One of the last classes I took for my BFA was a Japanese cinema course. Obviously I had to watch tons of films in that class and it was quite eye-opening. Before taking the course, the only Japanese movies I watched were animations by Studio Ghibli (Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, From Up on Poppy Hill, etc.) I hadn't even watched Godzilla (and I still haven't...yet)! So now, I will share some of my recommended Japanese films for those who may be, like me, starting to expand their knowledge of international cinema:
1) Rashomon (1951) by Akira Kurosawa
A post-modern film. Taking shelter from the rain under a decaying arch, three men discuss a recent, disturbing trial over the death of a samurai and the rape of his wife by a crazed bandit. The film reveals the events as told by the bandit, the woman, the spirit of the dead man, and the sole witness, a passing woodcutter. Questions of truth and subjectivity abound in this landmark film which has given its name to the narrative technique used here and in other films and TV shows.
2) Ikiru (1952) by Akira Kurosawa
Another work by the masterful Kurosawa. The film's title translates "to live," which is what the film's protagonist Watanabe must learn after receiving a depressing diagnosis for stomach cancer which leaves him with six months left to live. Viewers will undoubtedly be moved by the story as well as the heartbreaking soundtrack as Watanabe transforms from a bureaucratic cog in the slow-moving government machine to an agent of positive change in his community.
3) Black Rain (1989) by Shohei Imamura
A slow-paced movie which follows the lives of some of those who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Definitely not a feel-good film, the characters include a soldier suffering from PTSD which is triggered by the sound of a motor driving past his house and a seemingly healthy girl who cannot find a husband because of the titular "black rain" which landed on her after the bombing and hangs like a curse over her family. Aside from that, the film is an excellent portrayal of the immediate and long-term effects of the bomb, showing the despair of the people and the fear of the inevitable effects of radiation.
Let me know what you think of the films!-R