Tatsuya Nakadai in the Akira Kurosawa epic

Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’ on Amazon Prime

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, however, is firmly built on King Lear, with sons […]

‘Night is Short, Walk on Girl’ on HBO Max

A teenage girl’s long, eventful night on the town becomes a fantastical adventure in Night is Short, Walk on Girl (Japan, 2017), an animated feature from Japanese filmmaker Masaaki Yuasa. A high school sophomore, known only as “The Girl with Black Hair” (or Otome), joins a pair of harmless con artists for a night on […]

‘Tokyo Drifter’ – A lonely hitman on a wild odyssey on Criterion Channel

Weird, wild, and nearly incomprehensible, Seijun Suzuki’s gangster movie masterpiece Tokyo Drifter (Japan, 1967) recreates the Yakuza genre as a pop-art James Bond cartoon as directed by Jean-Luc Godard. It opens on a gangland beating on the docks of the grimy waterfront, a dynamic widescreen image in stark, overexposed black and white. As a trumpet […]

‘My Neighbor Totoro’ on HBO Max

Hayao Miyazaki is one of Japan’s living treasures, a beloved filmmaker whose animated films number among the most beautiful and most enchanting productions ever drawn by hand. In this day of CGI productions, the aging artist still personally draws his key frames and defining characters, with a love and craft that comes through every frame. […]

‘Ponyo’ – Hayao Miyaki’s ‘Little Mermaid’ fable on HBO Max

Part Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, part ecological fable, and part children’s fantasy come to life, Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo (Japan, 2008) is a gentle storybook film, a simple, sweet tale animated with a delicacy unique to animated features. Ponyo is a water sprite, a curious undersea creature and daughter of the sea gods who […]

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

‘House’/’Hausu’ – Japanese madness on HBO Max and 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 […]

‘Shoplifters’ – a family business on Hulu

“What defines a family?” is a question that runs through many of the films of Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda, from the heartbreaking abandoned children of Nobody Knows to the strained relations and recriminations of Still Walking to the loving embrace of Our Little Sister. Shoplifters (Japan, 2018) presents a family on the margins brought together by […]

Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘The Wind Rises’ on HBO Max

The Wind Rises (Japan, 2013) is a very different kind of feature from Hayao Miyazaki, the beloved filmmaker and animation legend famed for his lush, ambitious, inventive fantasies and mythical adventures. It was a passion project for the director and he chose it as his fitting swan song, a final feature before retiring from filmmaking […]

‘A Silent Voice’ – a powerful animated drama about bullying on Netflix

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

‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ from Hiyao Miyazaki and son on HBO Max

If your idea of Japanese animation is space opera, cyberbpunk action, and Hiyao Miyazaki’s modern fairy tales, then From Up on Poppy Hill (Japan, 2011), might surprise you. Produced and co-scripted by Miyazaki and directed by his son, Goro Miyazaki, this is a gentle, somewhat slight story of student life and young love in early […]