Konnichi wa. Firstly, yes, I know it’s a little late, but you know what else is late? YOUR FACE.
You know, it actually took me some time to choose a film which I loved as much as the other 9 films on this list. Sure, there were some Studio Gibli flicks I could have picked, and any number of other horror films, but I wanted the films here to be more than just mere entertainment; they had to be films which affected me on a deeper level, and be the sort of film I would kill and eat your grandmother for if I thought that would help get another person to see it.
I restrcited myself to having only one film per director here, otherwise the list would have been saturated by Miike and Sono. On top of that, as even though I watched a lot of Japanese films this decade, their early burst of quality was eventually usurped by films from other Asian countries, particularly South Korea. I may do a Top 10 Asian films Of The Decade soon, but don’t hold your breath. Seriously, you’ll probably die.
So, without further Apu, I present my list. As always, feel free to leave your comments in the section below. Labelled COMMENTS.
10. Fish Story
So many Japanese films saw the success of directors like Miike and thought that they could simply make wacky, bizarre adventures and have a hit on their hands. WHile some of these undoubtedly succeeded, most were embarrassing and the only thing weird or quirky about them is how everyone involved didn’t do a Suicide Club train leap when they were completed. Fish Story has a funny name, sure, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this is just another zany trip into Otaku paradise. Before watching that’s pretty much what I thought. There is weirdness sure, but it all feels normal, and is played fairly straight throughout. The main strangeness comes from the unusual structure of the film – it leaps around in time, throwing you into the middle of things with a new bunch of characters without warning, tells you a quick story, and then moves on sharply. With all this leaping you would think the pacing would suffer or you would get frustrated, but astonishingly, quite the opposite is true; The movie is evenly paced, and while it revs up and slows down at points (as all films must) this all feels organic. If you pay attention throughout you can make most of the connections between characters and scenes, and the final payoff reveals all in a wonderful way, even if it isn’t necessarily surprising.
There are several standout scenes here which alone should warrant you watching it and saving your grandmother from an imminent, cannibalistic end – the punk band playing through Fish Story in the recording studio, one character channeling Neo on board a Cruise Ship, and of course, the ending which ties up the tale. The film has action, romance, great music, and those scenes at the start for some reason were creepy to me and put me on edge as I thought I had been misled and that it was, in fact, a horror movie.
9. The Twilight Samurai
The Samurai movie hadn’t been big business for quite some time, and although the two are only distantly related, I credit the surprise success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with causing the resurrgence in Samurai movies. Directors now saw that martial arts movies could have a decent, credible plot now, which led to a host of smarter sword fighting movies, historical epics with some sword fighting thrown in to balance the drama, and eventually to films similar to The Twilight Samurai. Yamada’s quiet, introspective film has moments of beauty and humour, tragedy and warmth, telling a simple story of a reluctant, low ranking Samurai who cares more about the welfare of his senile mother and young daughters than his own appearance, stature, wealth, or self. The film is engaging thanks to a carefully thought out script, gorgeous cinematography, endearing characters, and top notch acting. Despite a raft of awards and nominations, including being the first Japanese film in over twenty years to be nominated for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award, it’s not one that many people talk about or appear to have seen.
As you will all be aware, ever since Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield, there has been a ridiculous influx of POV/documentary style horror movies. Once again, some of these have been very good (Troll Hunter) while others have not (Unmentionable low budget POV rip off#3). Noroi is interesting in two ways – first because it appeared 3 years before Cloverfield, 2 before Paranormal Activity, and second, because it appeared arguably after the J-Horror bubble had burst. That explains why no-one has seen it then. Koji Shiraishi is a vetran of the found footage genre, and with Noroi he merges deftly with typical J-Horror tropes, reality TV escapades, and psychological terror to create something deeply unsettling. This is like Cannibal Holocaust for the 21st Century, but without all the rapey, tortoise massacre. This has a complex structure for its sub-genre, dealing with various timeframes and people and places, all to give the impression of a true documentary or police report, although like most horror films it is a series of low burning scares leading to the terrifying conclusion.
I don’t want to give much of the story away for those of you who haven’t seen it, but it’s basically the story of a paranormal investigator who has gone missing, and what we see are his last whereabouts – a collection of tapes and interviews concerning a curse. This is a slow burner, but it’s intriguing enough, realistic enough, and punctuated by enough freaky moments to keep you watching until shit gets unreal at the end.
