This year was bad for Japanese films box office-wise, but not quality-wise. Here are my best 10:
1) ‘The Third Murder’
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s drama about an ex-convict (Koji Yakusho) arrested for committing his third murder has the arc of a crime film but deepens into a powerful meditation on the meaning of justice and the unknowability of human beings.
Read our review of “The Third Murder” here.
2) ‘Side Job’
Fukushima native Ryuichi Hiroki’s drama about a nuclear disaster victim (Kumi Takiuchi) who turns sex worker on the weekends overturns official pieties with an insider’s insight.
Read our review of “Side Job” here.
3) ‘Alley Cat’
Actor and director Hideo Sakaki’s noirish buddy movie about a failed boxer (Yosuke Kubozuka) and blond-haired punk (Kenji Furuya) who partner to save a former sex worker (Yui Ichikawa) from an abusive ex is keenly observant about the realities of violence.
Read our review of “Alley Cat” here.
Hirobumi Watanabe’s TIFF Japanese Cinema Splash prize-winner begins as an exercise in black-and-white minimalism but as its volatile silent hero interacts with a voluble colleague (Watanabe), it becomes a laugh-out-loud black comedy.
Read our review of “Poolsideman” here.
Sion Sono’s contribution to the Nikkatsu Roman Porno revival project gleefully subverts its title genre in a mind-bending romp that relentlessly exposes show-biz power dynamics.
6) ‘Bangkok Nites’
Katsuya Tomita’s road movie about a Japanese Self-Defense Forces veteran and a Thai sex worker who bond in Bangkok is the rare Japanese film that gets under the skin of a foreign culture.
7) ‘Tremble All You Want’
Akiko Ooku’s Audience Award winner at the 2017 Tokyo International Film Festival follows a nerdy office worker’s obsession with her junior-high crush and is fresher and deeper than its romcom set-up implies. Mayu Matsuoka is a revelation as the self-deluded heroine.
8) ‘Yocho “Foreboding”‘
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s feature edit of the five-part alien invasion series he made for Wowow packs more of a punch than the first film he made from the same material, “Before We Vanish.” One reason: Masahiro Higashide’s chilling turn as an alien in human guise.
Read our review of “Yocho ‘Foreboding'” here.
Veteran Nobuhiko Obayashi’s drama about teenagers in prewar Kyushu may feature gorgeous eye-candy visuals, but is also has a deep-memory dive with a passionate antiwar message.
Read our review of “Hanagatami” here.
10) ‘Dear Etranger’
Yukiko Mishima’s drama about the search of a middle-aged outsider (Tadanobu Asano) for family is as unsparing as the Biblical book of Job, while viewing even its devils in the human round.
Read our review of “Dear Etranger” here.