Top 10 Movies from Japan
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10 . My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro (Japanese: となりのトトロ Hepburn: Tonari no Totoro) is a 1988 Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed byHayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The film – which stars the voice actors Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, and Hitoshi Takagi – tells the story of the two young daughters (Satsuki and Mei) of a professor and their interactions with friendly wood spirits in postwar rural Japan. The film won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize and the Mainichi Film Award and Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film in 1988. It also received the Special Award at the Blue Ribbon Awards in the same year.
The film was released on VHS and laserdisc in the United States by Tokuma Japan Communications’ US subsidiary in 1993 under the title My Friend Totoro. In 1988, Streamline Pictures produced an exclusive dub for use on transpacific flights by Japan Airlines. Troma Films, under their 50th St. Films banner, distributed the dub of the film co-produced by Jerry Beck. It was released on VHS and DVD by Fox Video. Troma’s and Fox’s rights to this version expired in 2004. The film was re-released by Walt Disney Pictures on March 7, 2006 and by Madmanon March 15, 2006. It features a new dub cast. This DVD release is the first version of the film in the United States to include both Japanese and English language tracks, as Fox did not have the rights to the Japanese audio track for their version.
The movie and its titular character, Totoro, have become cultural icons. My Neighbor Totoro ranked #41 in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” in 2010. A list of the greatest animated films compiled by Terry Gilliam in Time Out ranked the film number 1. A similar list compiled by the editors of Time Out ranked the film number 3. The character made multiple cameo appearances in a number of Studio Ghibli films and video games and is recognized as one of the most popular characters in Japanese animation. Totoro was ranked 24th on IGN’s top 25 anime characters.
9 . Tokyo Story
Tokyo Story (東京物語 Tōkyō Monogatari) is a 1953 Japanese drama film directed by Yasujirō Ozu. It tells the story of an aging couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children. The film contrasts the behavior of their children, who are too busy to pay them much attention, and their widowed daughter-in-law, who treats them with kindness. It is widely regarded as Ozu’s masterpiece and is often cited as one of the greatest films ever made.
8 . Battle Royale
Battle Royale (バトル・ロワイアル Batoru Rowaiaru) is a 2000 Japanese action thriller film adapted from the 1999 novel of the same name byKoushun Takami. It is the final film directed by Kinji Fukasaku, the screenplay written by his son Kenta, and stars Takeshi Kitano. The film tells the story of Shuya Nanahara, a junior high-school student who is struggling with the suicide of his father and who is forced by the government to compete in a deadly game where the students in his class must fight to the death, with only the sole survivor being allowed to live. The film aroused both domestic and international controversy and was either banned outright or deliberately excluded from distribution in several countries.
The film was a mainstream domestic blockbuster, becoming one of the ten highest-grossing films in Japan, and was released in 22 countries worldwide. It received global audience and critical acclaim and is often regarded as one of Japan’s most famous films, as well as one of Fukasaku’s best films. Fukasaku started working on a sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem, but he died of prostate cancer on January 12, 2003 after shooting only one scene with Takeshi Kitano. His son, Kenta Fukasaku, completed the film in 2003 and dedicated it to his father.
7 . Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓 Hotaru no haka) is a 1988 Japanese animated war drama film written and directed by Isao Takahata and animated by Studio Ghibli. It is based on the 1967 semi-autobiographical short story Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka. The film stars Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara and Akemi Yamaguchi. Set in the city of Kobe, Japan, the film tells the story of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko, and their desperate struggle to survive during the final months of the Second World War.
Grave of the Fireflies received acclaim from film critics. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times considered it to be one of the best and most powerful war films and, in 2000, included it on his “Great Movies” list. Two live-action remakes of Grave of the Fireflies were made, one in 2005 and one in 2008. It is commonly described as an anti-war film, but this interpretation has been denied by the director.
6 . Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke (Japanese: もののけ姫 Hepburn: Mononoke-hime, “Spirit/Monster Princess”) is a 1997 epic historical fantasy anime film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It was animated by Studio Ghibli and produced by Toshio Suzuki. The film stars the voices of Yōji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi, Masahiko Nishimura, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Akihiro Miwa, Mitsuko Mori and Hisaya Morishige.
Princess Mononoke is set in the late Muromachi period (approximately 1336 to 1573) of Japan with fantasy elements. The story follows the young Emishi warrior Ashitaka’s involvement in a struggle between forest gods and the humans who consume its resources. The term “Mononoke” (物の怪 or もののけ) is not a name, but a Japanese word for a spirit or monster.
