As this year comes to a close, it is finally time to look back to the Japanese cinematic year. Despite the doom and gloom that easily escapes the mouths of some commentators, this year was a fine year for Japanese cinema. This year might even be remembered as the year that started the cutting out of the patriarchal dynamics within the Japanese film industry.
On a more psychoanalytic note, this carefully chosen list of movies proves that the unconscious is well alive in the Japanese subject and society. While some psychoanalysts would like to make us believe that the Japanese subject has no need for an unconscious, the difficulty to access this field within the psychoanalytic setting does not mean the unconsious is ‘death’ or ‘erased’. Most of the films would not be possibe were it not for the radical lack of the signifier that makes the Other and thus the subject complete.
Before delving in our top 15 movies of 2022, we want to grant a special mention to Masukazu Kaneko’s Ring Wandering (2022) and Yuki Tanada’s My Broken Mariko (2022). While both movies failed to make the cut, they are cinematic products worth to be seen.
[Be sure to check out our previous year-end lists: top 10 Japanese movies of 2017, Top 10 Japanese movies of 2018, Top 10 Japanese movies of 2019, Top 10 Japanese Movies of 2020, Top 12 Japanese Movies 2021.]
Top 15 Japanese Films
15. Our House Party (2022) by Shuichi Kawanobe
With Our House Party, Kawanobe delivers a very emotional story that highlights the fact that, within Japanese society, the homosexual subject does not only need to deal with the ‘normal’ tension between the superficial pleasure or peace of social interactions and the unresolved and unvocalized conflicts of the subject, but also needs to shoulder the pressure of a Japanese Other that might not be willing to recognize his Otherness.
14. Parallel (2022) by Daiki Tanaka
Parallel is a fabulous narrative that does not only delivers a thrilling slasher-like experience, but offers a touching romance between two people that are, in their own particular way, deeply marked by their traumatic past. With his narrative, Tanaka does not merely deliver a societal critique of the exploitation that festers the social bonds, but reveal that what is truly able to instigate change is the magic of love.
13. Alivehoon (2022) by Ten Shimoyama
Alivehoon proves that one should not always try to re-invent a genre to delivers a thrilling love-letter to a certain sport. Shimoyama hits all the common beats of the sports-genre, but succeeds in elevating his exploration of the art of drifting by framing the battling cars in an exciting and mesmerizing way.
12. Far Away, Further Away (2022) by Shinji Imaoka
Far Away, Further Away is a beautiful film that elegantly explores the role the imaginary plays in marital failure as well as in the beginning of a new romantic bond. The continued lack of inter-subjective encounters slowly disintegrates the symbolic bond of marriage and the entrapment of desire solely plays out at the level of the imaginary. We highly recommended for those spectators who wish to gain a better understanding at the complicated game of love.
11. Melting Sounds (2022) by Kahori Higashi
Kahori Higashi’s debut is, in short, impressive. Melting Sounds is visually pleasant and the charm that oozes from its lead ensures that the message of this sweet little narrative – i.e. subjective happiness is to be found in relational interactions – warms the spectator’s heart. The endless concatenations of screens might offer a shot of enjoyment, but these shots cannot help the subject in finding a place he can call home within society.
10. Grown-Ups (2022) by Takuya Kato
With Grown-ups, Takuya Kato delivers an intimate and touching account of the drama that romance and becoming a woman can be. Kato’s narrative excels not merely due to its naturalistic composition, but because of the impressive performances that allows the complex fabric of speech-interactions to be felt and the surges of emotionality to impact the spectator.
9. The Midnight Maiden War (2022) by Ken Ninomiya
With his latest narrative, Ninomiya proves, once again, that he remains one of the most promising directors in Japan. The Midnight Maiden War is not only a visually exciting experience but one that, by exploring the destructive tension between the subject and the societal Other and the impact the reign of enjoyment has on subjectivity, shows that the only revolutionary thing that can give life its worth is desire that remains desire.
8. Missing (2022) by Shinzo Katayama
With Missing, Shinzo Katayama delivers one of the most satisfying drama-thrillers this year. The amazing performances of Aio Ito, Jiro Sato, Hiroya Shimizu do not merely enable the rich emotional flow to engage the spectator, but gives the carefully constructed finale the finale its power to put the spectator on the edge of his seat and deliver its gut-wrenching punch. (Full review forthcoming.)
