Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 acid flashback horror fantasy 'House'

‘House’/’Hausu’ – Japanese madness on Criterion Channel

I can’t begin to find the words to describe House (1977), aka Hausu, an unclassifiable Japanese haunted house/high school romp/demon killer/surreal fantasy film from Nobuhiko Obayashi. Made in 1977 and recently revived and released to the rest of the world, it’s the archival cult find of the decade: a candy-colored style bomb of horror movie […]

Takeshi Kitano in 'Battle Royale,' directed by Kinji Fukasaku.

‘Battle Royale’ – The original ‘Hunger Games’ on Amazon Prime Video

Battle Royale (Japan, 2000), the gleefully gruesome splatter satire of teenage nihilism, adult paranoia, and social sadism, was released in Japan in 2000 to big success and instant cult status. It was a 21st century version of a fifties youth gang drama, rooted in the adult panic at the sudden rise of youth violence in […]

‘A Silent Voice’ – a moving story of bullying and redemption on Netflix

The animated feature A Silent Voice (Japan, 2016), adapted from a popular manga serial by Yoshitoki Oima and directed by Naoka Yamada, takes on the issue of school bullying through the story of Shoya, a fun-loving rascal who feeds off the attention he gets when he starts making fun of Shoko, a deaf girl who […]

Tatsuya Nakadai in the Akira Kurosawa epic

Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’ on The Criterion Channel

Akira Kurosawa Ran (Japan, 1985), the story of an aging warlord who hands power to his sons is loosely inspired by the story of sixteenth century warlord Mōri Motonari, who conquered his rivals and extended his kingdom with the help of his three sons. The script is firmly built on King Lear, with sons taking […]

‘All About Lily Chou-Chou’ – Not your usual high school drama on Kanopy

Shunji Iwai’s cruel story of youth All About Lily Chou-Chou (Japan, 2001) has very little to do with pop star Lily Chou-Chou (a Bjork-like fictional creation who took on a cult life in Japan as the star of an interactive Internet novel) and everything to do with her adolescent fans in a Japanese junior high […]

Toshiro Mifune in Akira Kurosawa's 'Drunken Angel,' co-starring Takashi Shimura

‘Drunken Angel’ and ‘Stray Dog’: Kurosawa Noir on The Criterion Channel

Like filmmakers all over the world, Akira Kurosawa’s films took a darker turn after the end of World War II, when the national demands of rousing propaganda films were no longer an industry imperative and filmmaker and audiences faced the challenges of life after war. Here are two of his most interesting and most compelling […]

Masaki Kobayashi directs the quartet of Japanese ghost stories

‘Kwaidan’ – Japanese ghost stories on VOD and Blu-ray/DVD

Kwaidan (Japan, 1964), Masaki Kobayashi’s quartet of ancient ghost stories, may not be strictly speaking a horror film. It’s not scary or particularly unsettling apart for a few exquisitely created images. It is, however, breathtakingly lovely, visually composed like a painting, scored and sound designed by Toru Takemitsu with a spareness that leans on silence, […]

Hiromasa Yonebayashi directs the animated fantasy based on the children's novel by British author Mary Stewart

‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ – a magical odyssey on Netflix

Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Japan, 2017), the magical fantasy by Japanese animator and filmmaker Hiromasa Yonebayashi (director of the marvelous When Marnie Was There), based on a children’s novel by British author Mary Stewart, follows the adventures of a schoolgirl who receives magical powers for a day from a magical flower that blooms once […]

Takeshi Kitano directs and stars in "Violent Cop"

‘Violent Cop’ and ‘Boiling Point’ – The volatile Takeshi Kitano on VOD and Blu-ray/DVD

In Violent Cop (1989) and Boiling Point (1990), actor-turned-filmmaker Takeshi Kitano has a way of transforming stillness into tension in his crime films. In the opening shot of Violent Cop, Kitano’s 1990 directorial debut, the camera holds on the smiling face of a toothless derelict. Like a pebble dropping into a pond the calm is […]

Yasujiro Ozu's 1932 silent family comedy 'I Was Born But.'

‘I Was Born, But…’ – Ozu’s cheeky comedy on The Criterion Channel

If all you know of Yasujiro Ozu, Japan’s national treasure of a film director in the 20th century, is the quiet restraint and rigorous simplicity of his sound films, then you only have half of the story of the director’s remarkable career. The artist called the most “Japanese” of Japanese directors was a voracious film […]