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July 10, 2015

A History of Japanese Film by Year: Revival (1995-1999)

The first half of the 1990s was still very much like the stagnant eighties, but the second half is harvest time. See my previous post for a general impression of the whole decade. 

In the last years of the millennium the revival of Japanese cinema through indies and anime finally becomes pronounced. 1997 even has been called an "annus mirabilis" (Mark Schilling). It is also at the end of the decade that Japanese cinema starts regularly appearing at film festivals abroad. Prestigious prizes are won by for example Imamura Shohei (his second Golden Palm) and Kitano Takeshi, but also films by Kawase (Suzaku) and Koreeda (Maborishi) create quite a splash. Shall We Dance, although a lesser film, becomes a great box office success in the United States. Miike Takashi's Audition shocks worldwide audiences. Excellent anime films which conquer world screens are Princess Mononoke and Ghost in the Shell. These years also see the start of the J-Horror craze with the worldwide success of The Ring. Japanese cinema has finally overcome the chaos created by the demise of the studios (as producers) and an alternate system is now firmly in place. 

In the indies of this period, we see a group of works that share feelings of profound loss, alienation and hopelessness, caused by the disappearance of a beloved person, suicide or murder. There is a general feeling of lack of certainty, something not only brought about by the economic malaise, but also by the Kobe Earthquake and Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attacks which both happened in the first months of 1995 (although the films do not directly address these two causes). Examples are Kitano's Hanabi, Koreeda's Maboroshi, Kawase's Suzaku, Imamura's The Eel, Shinozaki's Okaeri, Higashi's Village of Dreams and Ichikawa Jun's Tokyo Lullaby. The millennium ends on a sad note in Japanese cinema.

This year, there are 1,776 screens; 289 films are produced (among a total shown of 610) and attendance stands at 127,040,000.

Gogo no yuigonjo ("A Last Note") by Shindo Kaneto is about an elderly actress (Sugimura Haruko, well-known from Ozu's films) who spends a vacation at her summer villa in the mountains. There are several surprises: her housekeeper confesses that her daughter was fathered by the (now deceased) husband of the actress; and a equally elderly couple, who are old friends of the actress, comes to visit in what later proves to be a farewell gesture - the wife is suffering from dementia and they will later commit suicide together. A quiet and sensitive film by the 83-year old director, which also contains the last role of his wife, Otowa Nobuko, as the housekeeper of the actress. Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year and Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year. (Kindai Eiga Kyokai)

Tokyo Fist by Tsukamoto Shinya is another kind of "body horror" (compared to the same director's previous Tetsuo), about being beaten to pulp in boxing. Tsukamoto himself plays the main role of a nerdy salaryman. When a former classmate who is now a boxer (played by the director's brother, Tsukamoto Koji) "steals" his girlfriend (Fujii Kaori), the flabby salaryman starts training in earnest as a boxer and transforms himself into a mean fighting machine. The girlfriend, by the way, doesn't allow herself to be stolen, but discovers her own world of tattooing and body piercing while the two men slug it out as a form of sexual sublimation. In the end, all three reach liberation through pain. You have never seen such bruised and bloodied faces. A mad sadomasochistic film. Tsukamoto's overarching theme is the rediscovery of instincts that have been forgotten in modern city life, but those instincts then lead to chaos. (Kaijyu Theater)

Another violent film is Gonin ("The Five") by Ishii Tadashi, about a gang of five losers (who have nothing to loose anymore), victims of the economic downturn, who take on the yakuza by stealing a gang's money. At the same time a grim account of the rapid moral, social and economic decline of Japan in the nineties. A very intense and pessimistic film that explores the borderland of sanity, going over the top with ultra-violence and nightmarish images. The following year Ishii would follow this up with Gonin 2 about a similar gang of five women, but that one was devoid of deeper meaning. (Bunkasha / Image Factory IM Co. Ltd.)

