Honestly, I haven’t watched that many, but here are some of my highly recommended films… especially if you like psychological, dramatic movies that emphasizes on the human condition and focus on style of cinematography and such. If you have any recommendations, by all means, go ahead and shoot me a message.
Confessions - The young daughter of a female junior high teacher drowns and the incident was dubbed “an accident” by the police but the mother knows that her daughter was killed by two students in her class. She seeks revenge (with a majorly twisted plan that will blow your mind) and so follows the “confessions” of all parties involved.
Review - The summaries and trailers seriously does it no justice. It’s a bit on the disturbing side, but the emotions in the film are absolutely compelling. It’s mystery, thriller, drama and romance all rolled into one delightful film. Moreover, it is very artistically done, not a gory bloody movie like most Japanese movies. The cinematography was brilliant. The soundtrack was carefully chosen. The climax is built up so well, the narration was very unique (it catches you by surprise at first, but it’s a interesting addition to the film) and the characters were dramatic and intriguing. A absolute gem in midst of the generic brutal bloody Japanese horrors.
Swallowtail Butterfly - In Japan, an industrial section was named Yentown since many Chinese immigrants go in hopes to earn money. The story follows an orphaned girl named Ageha who gets taken in by Glico, a prostitute, and other immigrants. It’s a film about their story of survival: how they strive to make money, how they bond with each other and their character growth. A bit of mafia and politics is mixed into it as well, though prostitution is definitely not a main focus in the story.
Review - The characters, the themes and the plot was just so intriguing and well developed, I really enjoyed it. I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes drama and isn’t afraid of exploring culturally different films. It’s a bit on the slow side, slowly exploring the beautiful, realistic, gritty relationships and behaviours of each character. I’m just so speechless about the film. A large part of the film emphasizes on achieving dreams/life-goals, belonging, survival, growth (coming-of-age) and society. I absolutely love the emotional depth of the movie.
The Twilight Samurai - The film follows the story of a 19th century samurai whose wife passed away from tuberculosis, who had to pay for a funeral more than he could afford so that he didn’t shame the family name, thus throwing him in debt in addition to caring for his two young daughters and a senile mother. It’s a story about love, meaning of life and the social vs personal honour/duties of a samurai.
Review - It’s a slow-moving film but it was really fun to watch since the culture (the traditions, clothing, setting) was new and fascinating to me. I loved the romance in it, it was very sweet, and I liked the realistic struggle of the samurai who, as a father, had to stay strong and support his daughters yet also had to follow the orders of his clan. The scenes were beautifully filmed, very scenic and realistic. The action sequences were not filled with superfluous amounts of motion, gore or intense, they were simple, brief and concise. It was just, overall, a very lyrical, beautiful film that makes me all happy and warm and feeling fuzzy inside.
Now, I have a couple that almost makes the list, but they’re definitely not on the same level as the first two so I decided that I’m just going to briefly mention them.
Suicide Club - it started with 50 girls from around different schools who gathered at the subway, held hands and suddenly jumped onto the train tracks and committed suicide. A string of “suicides” ensues. A detective decides that these are not accidents, they are murders, possibly from some sort of cult and starts an investigation on why this is happening and how to stop them.
Review - Oh gosh, this movie was just so disturbing, horrifying and intense, I had to close my eyes at some parts, it was really grotesque and hard to handle. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. Even for someone like me who has a high tolerance for gore in thrillers, this one verged on the line of being complete horror. But what sets it apart from being your ordinary horror, is the message “the cult” was trying to portray. I can’t explain more than that, otherwise, I’d ruin the only depth of the movie. Though I felt like there was a bit too much unnecessary gore (blood everywhere, decapitation etc) and some of the characters could’ve been explored deep enough, the overall message and emotion (not the grossed out feeling!) left a very strong impression.
Battle Royale - “At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act…” The BR Act allows the Japanese government to capture a 9th grade class and force them to kill each other off until only one remains on a deserted island, given a time limit of three days. And this is the story about one particular class.
Review - less gory than Suicide Club and I liked it quite a bit. It focuses more on the emotional, “can you really kill your friend?” mentality that the students are forced into, less than the political or character backgrounds of the story (which is covered more extensively in the novel). The premise is very interesting, the cast was done well and overall, it was intense and thrilling, though it was not artistically filmed and more retro and less glorious (which follows the style of the director) compared to Confessions or Hollywood thrillers.