1. Battle Royale
For those who get queasy at the thought of blood, be warned: Battle Royale is not for the faint of heart. It gets dark fast and is not afraid to delve into uncomfortable subjects. I loved the realness of that world; I was convinced that these teenagers were young and stupid, full of braggadocio as they fought their frazzled way towards survival. Battle Royale gets a bad rep for its detailed use of graphic violence and sex but it is the unrestrained depiction of those two things that allow us to see into the psyche of all of the characters. School is a lovely thing, isn’t it?
2. Little DJ: Chiisana Koi no Monogatari
If you want to cry, watch this. If you felt cheated from the Bridge to Terabithia movie, make it up by watching this. To me, this movie was magical. The world of a hospital is surrounded by loneliness, loss and healing. We often focus on the first two and assume that the third is inevitable. DJ flits between the three themes so effortlessly, focusing on a young boy with a terminal illness. He channels his energy into creating a short radio show for the hospital, his warm and thoughtful words soothing. Life is full. Of tears, of loneliness and laughter.
3. If you feel like you’re in need of a twisted rom-com action (yes, you heard me), watch Love Exposure featuring Takahiro Nishijima. It’s long but quite a strange ride. Can true love conquer a cult? The editing of the story is definitely unique. It reminds me of Kudo Kankuro’s multiple-threads-connecting way of storytelling but not as zippy.
4. Want a depressing story so dark that it rips your heart out and grinds it up? Nobody Knows/Daremo Shiranai is such a quiet and powerful story about child neglect that you can’t even cry because it already ripped out your heart. The story follows Akira and his young siblings as they simply try to survive after being abandoned.
5. In need of something light? The Handsome Suit explores the life of a man so perfect in nature but completely bereft of good looks. One day, he meets a man that gives him a handsome suit, allowing for a temporary, full body makeover. Can he find true love?
6. Love thrillers? Not horror, but full of quite horrific content, Confessions/Kokuhaku is a visual and narrative masterpiece. It’s the unravelling of a murder and the compelling psychological revenge that follows. Children can also be murderers but they cannot be punished by the law. What’s a grieving mother to do? Why, everything, of course.
7. Departures/Okuribitois the story of a musician who ends up becoming the guy who pretties up dead bodies for funerals. This job is generally held by a person with Burakumin ancestry and are the lepers of society because of their dirty professions. It’s a cute film, able to make me laugh, but it’s flexible and moving too. It explores death and forgiveness, taboo and acceptance with the ease of a master storyteller.
8. Welcome to the Quiet Room is basically a time with the crazies. Many people with different mental issues converge within a psych ward, their personas dripping with quirky antics.
9. Yaji and Kita: the Midnight Pilgrims is great if you just want to go wtf. Kudos to Kudo Kankuro for going there and beyond. It’s a silly movie full of crack, following a gay couple on a road trip. They end up eating special mushrooms and then…? I enjoy Kudo Kankuro period, and this is him without restraint. Both terrifying and unbelievable. It gets a little too crazy for me, but in the end, I was entertained.
10. Onmyoji I and II goes back to the Heian period. Awkward love story? Check. Bromance? Check. Magic and ghosts and smirky smirkers? Hell. Yes.
11. Seven Samurai is the original underdog story. Long but truly a classic. A small village hires a patchwork selection of samurai to protect themselves against their rice and village being robbed.