Kamikaze Taxi by Harada Masato is about a young yakuza seeking revenge for the killing of his prostitute girlfriend by a perverted ultra-right politician in liege with his yakuza boss. In his revenge mission he gets unexpected help from a taxi driver (Yakusho Koji) whose parents emigrated to Peru and who has come back to work in Japan. The taxi driver in fact becomes his closest friend and guardian. Combination of road movie, gangster movie and social criticism - especially of the racism experienced by the Peruvian taxi driver who speaks "funny Japanese." (Pony Canyon)

Love Letter by Iwai Shunji has been called "Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique without the Catholicism." Two women (both played by Nakayama Miho) who have never met each other, have been in love with the same man, who is now dead. Through their correspondence they learn to come to terms with their loss. A trendy, romantic film, which was a hit with a hip, young and female audience. (Fuji TV)

Kokaku Kidotai ("Ghost in the Shell") is an SF anime by Oshii Mamoru, about a cyborg-cop heroine who chases after a "brain hacker" called the Puppet Master, before joining forces with him ("he" is in fact a sort of computer virus). The story is rather labyrinthine, but the film is eventually less concerned with plot than with philosophical questions about the blurring of the boundaries between humankind and its digital servants. The heroine is called a "ghost in a shell" because as a human robot she has been manufactured by the government and therefore does not own her body, which is just a shell for her consciousness, the only part that belongs to herself. Set in a fantasy, futuristic Hong Kong (but with still the old Kai Tak airport in Kowloon!). A sequel called Ghost in the Shell: Innocence will come out in 2004. (Bandai Visual Company / Kodansha / Production I.G.)

Nikkatsu starts production again.

The number of admissions this year is the lowest ever since the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan started counting in 1955: only 119,575,000.

Moe no suzaku ("Suzaku") by Kawase Naomi follows over 30 years the disintegration of a rural family living in the mountains of southern Nara Prefecture in documentary-like fashion. Mostly amateur cast. Local communities increasingly consist of only the elderly and are cut off from the world by the disappearance of public transport and other amenities, so people have no choice but to leave. The family consists of a grandmother, her son, his much younger second wife, his son by his previous wife, and a daughter by his present wife. The father is morose and on a certain day, just disappears into the mountains. His wife and her stepson are attracted to each other, but also the daughter has tender feelings for her half-brother. In the end, the mother and daughter return to her family, while the son and his grandmother plan to work at an inn, where they can get board and lodging. Shows the simplicity of life in such a cut off community, which Japan's wealth and modernization seem to have passed by. A beautiful, quiet film, with long shots like Ozu (but also improvisation which Ozu never allowed), that keeps the emotions seething under the surface solidly under cover. Wins the Golden Camera at Cannes for New Director. (Bandai Visual / WOWOW)

Maboroshi no hikari ("Maboroshi," lit. "Phantom Lights") by Koreeda Hirokazu is the story of a young woman (Esumi Makiko) who looses her husband through an unexplained suicide. Even after she remarries with a widower (like her, with one small child) five years later and moves to the Noto Peninsula and its majestic seascapes, she keeps being plagued by grief and even guilt. She is also afraid the same thing may happen again, as if her presence brings on death. When she shouts out her non-understanding, her present husband answers that it might be the phantom lights one sometimes sees hovering above the sea that have lured her previous husband away. In other words, it is something beyond human understanding and it makes no sense to keep thinking about it. Filmed in the typical nineties New Wave style with very long and static shots, with a distant camera. Based on a novel by Miyamoto Teru. A perfect first feature film. Wins the Golden Osella for Best Director at the Venice Film festival. (TV Man Union)

Okaeri by Shinozaki Makoto is about a young couple brought to sanity through the wife's mental illness (marvelously played by Ueshima Miho). A high school teacher only gradually notices the changes in his wife's personality. Also a critique of Japanese society where the man is busy outside, coming home late, and the wife is expected to be all day at home (in the film she has typically given up her own career to marry, and only does some part time translation work at home). "Okaeri" is the traditional greeting to welcome someone home, in the situation sketched above said by the wife to the husband. An earnest and touching film, shot in static takes. (Comteg)

E no naka no boku no mura ("Village of Dreams") by Higashi Yoichi is a magical evocation of rural life in Japan. Depicts the childhood of two nine-year olds in an idyllic but also haunted landscape in the years just after WWII - a landscape that now has disappeared. Berlin Silver Bear. (Siglo)

