “original sinner” and the leader of a small brainwashing cult, hatches a plan to convert Yuu’s family to her cult. Under her careful direction, their lives come crashing together in one fateful street fight.
We don’t like to use the word ‘Epic’, but we must with this movie. This movie will take you on an epic comedy/drama ride for 4 hours. Yes, this movie is 4 hours long. But that’s why this movie is ranked #2 – when it’s over, you won’t realize it. Any 4 hour long movie that feels like an hour and a half gets a top spot on any of our lists.
Trailer for Love Exposure
#1 – Confessions
Middle school teacher Yoko Moriguchi’s life comes crashing down after the murder of her 4 year old daughter. Eventually, Yoko suspects some of her own students were responsible for her daughter’s death. An elaborate plan for revenge then ensues, including forcing her students to drink, what they believe to be, HIV-tainted milk…
Brilliance is why. This movie was absolutely fantastic. It lives up to every critical acclaim garnered thus far, and reminded me why I watch movies in the first place. I believe it to be one of the best, if not the best, psychological revenge movies ever made. “This is my revenge…“
Trailer for Confessions
Like our list? Hate our list? Did we miss a movie? Let us know below in the comments!