The 20 Best Japanese Movies of The 21st Century
Rashomon, Akira, Tokyo Story, Ikiru, Ugetsu, Late Spring, Seven Samurai, Harakiri, Twenty-Four Eyes and Yojimbo. The list can go on and on forever, but today we will be focusing on the modern Japanese films that derive from the year 2000 and onwards. This list is not disregarding other movies, but giving breathing room for movies that we had never bumped into before.
Now let’s dive into the list. Behold, cinephiles, filmgoers and filmmakers! Please note that all animated features are excluded from this list as we will make a separate list for Japanese anime fans.
20. Beyond Outrage (2012) by Takeshi Kitano
Beyond Outrage plays exactly like an additional two hours of Takeshi Kitano’s 2010 film Outrage. When the Yakuza family grows larger from the control of the corporate ventures, a tension splits the new and traditional Yakuza values. Katoako is a self-satisfied manipulator and a corrupt police officer who uses this opportunity to bring down the whole organization by releasing Kitano from prison so he can kill off everyone that betrays him.
The world Kitano paints here is brutal. When codes of honor are challenged by a new set of rules, both Yakuza groups and the forces of authority get involved. If you have watched Outrage then you will like Beyond Outrage.
19. Still the Water (2014) by Naomi Kawase
One of the most visually stunning films on this list is Still the Water, a tale of two youths growing up and falling in love on a tiny island off the mainland of Japan.
The movie follows Kaito, a boy who lives with his mom. Meanwhile, the girl, Kyoko, lives with her dad and mom, the latter of which is fighting a serious illness. On this tropical island, almost all the families have lived here for generations. Kaito, also known as “Tokyo Boy”, discovers a floating body in the sea, which triggers his fear to run home. Meanwhile, Kyoko is coming to terms with her mother’s fate.
Naomi Kawase paints this film in metaphorical imagery, about two youths who struggle and fall in love while going through sophisticated life events. Kawase somehow manages to ask his audience, “Is there a way one can live and die in a good manner?” His answer through this metaphorical film is yes.
18. Strawberry Shortcakes (2006) by Hitoshi Yazaki
Strawberry Shortcakes is a movie based off a manga series. It portrays a story of two women, Akiyo and Satoko. Akiyo works as an escort and Satoko as a receptionist at Akiyo’s escort agency. We then have Toko, who is angry when she finds out her ex is going to be married to another woman, and Chihiro is suffering solitude even when she is around people.
Akiyo, Satoko, Toko and Chihiro strive to find happiness within their lives while attempting to deal with their insecurities in this midst of a hectic city. Akiyo attempts to commit suicide because the man she loves isn’t interested in her, and Satoko is bothered by her creepy boss.
As the film gets deeper, we see both pairs of women became close friends, both Akiyo and Satoko and Toko and Chihiro, and their desires of getting married or finding love become less important. This film shows how isolation can be a big issue among city people, and important relationships can be tough and confusing.
17. R100 (2013) by Hitoshi Matsumoto
Japan’s cult director comes out with something strange and quirky about a man obsessed with bondage who gets more than what he bargained for. Takafumi Katayama spends his life at a meaningless office job while at night he takes cares of his young son.
The basic premise of this movie is it follows a man who signs a contract with an S&M company called Bondage. The contract specifically states that their dominatrixes will make appearances at any moment at any given time to beat him at the places he is spotted. Somehow it gives him elation to be getting beaten. The reason behind this is to take his troubled mind off of his obstacles.
This film is dark and gets deeper when it starts involving his young son in his insane contract. Director Hitoshi Matsumoto unleashes imaginative plot twists, absurd and wildly over-the-top events, and intense sexual comedy into one of the strangest movies ever to be made.
16. Linda Linda Linda (2005) by Nobuhiro Yamashita
Three days before their high school festival, Kei, Kyoko and Nozumi are forced to recruit a new lead vocalist for their band. In desperation, they choose a Korean exchange student name Son, though her understanding and knowledge of Japanese music is a bit rocky.
This film is a race against time as the group struggles to make it through. All the girls give themselves the goal to play the Japanese pop song “Linda, Linda, Linda.” The style of this film is very calm and casual, which also makes it realistic.
15. The Great Passage (2013) by Yuya Ishii
This film revolves around Mitsuya Majime, who is socially clumsy and lives a solitary life. He becomes a chief editor due to his concentration on his work and struggles to be a salesman even though he has a graduate degree in linguistics. This tells the audience that sometimes life can be unjust. The arrival of the landlord’s granddaughter, Kaguya Hayashi, made Mitsuya’s world stop and focus on her and her obsession with cooking.
The unorthodox Mitsuya eventually figures out that he has found a new bond with his co-workers and also gets to know more about his crush, Kaguya. Eventually he succeeds by helping compile the most successful and acclaimed dictionary and wins the woman he loves.
Yuya Ishii takes us on a journey to pay homage to an old fashioned type of book, the dictionary. He also points out that a slow-paced romantic commitment would be a great step for a couple and invokes us to remember that sometimes we need to be aware of our selves and of our surroundings.