Shall We dance? by Suo Masayuki is a feel-good, light comedy about a (married) salaryman (Yakusho Koji) who tries to find a purpose outside his housing loan and office drudgery through social dancing. It helps that he is in love with his dancing teacher (Kusakari Tamiyo). Takenaka Naoto plays his equally dance-crazed colleague who is obsessed with Latin dancing and even wears a wig. This overrated, too slick comedy could also have been made in Hollywood; it not for nothing became the largest grossing Japanese film ever in the U.S. Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year and Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year (prizes which in my view should have gone to Maboroshi or Suzaku). (Altamira Pictures Inc. / Daiei Studios / Nippon Television Network)

Kids Return by Kitano Takeshi is a nostalgic look at Kitano's own youth and an ironic account about the different paths in life taken by two juvenile delinquents, school bullies who waste their youth: one becomes an up-and-coming boxer, the other a low-level gangster. They both fail in their endeavors because of self-destructive character flaws. Another student, a quiet boy who always sits in a coffee restaurant to attract the attention of the waitress, equally fails in the salaryman job he gets, and after that also flukes his work as taxi driver. At the same time, two fellow students become stand-up manzai comedians - like Kitano himself - and they gradually do well. A film with conscious repetitions and circular motions, as if to emphasize that there is no escape from the past or one's own character. The camera always remains detached. (Bandai Visual Company / Office Kitano / Ohta Publishing)

Nemuru otoko ("Sleeping Man") by Oguri Kohei. After an accident in the mountains, a comatose man sleeps through the film and illuminates the experiences and emotions of those who look on. Set in a small onsen village in Gunma prefecture. A very poetic film about the passing of time, the cycle of life and the role of tradition in rural communities. Sponsored by the prefecture where Oguri was born, the shots of "traditional Japan" have sometimes been too much beautified. (Gunma Prefecture)

Gokudo Sengokushi Fudo ("Fudoh: The New Generation") by Miike Takashi is a mad fest of macabre humor, and a demented, mayhem parody of the yakuza genre. For more details, see my post about Yakuza Films (Excellent Film / GAGA)

Princess Mononoke breaks the box office record with theatrical earnings of 19.30 billion yen.

Shall We Dance becomes a hit in the U.S.

Unagi ("The Eel") by Imamura Shohei. About a man (Yakusho Koji) who murders his faithless wife, and when he comes out of prison takes up with a young woman (Shimizu Misa) who has dark secrets of her own. Their connection will prove to be a healing experience for them both. The title is based on the fact that the man has a pet eel to which he imparts his thoughts. A surrealistic comedy. Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year. Palme d'Or Cannes, Venice Golden Lion. (Eisei Gekijo / Groove Corporation / Imamura Productions)

Kyua ("The Cure") by Kurosawa Kiyoshi is a haunting police thriller about murder and mind control, and an odd hybrid of philosophy and horror. Could only have been made after the mind control mass murders of Aum Shinrikyo. A streak of seemingly serial murders (where a large X is carved in the body of the victims) is not what it seems, for as the investigating detective (Yakusho Koji) discovers, the murderers are unrelated. However, they all have met a mysterious young guy who asks people "who they are" and by hypnosis brings out their hidden murderous desires. In this very bleak account, nobody is spared from the virus, and even the detective (plagued by the mental illness of his wife, as in Shinoda's Okaeri) falls victim to it. (Daiei)

Bounce Ko Gals by Harada Masato is a film about enjo kosai or "compensated dating" (a euphemism for teenage prostitution), a big item in the mid-1990s, with the whole country worried over the moral of its youth (of course it was also played up by foreign media and the internet, where the more extreme aspects of Japanese society are usually misleadingly magnified). Enjo kosai was not motivated by poverty, but by the desire for luxury goods or just "belonging" by doing the same thing as one's friends - and it was made possible by the elderly men who paid big cash. In this brisk and witty film, with three charming heroines (and Yakusho Koji as a yakuza boss angry with the "amateurs" for impinging on his prerogative of managing the sex industry in his "territory"), Harada heavily criticizes the sexual attitudes and economic realities of a male-oriented society which fostered this trend, refusing to pass moral judgement on his female subjects. (Horipro / Panasonic Digital Contents / Shochiku)