Princess Mononoke was released in Japan on July 12, 1997, and in the United States on October 29, 1999. It was a critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing film in Japan of 1997, and the highest-grossing there of all time until Titanic was released later that year. It was dubbed into English and distributed in North America by Miramax Films, and despite a poor box office performance there, it sold well on DVD and video, greatly increasing Ghibli’s popularity and influence outside Japan.
5 . Rashomon
Rashomon (羅生門 Rashōmon) is a 1950 Japanese jidaigeki film directed by Akira Kurosawa, working in close collaboration withcinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa. It stars Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori and Takashi Shimura. The film is based on two stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa: “Rashomon”, which provides the setting, and “In a Grove”, which provides the characters and plot.
The film is known for a plot device that involves various characters providing alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident.
Rashomon marked the entrance of Japanese film onto the world stage; it won several awards, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, and an Academy Honorary Award at the 24th Academy Awards in 1952, and is now considered one of the greatest films ever made.
4 . AKIRA
Akira (often stylized as AKIRA) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo. Set in a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, the work uses conventions of the cyberpunk genre to detail a saga of turmoil. Initially serialized in the pages of Young Magazine from 1982 until 1990, the work was collected into six volumes by its publisher Kodansha. The work was first published in an English-language version by the Marvel Comics imprint Epic Comics, one of the first manga works to be translated in its entirety. Otomo’s art is considered outstanding, and a breakthrough for both Otomo and the manga form. Throughout the breadth of the work, Otomo explores themes of social isolation, corruption, and power.
An animated film adaptation (anime) was released in 1988 which shortened the plot considerably, but retained much of the main character and plot structures from the manga as well as many original scenes and settings. The manga takes place in a longer time frame than the film, and involves a much wider array of characters and subplots. Otomo’s Akira anime marked his transition from a career primarily in manga, to one almost exclusively in anime.
Akira was instrumental in an upsurge of manga popularity outside Japan, especially as Epic Comics’ edition was colorized and coincided with the release of the film. It has won several awards, including the Kodansha Manga and Harvey Awards, and is named as being an important title in the French manga explosion.
3 . Godzilla
Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira) is a giant monster originating from a series of tokusatsu films of the same namefrom Japan. It first appeared in Ishirō Honda’s 1954 film Godzilla. Since then, Godzilla has gone on to become a worldwide pop culture icon, appearing in numerous media including video games, novels, comic books, television shows, 28 films produced by Toho and two Hollywood films. The character is commonly alluded to by the title King of the Monsters, a phrase first used in Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, the Americanized version of Honda’s original 1954 film.
With the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Lucky Dragon 5 incident still fresh in the Japanese consciousness, Godzilla was conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons. As the film series expanded, some stories took on less serious undertones portraying Godzilla as a hero while other plots still portrayed Godzilla as a destructive monster; sometimes the lesser of two threats who plays the defender by default but is still a danger to humanity.
2 . Spirited Away
Spirited Away (Japanese: 千と千尋の神隠し Hepburn: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, “Sen and Chihiro’s Spiriting Away”) is a 2001 Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The film stars Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Takehiko Ono and Bunta Sugawara, and tells the story of Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi), a sullen ten-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba (Natsuki), Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.
Miyazaki wrote the script after he decided the film would be based on his friend, associate producer Seiji Okuda’s ten-year-old daughter, who came to visit his house each summer. At the time, Miyazaki was developing two personal projects, but they were rejected. With a budget ofUS$19 million, production of Spirited Away began in 2000. During production, Miyazaki realized the film would be over three hours long and decided to cut out several parts of the story. Pixar director John Lasseter, a fan of Miyazaki, was approached by Walt Disney Pictures to supervise an English-language translation for the film’s North American release. Lasseter hired Kirk Wise as director and Donald W. Ernst as producer of the adaptation. Screenwriters Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt wrote the English-language dialogue, which they wrote to match the characters’ original Japanese-language lip movements.
The film was released on 20 July 2001, and became the most successful film in Japanese history, grossing about $289 million worldwide and receiving widespread critical acclaim. The film overtook Titanic (at the time the top grossing film worldwide) in the Japanese box office to become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history with a ¥30.4 billion total. Spirited Away frequently ranks among the greatest animated films. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival (tied with Bloody Sunday) and is among the top ten in the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.
1 . Seven Samurai
Seven Samurai (七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai) is a 1954 Japanese Jidaigeki adventure film co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The story takes place in 1586 during the Warring States Period of Japan. It follows the story of a village of farmers that hire seven ronin (masterless samurai) to combat bandits who will return after the harvest to steal their crops.
Since its release, Seven Samurai has consistently ranked highly across critics’ greatest film polls such as the BFI’s Sight and Sound and Rotten Tomatoes polls. It has remained highly influential, often seen as one of the most “remade, reworked, referenced” films in cinema.