Japanese films did quite well both commercially and critically in 2013, with Hayao Miyazaki's final feature animation, "Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises)," thumping the Hollywood competition at the local box office. But the industry's over-reliance on sure-thing manga, TV shows and novels for source material has put a damper on its creativity, while abroad the demand for quirky, violent films from Japan is still strong. Often lost in the cracks are good indie films that try to tell original stories about actual human beings.
1. "Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya)": Likely to be the last film by 78-year-old Ghibli anime maestro Isao Takahata, this retelling of this 10th-century Japanese folktale is also among his best. Beautifully animated, exhilaratingly imaginative and heartbreakingly sad, it exemplifies better than any film in recent memory the aesthetic of mono no aware — the pathos inherent in all things.
2. "Soshite Chichi ni Naru (Like Father, Like Son)": The best of current directors making films in the Japanese humanist tradition, Hirokazu Koreeda has created another extraordinary drama: two boys switched at birth, whose respective parents decide to exchange them. Like the best of Koreeda's films, this one not only stirs emotions but also challenges viewers to examine their own values, priorities and lives.