Kuroi shitagi no onna: Raigyo ("Raigyo") by Zeze Takahisa. Zeze came from pink film production and this film somehow still straddles the fence with that genre. Based on a real crime: the murder of a man by a woman he met through a telephone dating service. Shocking because of the explosion of violence, when the woman in the "love hotel" room suddenly starts hacking her customer to pieces. Concentrates on the psychology of the woman who always dresses in black. Set in a very bleak landscape, where violence seems the only way out. Zeze Takahisa was the most prominent among four directors who came up in the early nineties in post-Roman Porno pink cinema, and who tried to transcend the exploitation format through experimentation and social criticism. (Kokuei / Shintoho)

Tokyo Yakyoku ("Tokyo Lullaby") by Ichikawa Jun is an account of the emotional dislocation caused by a failed love affair. Also shows the detrimental effect of these passions on family life. With Momoi Kaori, who won Best Actress from Kinema Junpo. Like the other Tokyo films by Ichikawa Jun (The Tokyo Siblings, 1994, and Tokyo Marigold, 2001), an elegant homage to both Ozu and the city in which Ichikawa grew up. (Kindai Eiga Kyokai / Shochiku)

Gokudo kuroshakai ("Rainy Dog") by Miike Takashi chronicles the last days of a Japanese gangster (Aikawa Sho) stranded in Taiwan. He must take work as a hired killer from a local crime boss as his money has run out; on top of that, suddenly a woman he knew in the past presents a son to him. When he goes on his rounds of killings, the boy just follows in his footsteps. One of Miike's most subtle films, with rounded characters. Filmed during endless cloud bursts in the Taiwan rainy season. Part 2 of the director's "Black Society Trilogy," three (unrelated) films focusing on Sino-Japanese relations. Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) was about the pursuit of a Chinese gangster by a mixed-race cop, and Ley Lines (1999) about a group of young Chinese sucked into crime after they move to Tokyo. (Daiei / Excellent Film)

Onibi ("Onibi: The Fire Within") by Mochizuki Rokuro is the tale of an aging yakuza trying to go straight, an effort undermined by the revenge the woman he loves wants to take on the man who has exploited her. Mochizuki had learned the trade in pornography and straight-to-video before in the nineties making a number of tragic but realistic yakuza movies with intelligently depicted and believable characters. Won Best Director from Kinema Junpo in 1998. (GAGA)

Mononoke-hime ("Princess Mononoke") by Miyazaki Hayao is an ecological fantasy set in medieval Japan. A young warrior is stricken with a deadly curse when protecting his village from a rampaging boar-god. He travels to find a cure and gets embroiled in the war between Tatara, a mining colony led by the ambitious Lady Eboshi, and the forest gods, who want to save their forest from human depredation. On the side of the forest gods also fights a young woman called Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god. Lady Eboshi uses guns against her enemies (firearms were introduced to Japan in the 13th century, but generally found little use). Miyazaki draws no simplistic line between good and evil, showing the complexity of making choices in real life: Lady Eboshi destroys the forest, but she also gives many people a better future; she has bought up contracts of prostitutes to set them free, and she employs lepers (a class of people discriminated against until late in the 20th c.) as the builders of her guns. Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year. (Studio Ghibli / Dentsu / Nibariki / NTV)

The Ring sets off the J-Horror boom.

The box office hit of the year is Bayside Shakedown: The Movie, a police procedural drama based on a popular TV series, made by TV Fuji and Toho. Shows the tendency of mainstream Japanese cinema to safely repeat proven successes. However, inflated television does not make great cinema.

Hana-Bi ("Fireworks") by Kitano Takeshi. A cop feels dreadful for having let down a buddy (who after being shot is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, which makes him suicidal) and also for neglecting his wife who is slowly dying of leukemia. Spiraling into depression, he leaves the police force and makes an ominous choice: he robs a bank and with the money starts touring around Japan with his sick wife. But there is no way out, and the ending is tragic. The road movie part of the film becomes a sort of michiyuki followed by the couple to their suicide. The colleague who ends up in a wheelchair is condemned to life, but finds some relief in painting (the colorful paintings used here were made by Kitano himself after suffering a scooter accident in 1994). Arguably Kitano's best film, his most consciously artistic work, and a sort of summing up of the films that went before. Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year. Golden Lion at the Venice Film festival. (Office Kitano / Bandai Visual / TV Tokyo)

