To help celebrate the release of Rascals Brewing's latest IPA, Tokyo Calling, we've pulled together the 10 best movies in Japanese cinema.
Japanese cinema has a rich, storied tradition and one that's produced some of the best in just about every genre, from historical epics to romance dramas, from animated up to action blockbusters and horrors.
Tokyo Calling is available now direct from Rascals Brewery and is made with yuzu and lychee, giving this IPA a tropical citrus flavour, nicely balanced between sweet and bitter.
10. 'The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On'
Easily one of the most startling, provocative documentaries ever made, 'The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On' is a triumph of confrontational interviewing. Director Kazuo Hara follows Kenzo Okuzaki, an elderly veteran of Japan's ill-fated campaign in New Guinea during World War II. Okuzaki is determined, to a point of obsession, with confronting those he believes responsible for the unexplained death of two soldiers in his unit. Okuzaki sometimes berates his former colleagues, other times he physically strikes them, and the manner in which director Hara's camera takes it all is both fascinating and uncomfortable to watch. Not for the faint-hearted.
9. 'Battle Royale'
If you've watched and enjoyed 'The Hunger Games', it's better to go back to where it was originally inspired from. 'Battle Royale' is to Japanese cinema what 'Robocop' or 'Starship Troopers' is to American cinema - a biting, hyper-violent satire of the decadence and collapse of society. High-school children are placed on a remote island and ordered to fight one another to death as punishment for juvenile delinquency. The class teacher, played by Japanese mega-star Takeshi Kitano, oversees the deranged experiment. Stunningly written and edited, 'Battle Royale' is far bold and uncompromising than other movies that have taken a similar story.
8. 'Shin Godzilla'
You can't really talk about Japanese cinema without mentioning either Studio Ghibli or Godzilla. The original 'Godzilla' movie was seen as a metaphor for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and with 'Shin Godzilla', directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi draw inspiration from the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the Tohoku earthquakes. As well as this, 'Shin Godzilla' also utilises the effect of the media on such disasters, as well as Japan's international status and how the rest of the world views it, and where it's headed.
The movie which started the J-horror craze of the late '90s and early '00s in the West began with 'Ring', adapted from Koji Suzuku's novel of the same name. Where it differentiates itself from the US remake is that 'Ring' was much more a commentary on Japanese culture, and how the clash of modernity and tradition was playing out in families across the country, and the battle between technology and spirituality in Japan. It's also absolutely terrifying, and the practical effects deployed throughout the movie are just as effective today as they were in 1998.
The last of Akira Kurosawa's epics, 'Ran' - the Japanese word for chaos - takes inspiration from Shakespeare's 'King Lear' in the way that 'Throne of Blood' took its cue from 'Macbeth'. An aging warlord devises a plan to reward his three loyal sons with his lands while he retires, though deception and destruction soon follows as the sons begin to war among themselves for the spoils. Far more mysterious and ethereal than his other work, 'Ran' is nevertheless a stunning epic and one that features some of the most elaborately-staged battle sequences ever put on camera.
5. 'My Neighbor Totoro'
As far as Japanese animated movies go, there are at least three that have to be discussed. One is 'My Neighbor Totoro', the other is 'Akira'. Where 'Akira' was a thrilling masterpiece with sci-fi, social, action, and horror elements blended together, 'My Neighbor Totoro' was much more simplified, and in a way, more elegant. The rich colours and the softness of it all just make for a soothing, heartwarming children's tale that resonates just as much today as it did then. Indeed, the way the movie greets and acknowledges the loss of imagination in adulthood isn't done in an accusatory way, more that it understands it and guides the story itself.
As far as conventional dramas go, 'Departures' easily ranks among the very best produced by Japan. For one, it's the only Japanese movie to date that has won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language, but it's also a movie that is unmistakably Japanese. The burial rituals, which form the centre of the movie, are unique to Japan, as is the nature of how each of the characters interacts and revolves around Masahiro Motoki's character. Told with a kind of gentle humour and appreciation for the complexities of relationships between families, 'Departures' has a real sense of heartfelt compassion throughout.
When you come right down to it, Japanese animation would not have had the explosion of interest in the West without 'Akira'. Truly a crossover hit, 'Akira' was not only a blockbuster in Japan and was the second-most expensive anime movie ever made, it also travelled west and introduced audiences to anime and manga in a way that few other properties could. That a US remake has been threatened for years now with no sign of it becoming a reality speaks to how unique and thrilling it was in 1988, and how it can't be easily replicated.
'Yojimbo' has the distinct honour of not only being Akira Kurosawa's greatest work, it also gave birth to an entirely different genre of movies - the Spaghetti Western. The basic DNA of the Spaghetti Western can be traced back to 'Yojimbo', and every movie that's featured a nameless anti-hero protagonist shares commonality with Toshiro Mifune. There is so much in 'Yojimbo' that has become iconic, but even beyond all that mythic imagery, it's still effortlessly cool, tautly directed, and unmistakably Kurosawa's finest work, and one of the all-time greats.
1. 'Spirited Away'
What can be said about 'Spirited Away' that hasn't already been said? It is one of the greatest animated movies ever made. The New York Times, in its countdown of the best films of the 21st century, listed it in second place. The BBC ranked it as the fourth-best film of the 21st century. It won Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, the Golden Bear of the Berlinale, topped countless critics' awards. It did all this, while never once compromising itself.
'Spirited Away' is one of the few movies that is truly an enchanting, magical thing to experience for the first time. The use of colours, the music, the carefulness of the hand-drawn animation, it's all there, and it's the kind of movie that reveals new meanings, new ideas, with every time you watch it. That's not to say that it's complex, but rather than it is layered with so many themes and motifs that can you can either ignore or examine with each time you watch it.
Enjoy Rascals Tokyo Calling Responsibly.