As the end of the year nears, the beginning of a new year looms. This year has been an adventure, not only on a personal level, but also – as we review Japanese movies – cinematographically. To celebrate the end of this year and to whatever 2019 might bring, we happily release our top ten Japanese movies of 2018.
[Be sure to also check out our top 10 Japanese movies of 2017]
Top 10 Japanese movies 2018
While The Name is a lighthearted narrative, it doesn’t fail to touch upon a important problem within contemporary Japanese society: the preoccupation with ego-images, a preoccupation that ultimately leads to nothing other than the alienation of the subject. The power and the beauty of this narrative, enforced by the great chemistry between our main leads, lies in showing that a genuine bonding, a bonding beyond the preoccupation with the superficial ego-images, is still possible – and is now more needed than ever.
A Crimson Star is without a doubt one of the most finest examples, if not the best, of subject-driven narratives to come out this year. As one can only enjoy this narrative by reading the signifiers that outline Yo-chan’s trajectory and unearth her desire, one cannot but conclude that this narrative is nothing but Yo-chan’s desire as such. Talented as she is – a great future might await her, Aya Igashi shows structurally – read cinematographically – that the process of becoming a subject is function of the metonymy of signifiers delineating one’s desire as such.
Siblings of the Cape is an extraordinary narrative. It’s extra-ordinariness does not only stem from the fact that Katayama dares to touch upon the crossroad between sexuality and mental disability – a crossroad beautifully brought to life by the fabulous Misa Wada and Yuya Matsuura, but that the narrative dares to confront the spectator with a question that is nothing other than a dilemma.
With its great narrative structure – a structure keeping each narrative line orderly for the spectator, and the successful engendering of the questions concerning the quelling of the coming war and Gami’s integrity, Blood of Wolves is successful in generating the tension necessary for the spectator to invest in the narrative of Gami and Hioka up until its conclusion as such. While those expecting a true Yakuza drama – a drama solely focusing on the Yakuza and their conflicts – might be disappointed, those that give Blood of Wolves a chance are in for one of best and most entertaining Yakuza/police thrillers in years.
While Maquia’s narrative is epic in scale – offering an abundance of mesmerizing imagery – its true beauty lies in the fact that it reveals the most intimate, the realization of the fundamental importance of a mother for one’s life and the radical act of giving life, as more epic than anything men can cause, e.g. deathly wars, in the world. Yes, Maquia might offer some good melodrama – so please beware – but Okada has not failed to compose a truly refreshing take on the fantasy genre.
5) Zan by Shin’ya Tsukamoto
Zan is an utter delight from start to end. With its masterful cinematographical blend and its effective musical accompaniment, Tsukamoto is able to bring Mokunoshin’s subjective dilemma poignantly to the fore – a subjective dilemma that shows that, while the cycle of life never stops, the cycle of human violence, as unbroken, destroys societal structures and the subjectivity of many – not in the least the subjectivity of the one wielding the sword. And while those expecting a traditional samurai narrative might be disappointed, those that realize Tsukamoto’s accomplishment – to infuse jidai-geki once again with criticism – will be delighted to be find one of the Tsukamoto’s most accomplished narratives.
Daisuke Miura’s Call Boy is nothing other than a beautiful confrontation with the radical sexual subjectivity of the female speaking-being. Through framing sexuality in all its sensual and aggressive glory, Miura forces the spectator to accept the fact that, at the crossroads between sexuality, fantasy and satisfaction, every speaking-being remains polymorphous perverse. This narrative is a confrontation that every spectator needs.
One Cut of The Dead is one of the most pleasant surprises of this year. Furthermore, it is one of or even the funniest movie released in 2018. While the one-take ‘horror’ narrative might raise some eyebrows at first, the clever and inventive meta-narrative that follows successfully turns One Cut Of The Dead into a very hilarious tongue-in-the-cheek referential comedy that, when all is said and done, concerns nothing other than the joy, even if it is against all odds, of releasing a movie.
This exquisite touching family narrative is – whichever way you look at it, another must-see from Kore-eda and a corroboration of the fact that he is one of the best directors currently alive. Even though the themes touched upon in shoplifters are familiar in Kore-eda’s oeuvre, this narrative constitutes the deepest exploration yet into the question of what family is and what a bond beneficial to one’s subjective well-being is made of. With Shoplifters, Kore-eda touchingly emphasizes that, while there may be something irreducible about the biological bond people share, genuine loving relationships have nothing to do with this bond.
Ice Cream and the sound of Raindrops is a truly remarkable narrative, monumental in its intimacy. By exploring the sheer complexity of growing up in modern society, Daigo Matsui is able to let the contemporary pessimism about the future we, ourselves, have to shape our lives in reverberate in an extremely piercing way. For us, Ice Cream and the sound of Raindrops is Daigo Matsui’s best work yet. And it might even be the best movie of 2018.
Bad Poetry Tokyo is a splendid debut full-length feature. It is evident from the cinematography, that Anshul Chauhan is a director with a clear vision, able – and this is even more important – to exploit the versatility of cinematography to frame subjectivity in an engaging way. As the narrative follows the subjective trajectory of Jun, it slowly reveals, in a rather detached way, that the violent try to break the cycle of abuse, that the violent try to find a subjective place outside that cycle, sometimes leads to a place outside society, outside the symbolic. In this way, Bad Poetry Tokyo poignantly underlines the destructive effects of abuse on subjectivity as such.
Ten Years Japan provides a rather unsettling look in Japan’s future. But rather than presenting a kind of science-fiction doomsday scenario, each director created an interesting narrative that is unsettling in the very believability it evokes. The various narratives are thus more than just a passive look in the future, but an active warning of each director of the very real dangers and problems that await Japanese society.
River’s Edge is a rather ambitious project that succeeds in evoking the complexity of adolescence in a crude, unflattering and straightforward way. And while the narrative of River’s Edge is somewhat depressing – romanticists stay away – it beautifully forces the spectator to confront the fundamental dimensions of life: how we, as subject, position ourselves in relation to life and death, and how to entangle sexuality in our short period of subjectivity on earth.