Takeshi Kitano has long been an icon in Japan and beyond, his films often lyrical, yet violent glimpses into modern man. With Zatoichi he goes back to the past and delivers an epic re-telling of the blind Samurai legend, and what is probably his best film. Zatoichi has all the trademarks of Kitano – madcap humour, slapstick, existentialism, quiet scenes destroyed by sharp, explosive violence, characters who say more with their actions than their words, but there is so much more to enjoy here – the strnage musical moments where the background cast act out the soundtrack whilst going around their daily business, the turning-on-their-head of various tropes and expectations, and of course, Kitano’s excellent performance as the lead. This has healthy doses of action but like Kitano’s best work, it is the way he draws us into the story with his loveable loser characters which is the heart of the movie, and which keeps the audience returning for more.
For what was seen by some fools as ‘a shock’ Departures became the first film since Twilight Samurai to get an Oscar nomination and gave Japan it’s first official Oscar win for Best Foreign Film. A glorious film, it is a simple drama about one man’s life, a man who takes a job performing funeral rites (dressing and preparing bodies) and the repurcussions he experiences (the job is seen as an ugly, low-caste, relic of the past, similar to being a talent show judge). What is most surprising is the film’s ability to suck you completely into its world and have you smiling, crying, laughing effortlessly. It’s difficult to point out what it is precisely that pulls us in, but you can take your pick from the performances, the wonderful soundtrack from Joe Hisaishi, the unexpected humour, the reflections from the story you will inevitably see in your own life. It is a poignant, old-fashioned drama with enough emotional content to charm even the most heartless viewer.
5. Ju-On: The Grudge
At the height of my Japan obsession, Ju-On: The Grudge was released, and I was hooked. Having grown up on horror fils and felling like I had seen it all, it was a moment of epiphany when I first saw Ringu. The Grudge took J-Horror to the next level, merging all the quiet moments of Ringu and its ilk, with the all-out, played for shocks stylings of Hollywood Horror’s best. The Grudge was not interested in hanging around and building tension for 80 minutes before unleashing its big scare, but instead, it goes for the jugular from the opening minutes, providing scare after scare, thrill after thrill, and still manages to save the best till last. Ostensibly the third in the Ju-On series, this can be taken as the real starting point as it was the first cinema release. Relating its tale in segments, with overlapping time frames and characters, you get the uneasy feeling that no-one is safe, everyone’s fate is inevitable, and worse – that this film is only a tiny part of the overall terror spreading. Shimizu does an immense job with a limited budget, mixing old school scares with some ultra-inventive and original moments, using make-up and effects to perfection, and like Carpenter with Halloween, employing every trick in the book to pack in as many scares as possible. The sound effects are chilling, the performances all have a ghostly coldness to them, and the ending is not Hollywood. Arguably the peak of J-Horror before the genre began to wind down.
4. Visitor Q
It’s not easy to pick your favourite Miike film, because he is like the entire history of cinema rolled up into one chaotic collapse. He has touched on so many genres, he makes a millon movies a year, and he has had so many great films that picking a favourite is as unenviable a task as overhearing a Twilight versus 5o Shades discussion. Visitor Q gets my vote because it was the first Miike film which really pushed all of the boundaries he had previously flung himself at. From violence to incest to sadomasochism to necrophilia, all wrapped up with the blackest of houmour, and under the guise of a family’s return to love and redemption, it is his anti-commercial masterpiece. The documentary quality versus the ridiculous goings-on is interesting and never feels like a gimmick, each performance is first-rate, it doesn’t suffer from the deliberately, often confusing bizarre business that some of Miike’s other work has, but rather seems like a hyper-real depiction of a fucked-up family. It’s incredibly funny, and in the end, ultimately heartwarming, even if it does makes you question why you would watch such a film. That song over the end credits is great too.
There are plenty of memorable moments, such as the- well, I don’t want to spoil anything for the uninititated, but everytime I watch that firework scene my jaw drops – and it’s not even that important a scene in the movie.
3. Ringu 0
The Ring series gets a lot of hate outside of the original (and don’t get me started on the remake), but I think the sequels are terrific films in their own right. Ring 2 ups the number of scares from the original, but gets bogged down in explanation. Ringu 0 mostly gets back to basics, telling the story of Sadako’s origins in a tragic, haunting, horrific way, and it is the prettiest to look at, and most emotive film of the first three films. Norio Tsuruta echoes Nakata’s style, but instead lets us draw more feeling from the characters. We learn, in a Carrie-esque way about Sadako’s upbringing – she is a quiet outsider trying to make her way as an actress but due to jealousy from others and a series of strange events, she is led down her gripping path to her inevitable demise. As a worshipping fan of Ringu this is like a gift from the Gods – not only is it a genuinely brilliant follow-up to that classic, but it works well as a standalone film. There are many standout performances here, particularly from Yukie Nakama, and the scares are effective. Rather than the threatening presence from the previous films, here the evil Sadako is in full-on Terminator mode, and even at times seems gleeful in her victim stalking – this rings (sorry) true as this is the moment where she is first set free.