Wandafuru raifu ("After Life") by Koreeda Hirokazu shines a new light on matters of life and death. A film about the Other Side, but free from New Age ideas. The newly dead arrive in a sort of Limbo, where guides help them to pick a cherished memory they want to take with them into eternity (in Japanese, the film is titled "Wonderful Life"). They have three days to do this; at the end, a video of the selected memory is made. Koreeda uses documentary methods, working partly with amateurs whom he actually interviewed about their most cherished memory. He did the same with the professional actors playing in the film. An impressive, life-affirming film. (Engine Film / Sputnik Productions / TV Man Union)

Chugoku no Chojin ("Bird People in China") by Miike Takashi. A salaryman and a yakuza are both sent to a remote Chinese village to evaluate precious jade found there. When in the remote, paradisial area, they are sidetracked from their job by a mysterious rumor about people who are able to fly like birds, something which they start investigating... An interesting idea, but the execution remains rather thin. (Excellent Film / Sedic)

Kanzo sensei ("Doctor Akagi") by Imamura Shohei is set in WWII and tells the story of a country doctor (Emoto Akira) whose blanket diagnosis is always hepatitis, an illness he wages a one-man crusade against, earning him the nickname "Dr. Liver." His fervid campaign brings him the disfavor of the army, in the days that the war has turned against Japan. A former prostitute (Aso Kumiko) hooks up with him, but he is too busy to pay much attention to her. They happen to be out in a boat in the Inland Sea when the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. Dr Liver observes that the mushroom cloud looks exactly like "a hypertrophied liver." Based on a novel by Sakaguchi Ango. An interesting film of this great director that unfortunately has fallen a bit between the cracks. (Catherine Dussart Productions (CDP) / Comme des Cinémas / Imamura Productions)

Bullet Ballet by Tsukamoto Shinya is about an advertising executive (played by the director) who one day comes home to find that his longtime girlfriend has committed suicide with a gun. His life shattered by this death, the executive then develops in interest in guns. He finally joins a group of thugs who aimlessly wander around Tokyo beating up salarymen. Shot with a handheld camera in black and white. Continues the theme from Tokyo Fist. (Kaijyu Theater)

Ringu ("The Ring") by Nakata Hideo is the start of the J-Horror boom. A video tape with mysterious images on it kills those who watch it within seven days. When a TV journalist (Matsushima Nanako) investigates this (in a race against time because she has also watched the video!) together with her ex-husband (Sanada Hiroyuki), she discovers that the legend of Sadako, a child psychic who was killed by throwing her down a well, lies behind the video. The top grossing horror film ever at the domestic box office. Who can forget those final images when Sadako, her long black hair hanging before her white face like a curtain, glides out of the TV set? Set off the J-Horror boom, a torrent of terrors that included the Tomie films, The Grudge, and of course Ring sequels (and even a Hollywood remake, not to mention the Korean spin-off). (Omega Project / Imagica / Asmik Ace Entertainment) (See my post about Japanese Horror Movies)

Perfect Blue by Kon Satoshi is another psycho-horror film, but this time in anime format. A teen idol is suffocated by her own idol image and descends into insanity. A complex film with labyrinthine flashbacks and some strong adult content. A great debut by Kon Satoshi, who used to be a manga artist, and a new direction in anime. (Madhouse / Rex Entertainment)

A, haru ("Wait and See") by Somai Shinji. A quiet and understated film about a successful salaryman, who has a beautiful wife and young son on whom he dotes. Everything in his life seems fine until one evening he is accosted by a disheveled man who claims to be his dead father. The dirty old man also invites himself to stay with the young family, a la Boudu Saved from Drowning by Jean Renoir. Then the financial company the protagonist works for is suddenly on the brink of bankruptcy. Both events severely lower the status the protagonist thought he possessed, and lead to a reexamination of his life. Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year. Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1999 Berlin International Film Festival.