7. One Day, You Will Reach The Sea (2022) by Ryutaro Nakagawa
Nakagawa’s One Day, You will reach the Sea is a splendid experience, not simply due to the elegant composition but because the flow of the composition allows the subjective position of Mana Kotani reverberate sensibly with the spectator. As a result of this refined composition, the themes of loss, failed encounters and unresolved desires do not fail to touch the spectator deeply.
6. Nagi’s Island (2022) by Masahiko Nagasawa
Nagi’s Island is a narrative about loss and trauma that will deeply move anyone who watches it. The power of Nagasawa’s narrative does not simply lie in the engaging emotional rhythm, as dictated by the musical decorations, but in the genuineness that oozes from every interaction – the cast and Chise Niitsu in particular deliver. It is because the pain that marks the subject hurts the spectator that the myriad of hopeful resolutions will not fail to bring a tear to the spectator’s eye.
5. Intimate Stranger (2022) / She Is me, I Am Her (2022) by Mayu Nakamura
Intimate Stranger is a splendid narrative that dares to explore how problematic mothers can be for their children – the narrative reveals how the loving act towards the child can be destructive for its subjectivity, but also how motherly enjoyment and fantasy cannot but reduce the child to a phallic object. Yet, it is not merely the dare to engage with such theme that makes Intimate Stranger so satisfying. Nakamura thrills the spectator by delivering a composition that entices the spectator with dark dangerous eroticism and allows Asuka Kurosawa to enthral the spectator.
She is Me, I Am Her does not only prove Nakamura’s talent as director, but also showcases Nahana’s acting talent. Yet, that is not all. With her four narratives, Nakamura elegantly unpacks how the corona situation disturbs the field of desire as well how important the presence of bodies is within the societal field driven by desire. (Full review forthcoming).
4. Onpaku (2022) / Kingdom Of The Apes (2022) by Shugo Fujii
While Fujii does not re-invent the J-horror genre with Onpaku, he does prove the horror-frame can still be exploited to deliver satisfying horror narratives. In fact, of all the Japanese thriller/horror directors working today, Fujii is the only one that combines a visceral and creative composition that delivers shock and horror with a fragmented narrative that critiques the Japanese societal fabric. Onpaku confirms, once more, that Shugo Fujii might very well be the unsung master of contemporary Japanese horror and thriller cinema. (Full review Forthcoming.)
With Kingdom of the Apes, Fujii proves, once again, that he is the master of indie-thrillers. With his trademark dynamism, he takes the spectator on a thrilling and captivating journey that does not only delivers a highly satisfying denouement, but also a biting critique of how Japanese society, structured around the fantasy of the kokutai, struggles to accept a plurality of voices. Luckily, Fujii’s narrative elegantly shows that what is violently forced to remain unconscious will always rears its head one way or another.
3. Wandering (2022) by Sang-il Lee
Wandering succeeds in both visually pleasing the spectator and confronting him with the dangerous consequences of imaginary understanding. With his poetic sensitivity, Sang-il Lee delivers a rich tapestry of genuine emotionality and a powerful affirmation of the fact that the affirmation of the subject lies beyond the field of understanding. Sang-il Lee’s drama narrative is, without a doubt, one of the best Japanese films of this year.
2. Just Remembering (2022) by Daigo Matsui
With Just Remembering, Daigo Matsui delivers another amazing narrative. The pitch-perfect performances of Sosuke Ikematsu and Sairi Itoh breathe life into the splendid narrative structure and turn Matsui’s exploration of speech, inter-subjective misrecognition, subjective emptiness and the dynamic of remembering into an experience that will stir the spectator’s unconscious and affect his heart.
1. Love Nonetheless (2022) by Hideo Jojo
With Love Nonetheless, Hideo Jojo and Rikiya Imaizumi created a masterpiece – a modern classic. With an elegant composition, one that allows the spectator to carefully read the layered performances, we are not only introduced to the charming nature of being in a state of desiring and the impact of the phallic injury on the ability of a subject to fall in love, but also to how, in the sexual act, man and woman never meet each other at the same level.