There are a couple of excellent moments here which truly raise the film into the best of the best ranks – the entire chase through the forest when Sadakogives herself over to her evil twin, the screen saturates, all life and colour draining, and the final, horrific, horrible, twist scene which is at once brilliant, and tear-jerkingly awful.
2. Love Exposure
Love Exposure, for me at least, came blasting out of nowhere – it had been some time since a Japanese movie had truly grabbed me and not let go, but when Sion Sono’s epic popped up it was like my original love of Japanese movies had been uncovered all over again, like a virgin, touched for the very first time, again. Like Miike, you never know what you are going to get with Sono, from a genre and style perspective, but you know that you will be interested and generally in for a good time. This is a tale of love between father and son, son and pants, son and girl, girl and cult, cult and something, director and movies, audience and movies, director and music, and exposes these loves and relationships in no uncertain terms. It’s difficult to put into words how much I love this film, and again it is one which seems to have a magnetic power over anyone who comes within its radius.
There is a glorious soundtrack, a music video quality at times which doesn’t take away from the substance (unlike say, Confessions), the performances are uniformly of the highest quality, especially from Nishijima, it is funny, heart-breaking, hair-pullingly awkward, and not nearly long enough at 4 hours. I need to see the 6 hour version. As you will see from the site’s wallpaper, I like this movie….
1. Battle Royale
Honestly, it couldn’t really be anything else, could it? The best film of the decade, regardless of country, genre, or anything else Battle Royale is also the most important film of the decade. This is a film which all children should watch in school, a film which all film students should study, a film which deserves to be revered in the same breath as any film on those Best Ever lists. If you’re reading this list, I’ll assume you’ve seen it, so there’s no sense in discussing it any further. As perfect as film as any film could be, do all grannies a favour and force their grandchildren to watch. Now.
And once you’ve done with the watching, you can let me know your thoughts in the comments below, as mentioned above.
Actual Nominations: Through A Glass Darkly. Harry And The Butler. Immortal Love. Placido. The Important Man.
Bergman’s allegory is packed with subtext but just isn’t as entertaining or thought provoking as some of his other work- it isn’t one of my favourites but shows a mastery that nothing else could compete with this year. Scandanavia had a good year with Bert Christensen’s Harry And The Butler gaining a nomination, while Spain provided the darker laughs with Placido. Japan was not to be undone with Toshiro Mifune appearing as an Amerindian (obviously) who in a terrific performance strives to be boss of his town in An Important Man. Keisuke Kinoshite’s Immortal Love proved there was more to Japan than Kurosawa and Ozu.
My Winner: Through A Glass Darkly
My Nominations: Yojimbo. Through A Glass Darkly. The End Of Summer. La Notte. Viridiana. The Human Condition. The Long Absence. La Dolce Vita.
Well my winner really has to Yojimbo- Kurosawa, Mifune, Samurai, Dogs eating arms, what more do you want? This classic shows a samurai playing two rival towns off against each other for his own gain/entertainment. It’s not an epic like many of his other films but rather shows the devious side of man’s nature on a small scale. Also noteworthy is Antonioni’s La Notte, a classic about nothing, where a middle aged couple experience loss and flirt with other people over the course of a day. Bunuel’s sexually charged Viridiana was snubbed by The Oscars due to it’s controversial nature but remains one of his most accessible works. The End Of Summer is a fitting near final film by Ozu, a family drama dealing with many variations on life and death, while The Long Absence covers better than most that good old ‘my husband/wife/friend went missing years ago but now they are back with amnesia’ story. Special mention to The Human Condition by Masaki Kobayashi which is more typically known as a trilogy but taken as a whole is one of Asia’s greatest ever films.
My Winner: Yojimbo
Wow, there are so many gigs I don’t remember at all. I’ve had to check wikipedia to even see who these guys are. But now I remember their mix of screaming and shouting. A decent band, I haven’t heard anything beyond their first album, but I honestly don’t remember much of their gig, other than the fact that it was sunny….
Har Mar Superstar:
I do remember this one however, as it was pretty sleaze filled and humourous, and neither the music nor the antics on stage left a lot to the imagination. As crappy as the music was, a good time was had by all.
