Some of my favourite Japanese films – 2nd Edition!

Oh goodness me, this post has been long over-due.  It has been absolutely ages since I wrote the original list of Japanese films that are really worth checking out. I’ve seen a shitload of other Japanese films since then, most of em good, some of them dire and some of them in the realms of mediocre! Well, in any case the movies in this list are some of my favourites. I have completely gone off Hollywood, there is just no creativity nor originallity in Hollywood anymore, ok it’s a bad generalisation to make but bloody hell is it true! Well, I won’t waste anymore time, here they are, some of the finest gems that Japanese cinema has to offer!!

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Choshu Five

Based on true events, the story of this film is set during the last few years of the Tokugawa bakufu and the plot revolves around 5 samurai who travel to England illegally to study western military techniques and acquire knowledge of skills such as ship building. Essentially the ‘Choshu Five’ were part of an imperial loyalist movement that initially desired primarily to expel the ‘barbarian’ foreigners who were now present in Japan by modernising Japan’s military, and the Choshu five themselves were quite successful as they all went on to hold important positions in the new Meiji government after the Tokugawa fell. The film seems to be quite accurate historically, only toward the end does it become slightly melodramatic but overall its a very good job, and there’s some odd moments of comedy thrown in there for good measure. Well worth a watch if you’re interested in learning more about a critical moment of Japanese history.

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Bubble E Go!!

The title of this film means Go to the Bubble, and as you can probably guess, it’s referring to the bubble years when the Japanese economy was booming. Essentially this is a bog-standard feel good comedy movie and its quite entertaining, especially for you oldies out there as it’ll probably strike a sentimental chord! The storyline is about a young woman who travels back to the bubble period using a time travel machine which is actually a washing machine!! Throughout the movie there are a ton of early 90s references, from the huge gravity defying hair-styles to the cringingly horrible shoulder-pad outfits, and even the groovy discos. A lot of it is pretty exagerrated but this is just one of those movies which you’re not supposed to take seriously, top quality entertainment and, as usual, Abe Hiroshi does a bloody brilliant job with his role! Hirosue Ryoko deserves credit too, by the way, she was one of the stars in the Japanese movie which just won an oscar (Departures).

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Adrift in Tokyo

This is a beautiful movie… it really is. It’s a subtle comedy about a university student who is knee deep in crippling debts, a role brilliantly executed by Odagiri Joe. As it would turn out though, his debt collector surprisingly offers him the money under one condition- that he has to accompany the debt collector on a walk throughout Tokyo. I really was moved after watching this movie. Gradually throughout the movie we learn more about these 2 on their journey throughout the sprawling metropolis. I dont know how to describe it, but by the end of the film I really felt for both of the characters, you have to really watch the film to see what I mean, otherwise I’d be spoiling the story by explaining what actually happens. This movie is just brilliant, watch it now!!

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Fine, Totally Fine

Much like Adrift in Tokyo, I’d describe this film as a subtle comedy although there are probably more laugh-out-loud moments in this one. The story is about 2 friends who unfortunately end up falling for the same girl and as a result a really amusing rivalry is formed as they both vye for her attention. Really funny movie and its got a nice feel good factor to it also, yeah, I’m a fan of these types of movies, most of the time I HATE depressing films!

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Tokyo Sonata

Out of all of the films in the list this is the one I’ve seen most recently. Yeah, I said I mostly don’t like depressing films and I was a bit worried about watching this because at first it just appeared to be really depressing. Well, the movie actually mixes comedy really well with drama, I was surprised, the tone of the film changes so quickly. The film revolves around a typical disfunctional family in Tokyo. Things aren’t peachy as the husband loses his job (and tries to hide it from his family), the older son wants to join the American army and the wife just doesn’t get the attention she desires as a lady, rather than just a mother.  I could actually see identify myself with the younger son character, who wants to get piano lessons, regardless of the father’s disapproval.  Anyway, it’s really worth checking out.

water-boysWater Boys

I had heard about Water Boys a while back but I didn’t have much interest in it… I mean afterall, from a guy’s point of view, why the hell would I want to see a bunch of half naked guys swimming around in a pool?!! Well, I found a cheap copy of the movie on video in Japan, bought it, watched it and instantly became a fan. I have now also seen all of the dramas that were made afterwards. Water Boys is a hilarious story about a group of 5 boys who develop an affinity for synchro swimming and decide to put on a synchro performance. The director actually wrote the script after being inspired by a real all-guys synchro team. Essentially, yeah, I could see what all the fuss was about, this is a brilliant movie, possibly one of the funniest Japanese films I have seen.

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Swing Girls

The last film is Swing Girls, and surprise surprise, it’s directed by the same guy who directed Water Boys (Shinobu Yaguchi). If we’re being really cynical then we could say that this is just using exactly the same formula as Water Boys, only this time round the boys are obviously girls, and instead of synchro we have jazz. The movie does have a charm of its own though and is equally as entertaining as Water Boys. It’s also worth pointing out that the guys in Water Boys went through pretty intensive training to actually perform the synchro performance featured in the film. In Swing Girls, all of the actresses (and the one actor) who make up the swing band actually learned to play their instruments and even toured around Japan!! They even played a gig in New York which is pretty sweet, I only wish I could have gone to one of their shows.

There you have it, Japanese cinema really is amazing. I might well write up a 3rd list if I see enough movies that are really worth mentioning. You have any movies you recommend? Please be sure to let me know if you do!  I have seen a hell of a lot more drama since the last drama post so I will write up a drama list later. That’s all for now though, hope you enjoy the movies!

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