Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
ListsAn error has ocurred. Please try again
The list is supposed to be ordered alphabetically, but because imdb constantly switches titles from their original Japanese into English, it frequently gets out of order.
All films on this list should be available in some format in the United States with English subtitles.
If you'd like to browse by genre, decade, or other criteria, please use the 'refine list' feature.
If you'd like to comment for any reason, please do!
Echizen take-ningyô (1963)
A forgotten masterpiece
A geisha marries a meek maker of bamboo dolls, but he won't have sex with her. Lonely and desperate, she sleeps with a former client and becomes pregnant. This haunting film is filled with repressed emotions and guilt in the best Japanese sense. Ayako Wakao carries the film and is supported by equally good performances from the great Ko Nishimura and Junichiro Yamashita. Director Yoshimura also made the sublime THE BALL AT THE ANJO HOUSE just after the war. Based on a novel by Tsutomu Minakami, who also wrote 'The Temple of Wild Geese.' This is an obscure, forgotten masterpiece. It's possible Yoshishige Yoshida and Akio Jissoji learned a lot from the style.
Watashi wa kai ni naritai (1959)
A forgotten Japanese classic.
It's probably a tough subject for Americans to deal with: the Japanese war criminals of WWII. But it is a fact that the higher-ups got off easy while those of lower rank got the shaft. Such is the case of Toyomatsu Shimizu, a small-town barber who is drafted toward the end of the war and ordered by his superiors to kill a US POW with his bayonet. It turns out the POW is already dead, but Shimizu is sentenced to death anyway. We then follow his desperate attempts to get his sentence commuted. Furanki (Frankie) Sakai is an interesting choice for the lead role; I've only seen him in comic roles in other films. He does a superb job here. The director, Hashimoto, was primarily a writer. He co-wrote most of Kurosawa's films. His only other directorial effort was 'Lake of Illusions' in 1982. What this film may lack in style it makes up for in narrative and emotional power. It is absolutely heartbreaking. This is truly a forgotten Japanese classic. 10/10.
Aijo no keifu (1957)
Yoshiko Kuga has an interesting role here -- an unmarried young woman, part tomboy, mostly rebel, and mentally... strange. I could not always understand the motives behind her actions. The plot is straight melodrama -- she takes up with a married man (the great Masayuki Mori) whose wife is also having an affair. And it is all presented in the most Western way. Orchestras swell, characters actually embrace and kiss (oh my), women are independent (although still destined for ruin), houses are Western-style, and characters even speak French and English phrases. Gosho ('Where Chimneys Are Seen') was a good director, but if I wanted a Hollywood melodrama, I would watch a Hollywood melodrama. I watch Japanese films for that undefinable Japaneseness. I don't watch them to see an imitation of what I'm trying to get away from. 6/10.
Umi to dokuyaku (1986)
A stunning adaptation of a brilliant novel.
This film involves the vivisection of American prisoners by the Japanese during WWII for the purpose of medical research. It is based on a brief and chilling novel by Shusaku Endo, and it is one of the best book-to-film adaptations I have ever seen. The story is told in flashbacks as various doctors and nurses involved are interrogated by the Americans. This structure differs from Endo's novel, but it works well. Each character reacts to what they've done differently. The stark black-and-white imagery and decaying, industrial look of the hospital brings to mind 'Eraserhead,' oddly enough. Kumai was able to bring the novel to life precisely as I had imagined it while reading it -- so well, in fact, it is uncanny. I felt as though I'd seen the film before, but realised I had only 'seen' the images in my head while reading the book. Although relentlessly bleak, this is an absolute masterpiece of a film, doing justice to a brilliant novel. 10/10.
Ichimai no hagaki (2010)
A kinder, gentler Shindo.
In a career that spanned about 70 years, Kaneto Shindo directed 45 films and wrote 171. That is, 171 of his scripts were turned into films. 171.
This was the last movie he made, a year before he died at age 100. He wrote it, of course. He was 99 years old when he directed this film. He was 99 years old when he directed this film. He was 99 years old when he directed this film. He was 99 years old when he directed this film. He was 99 years old when he directed this film. He was 99 years old when he directed this film.
It tells the story of two bunkmates during WWII. One is being shipped off to the front in Manila and has just received a postcard from his wife. He tells his mate, Matsuyama, that he will not survive, and to return the postcard to his wife, letting her know he received it. Any response he would make would be heavily censored. Out of sheer luck, Matsuyama never seen battle, survives the war, and heads off to return the postcard to his mate's widow. Despite a multitude of tragedies and some serious displays of emotion, this is a lighter, kinder Shindo, one I'm not used to. I'm reminded of Kurosawa's final films, 'Madadayo' and 'Rhapsody in August.' The films have a straightforwardness in style and narrative and pace in common. That's not to say that this is a boring, frivolous film. Not at all -- it is entirely engaging and emotionally involving. 8/10.
Shindo goes avant-garde.
Shunkin is a blind master of the shamisen and koto. She torments and tortures her students, including her ever-faithful apprentice/servant/lover, Sasuke. When one of her enemies pours boiling water on her face, scarring her for life, Sasuke takes great measures to ensure he never sees her face again. The story is told by their former maid, in a nursing home, to a researcher, played by the director himself, uncredited. It is one of Shindo's most elegant and avant-garde films -- his works tend to be more grounded and focus on poor people in miserable situations. For various reasons I won't get into here, this is not a film for the uninitiated. This one is for Japanese enthusiasts only. 9/10.
Shindo takes on the classic Natsume Sōseki novel and makes a very different film than Kon Ichikawa did in 1955. He sets the story in modern times (1973) and entirely eschews the post-trauma 'Sensei'-student relationship in favor of telling the tale that led to the destruction of Sensei's soul. Even then, he takes great liberties with the material, offering up potent visual metaphors to depict the novel's themes of struggle, self-control, betrayal, and the distance between all of us. The result is, surprisingly, more profound than Ichikawa's faithful adaptation, and another heartbreaking, deeply thoughtful triumph in the oeuvre of this unsung master of cinema.
Possibly the best I've seen from Shindo
Everyone knows Kaneto Shindo from his horror classics 'Kuroneko' and 'Onibaba' and although they're both undoubtedly great films, I've been more impressed by his lesser-known works, like 'Wolf' and 'Human' and now, 'A Scoundrel,' which could be the greatest of the lot. Set in the war-torn 14th century, the film concerns the governor of a province whose chamberlain (the phenomenal Nobuko Otowa, Shindo's wife) tells him of a woman she knew in the Royal court whose beauty could tear a nation apart. The foreshadowing is not so subtle. 'A Scoundrel' was co-written by Shindo and Japan's beloved Junichiro Tanizaki (an author who has not impressed me much, although I've only read very little), and is at once humorous, suspenseful, gruesome, and absolutely fascinating.