Gohatto ("Taboo") by Oshima Nagisa shows - like did his Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence - how obsession with love upsets strongly regimented organisations. The macho Shinsengumi army, at the end of the Edo period defending the shogun's lost cause, is joined by a beautiful seventeen-year old recruit (Matsuda Ryuhei) whose androgynous beauty generates so much passion that military order is upset. Love of boys was historically speaking quite normal among samurai (it was called wakashudo or nanshoku), although these men would also have wives and families. The title refers to the many rules a samurai had to obey, but ironically (at least, seen from a modern perspective) there was no taboo on nanshoku. This was Oshima's final film - a strange film, but also one with great charm and a rich blue-black color palette that wins from repeated viewings. Kitano Takeshi plays the recruit's captain. (Oshima Productions / Shochiku / Kadokawa Shoten)

Karisuma ("Charisma") by Kurosawa Kiyoshi is an allegorical tale about a tree of that name. Yakusho Koji plays a detective who has bungled a hostage situation. While traveling to recuperate in an unnamed area, he comes upon a singular tree, about which the locals are engaged in a struggle with each other: some regard the tree as sacred and unique, others see it as a blight to the other trees in the forest which they claim it is poisoning, and a third group of greedy people wants to steal the tree. The detective finally has to make the clear choice he couldn't make in the hostage situation, when his wish to save both criminal and hostage led to disaster. Screened in the "Directors Fortnight" section of the 1999 Cannes Film Festival and at the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival. (King Records / Nikkatsu / Tokyo Theatres K.K.)

Soseiji ("Gemini") is a rarity in Tsukamoto Shinya's work as it is an opulent historical film set in the Meiji period and (freely) based on a story by Edogawa Ranpo. It is the tale of a bourgeois doctor who during an epidemic refuses to treat slum people but who is then confronted by a vengeful twin brother who contests his comfortable life. The brother even imprisons the doctor in the dried up well in the garden. With lush colors and exaggerated make-up and costume design, this fantasy stands in stark contrast to the J-Horror films made in the same period. (Kaijyu Theater / Sedic / Marubeni)

Kikujiro no natsu ("Kikujiro") by Kitano Takeshi is a road movie about a loudmouthed drifter, a low level gangster, who escorts a boy to visit the mother he has never yet met. As she has remarried and obviously doesn't need him, the boy returns to his grandmother without speaking to her. Has been criticized for its mix of sentimentality and slapstick, and also for the flimsiness of its story - but the fact that Kitano is comfortable with long periods of inactivity, here and in other films, is exactly a distinctive element of his style. The relaxed rhythm is similar to that in A Scene at the Sea. And this is no kid's movie, as some of the jokes are "Kitano-esquely" cruel indeed. (Office Kitano / Bandai Visual / Nippon herald Films)

Odishon ("Audition") by Miike Takashi, based on a novel by Murakami Ryu, is a visceral shocker that created a big stir at the Rotterdam International Film festival in 2000. Starts as a romantic drama in which a middle-aged widower (Ishibashi Ryo), helped by a producer friend, holds a mock audition to find a new, young wife. He finds his ideal partner in Asami (a perfectly cast Shiina Eihi), a former ballet dancer who seems the ultimate, traditional-type of wife. But there is a whole world of fear and horror hidden behind her calm exterior, as the middle-aged lover will discover too late. The descent into a grotesque nightmare is so stomach-turning, that many in the audience in Rotterdam headed for the exit. And your view of Japanese women will never be the same again... (Basara Pictures / Creators Company Connection / Omega Project)

Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha ("Dead or Alive"), also by Miike Takashi, starts with such a fantastic ten minute intro rocking through criminal Shinjuku, that the rest of the film can only disappoint. It is the story of a gangster of Chinese descent (Takeuchi Riki), who wants to take over the Shinjuku underworld from Chinese and Japanese gangsters, and a cop (Aikawa Sho), who stands between him and complete domination. A very violent film, with rather graphic scenes. Unfortunately, the ending is just silly. Two unrelated sequels would follow in 2000 and 2002, making "Dead or Alive" a trilogy like "Black Society." (Daiei / Toei / Excellent Film)

Ame agaru ("After the Rain") is a period film based on the last script written by Kurosawa Akira and is directed by his former assistant director of 28 years, Koizumi Takashi. Travelers are trapped in a country inn due to bad weather, and as tensions rise among them, a ronin wants to cheer up everyone by arranging a great feast. The only problem is that he has no money, but there his prowess with the sword may help... A gentle film based on a story by Yamamoto Shugoro. Protagonist Terao Akira won the Japan Academy Award for Best Actor in 1999 and the film the Japan Academy Award for Best Film in 2000. (7 Films Cinéma / Asmik Ace Entertainment / Kurosawa Production Co.)