Aah, one of the most underrated bands out there, they could never seem to catch a break, playing the sort of music which other bands were getting the misguided plaudits for. Their debut, Between The Senses, made my list of favourite albums of 2000-2009, although their lackluster follow-up was a great disappointment. A band with such a talented singer, Gary Briggs, and who made such glorious ballads as seen on their first album deserve to be much bigger. Perhaps if they had tried to crack America they would have succeeded and become much bigger:
(Originally written 2009)
As a lover of all things Japanese, originating from a childhood love of martial arts and monster movies, I am perhaps slightly biased when it comes to reviewing the latest Samurai movie. There have been quite a few good samurai movies in recent years, and tonnes of bad ones but possibly the best was Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi- the latest in a long line of films based on the legend of the blind samurai. With Kitano’s trademark style of soft contemplation followed by sudden quick blasts of violence and his unique and quirky take on the character, it was a big hit. With Ichi, the legend continues, albeit from a different branch on the story tree. Instead of the silent man of legend we have a vibrant young lady (perhaps having more in common with the Crimson Bat series) taking over the walking stick, continuing the recent trend of female-led sword movies- Shinobi, Shadowless Sword, even Kill Bill. Our heroine is no less deadly though and she soon cuts her way through the cast with beautiful precision.
After an exiting introduction we are treated to the stunning scenery, period clothing and sets, and slow pace we would expect from this type of film. Those unfamiliar and expecting an all out action film may be soon disappointed. There is plenty of character building and story to squeeze in around the action, and there is none of the gore of Lady Snowblood, none of the fancy string-work of Hero. If you’re a fan of The Hidden Blade, Twilight Samurai etc you’ll be right at home here. Ayase’s Ichi is torn by horrible past events and she conveys both the sadness and violent eruptions of her character well, without resorting to sentiment or over the top shrieking. Takao Osawa also does well as Toma, the bumbling Samurai Ichi bumps into and travels with. The rest of the cast is fine, either bad guys there to be killed or higher grade bad guys ready to exploit. Ichi wants to find the man who trained her, but reluctantly gets drawn into a Yojimbo style war between two gangs. Can she find the man she is searching for, and will it help her move on from her past?
The film lacks the high budget of some other films and doesn’t quite have the technical quality that such financial backing brings. This is largely irrelevant though as the Director makes admirable use of what he has. It is an interesting take on an age-old story and packs more of an emotional punch than more recent versions.
Official Nominations: Rita Moreno. Judy Garland. Fay Bainter. Lotte Lenya. Una Merkel.
For this year’s category we have a wide variety of characters in a wide range of films. Unsurprisingly, the official winner was Rita Moreno as the feisty and ultimately treacherous Anita. At the opposite end of the scale is Judy Garland as the reluctant Irene, and I reluctantly give her my pick as winner. Fay Bainter stars as a wealthy grandmother in Children’s Hour who doesn’t have much impact on the story and Lotte Lenya and Una Merkel are bizarre choices in movies long since forgotten – The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone and Summer And Smoke.
My nominations: Rita Moreno. Judy Garland. Anita Ekberg.
Unfortunately I cannot do better than the official choices this year, so my nominations are Rita Moreno and Judy Garland, with the Oz creature picking up the win, but I also add Anita Ekberg: If only for jumping around in a fountain in La Dolce Vita, but her performance in the groundbreaking movie was much more.
As always, feel free to leave your comments below!
The last recorded album by The Beatles is filled with a sense of things coming to an end, but also has the feeling that the band still had more to say. Unfortunately the lads would go their separate ways, but thankfully give us a few more decades of new work with new friends. As with any of the last 3 or four Beatles albums it is a mixed bag- glorious highs, infuriating lows, and a mixture of sounds and influences. In many ways it is a back to basics album, low on experimentation but remaining high on invention. The first half is traditional single songs while the second consists of a combined medley of sorts, a few short songs tied together as one piece. Although the band new this would probably be their final album, the signs of a new age are marked by Harrison’s contributions- his songs here are stronger than by the other Beatles and there are more of them than on other albums. There are more ballads and pop songs than the heavier Let It Be, and it isn’t as angry as The White Album. It suffers similarly to Let It Be and The White Album by having a few unnecessary songs. There were better songs written at the time which could have been included instead. Along with Sgt Pepper and Revolver, this has one of the most famous cover pictures ever, looking back now it can be taken as signifying a band in transition, or a band leaving the studio for the final time.
‘Come Together’ opens the album, a bluesy Lennon song with some great lyrics. It has a famous bass riff, some nice guitar work but I find the verse melody too repetitive and prefer the Michael Jackson version. A favourite of many fans it is one I usually skip.
‘Something’ is Harrison’s first song on the album, opening with a fairly famous guitar part. It is Harrison’s most famous work and one of his most praised, by fans, critics, and band mates. A mellow love song with a Pink Floyd feel, it breaks into heavy chorus followed by mellow middle part with strong guitar playing.
‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ is McCartney’s nonsense story of murder, filled with good lyrics and a jaunty Ringo-esque rhythm. It is a catchy song that the rest of the band were not particularly enamoured with and it sounds more like something from Sgt Pepper.
‘Oh Darling’ has a fifties rock’n’roll feel which McCartney screams through. It has a fairly typical blues feel moved along by some strange guitar sounds and heavy single piano notes.
‘Octopus’ Garden’ is one of Ringo’s most loved songs- it has the Ringo rhythm, but has a few nice melodies played over the top along with decent vocals from the drummer. The lyrics are gentle and picturesque, the drowning voices and bubbles adding the cosmic underwater feel.
‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ is a long, deliberately repetitive song by Lennon. Lennon sings with a heavy angst, and the song reeks of desperation, lust, and blues. Unfortunately it is just the same short song repeated over and over with not enough new parts each time. The sudden end is a nice touch, ending the album without warning; it just comes 5 minutes too late.
‘Here Comes the Sun’ is possibly my favourite Harrison songs, and one of the best from the band. It is a perfect pop song like many of their older tracks; it is bright and uplifting with a superb guitar riff, nice synth work, and melodic singing.
‘Because’ is a Lennon ballad similar is style to ‘Something’, and with a similar structure to ‘I Want You’. The haunting vocals and the synth give a strange tone, one of longing, one of leaving which is expanded in the next song.
‘You Never Gave Me Your Money’ sounds just like ‘Perfect Day’ at the start before breaking down into a more rocking song. There is a good guitar solo chucked in before the song changes in tone and style again to more riff laden one. It is probably the most experimental song on the album, a medley in itself, and the first song in the overall medley of the second half.
‘Sun King’ begins in a mellow, twilight style with a riff floating between both ears. This is Lennon’s trippy twin of ‘Here Comes The Sun’ with gentle, drowsy melodies accompanied by organ. The lyrics break into faux Spanish for the last part and Ringo’s drum fill serves as an outro, and as an intro to the next song.
‘Mean Mr. Mustard’ is a quick, jaunty song by Lennon about a miser, mostly filler and linked to the following song.
‘Polythene Pam’ is based on one of the group’s early fans who happened to enjoy eating polythene. It is quick, short, with funny lyrics and sung in a heavy Scouse accent.
‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’ begins seamlessly as the ending of the previous song rather like a lot of the prog albums that were around at the time. The song is slower, McCartney plays lead guitar while Harrison is on bass, and it is based on a time when some of their fans broke into McCartney’s house and stole some stuff. After this there is a soft pause before next part of the medley continues.
‘Gold Slumbers’ begins with soft piano and a growing string section before the bass and drums begin. The verse is in lullaby form, while McCartney growls the chorus vocals as the music surges. It is one of the best constructed songs on the album and one of their forgotten greats.
‘Carry That Weight’ again is a seamless continuation from the previous song, but mixes “You Never Gave Me Your Money’ in a perfectly fitting way.
‘The End’ feels like a rocking conclusion to the album, all chanting and heavy guitars, before a cosmic breakdown begins. This was originally meant to be the final song but due to the attitude of a few engineers, the next song was tacked on.
‘Her Majesty’ does feel tacked on and completely out-of-place. It is a filler which either should have been sandwiched into the middle of the album of left off completely. It spoils the ending of the album, but if looked at as The Beatles joking around it almost suggests that the fun isn’t quite over.
The Beatles would go out on a high, but not at their height. Abbey Road may be surrounded by sadness, but there is also celebration; celebration of what they had created here and what they had already left behind, as well as the belief that each would go on to solo glory. The story was over but the legacy remains for every new listener. This record has a few classics, not as many as on their best albums but is essential nevertheless. In only a few short years the band had become the most important thing to ever happen to music.
Actual Nominations: Nuremberg and The Hustler strike again with Montgomery Clift getting a nod for the former and Jackie Gleason and George C Scott for the latter. Peter Falk gets his second nomination in 2 years for Pocketful Of Miracles, whilst George Chakiris picked up the win for West Side Story and hasn’t done a tap since. My pick goes to Jackie as he never got any other nominations.
My Winner: Jackie Gleason
My Nominations: Jackie Gleason. Anthony Quinn. David Niven. Montgomery Clift. Russ Tamblyn.
I’ve added a couple of stalwarts from The Guns Of Navarone to my list – there isn’t much to pick between the rugged Quinn and the explosive (‘s expert) Niven. Throw in Russ Tamblyn as the leader of The Jets, and we have a good mix of stars.
My Winner: Jackie Gleason.
As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments, and your picks in the poll