Poppoya ("Poppoya: Railroad Man") by Furuhata Yasuo is a typical vehicle for Takakura Ken, who plays his usual scarred and brooding elderly male. In this glossy melodrama he is a railroad man in Hokkaido, fully dedicated to his job (the poor workaholic has nothing else, his wife and daughter are dead), but nearing retirement ("poppoya" is a nickname for those railroad men who still have known steam engines). Then a young woman appears (idol Hirosue Ryoko, who can pull cute faces but hasn't learned how to act) who seems to be the ghost of his deceased daughter... A tearjerker strictly for Takakura fans (of which there are a great many in Japan). Won the Japan Academy Award for Best Film. (Toei)

Gekko no sasayaki ("Moonlight Whispers") by Shiota Akihiko is one of the many teenage romances that keep flooding Japanese cinema since the nineties, but with a twist: during kendo the boy discovers he likes to be hit by his girlfriend. When she notices his fetishistic and sadomasochistic urges, her first impulse is to send him packing, but then she realizes this also gives her power over her boyfriend... she even finds a perfect way of cruelly dominating him. (Viz Films)

Even at the end of the millennium, Japan remains under monster attack. Gamera 3; Jashin (Irisu) Kakusei ("Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris") by Kaneko Shusuke is a dynamic piece of monster mayhem (if you believe in stomping turtles), better than all previous Gamera films which were too childish, and also superior to most Toho fare - not for nothing Toho asked Kaneko to direct one of its next monster movies in 2001. (Daiei Studios / Hakuhodo / Nippon Shuppan Hanbai (Nippan) K.K.)

A History of Japanese Film by Year:
1896-1909 - First Stirrings
1910-1919 - Development
1920-1929 - Art Films and Nihilistic Heroes
1930-1939 - Social Realism and Shoshimin-Eiga
1940-1949 - Censorship during War and Occupation
1950-1954 - Golden Age of the Classical Studio System
1955-1959 - Taiyozoku and other Youth Films
1960-1964 - The New Wave
1965-1969 - Independent Productions
1970-1974 - Sex and Violence
1975-1979 - Decline and Stagnation
1980-1989 - Disintegration of the Studio System
1990-1994 - The Rise of Indies
1995-1999 - Revival
2000-2004 - Postmodern Peak
2005-2009 - Cinematic Bubble
2010-2014 - Risk Avoidance
[Reference works used: Currents In Japanese Cinema by Tadao Sato (Tokyo, 1987); The Japanese Film: Art and Industry by Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie (reprint Tokyo, 1983); A Hundred Years of Japanese Film by Donald Richie (Tokyo, 2001); Japanese Film Directors by Audrie Bock (Tokyo, 1985); A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors by Alexander Jacoby (Berkeley, 2008); A New History of Japanese Cinema by Isolde Standish (New York, 2005); The Japanese Period Film by S.A. Thornton (Jefferson & London, 2008); Eros plus Massacre, An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema by David Desser (Bloomington and Indianopolis, 1988); Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema by David Bordwell (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1988); Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto (Duke University Press: Durham, 2000); The Waves at Genji's Door by Joan Mellen (Pantheon Books: New York, 1976); Japanese Classical Theatre in Film by Keiko I. Macdonald (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994); From Book to Screen by Keiko I. Macdonald (M.E. Sharpe: New York and London, 2000); Reading a Japanese Film by Keiko I. Macdonald (University of Hawai'i Press: Honolulu, 2006); Behind the Pink Curtain, A Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, by Jasper Sharp (Fab Press: Godalming, 2008); Contemporary Japanese Film by Mark Schilling (Weatherhill: New York and Tokyo, 1999); The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film by Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp (Stone Bridge Press: Berkeley, 2005); Kitano Takeshi by Aaron Gerow (British Film Institute: London, 2007); Iron Man: the Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto by Tom Mes (Fab Press: Godalming, 2005); Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike by Jasper Sharp (Fab Press: Godalming, 2003); Nihon Eigashi by Sato Tadao (Iwanami Shoten: Tokyo, 2008, 4 vols.); Nihon Eigashi 110-nen by Yomota Inuhiko (Shueisha; Tokyo, 2014). All images are linked from Wikipedia.]