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Japanese Cinema of the 2000's

By: Frank W

Japanese cinema of the 2000’s
While many of the best Japanese directors of 2000’s, had already made outstanding films in the past – think of directors like Wakamatsu Koji, Koreeda Hirokazu, Kawase Naomi, Shiota Akihiko and many others – there was also a number of new directors that emerged in the 2000’s. Many of these directors, like Nishikawa Miwa, Ando Momoko, Tanada Yuki and Inoue Tsuki are female and there seems to be some kind of revolution for female directors going on in Japan at the moment.

While there has also been commercial succes, with titles like Love Exposure, Memories of Matsuko and the Oscar winning Departures, this list attempts to give an overview of the auteurs of Japanese cinema of the past decade and includes more independent films than studio pictures. I intent to update this list regularly with films I’ve seen and profiles of auteurs that have been responsible for some of the best films in the 2000’s. Some films may be missing because I haven’t seen them yet, but suggestions are highly appreciated. The order of films from top to bottom is based on personal favourites. Enjoy!

Sharasojyu (2003) by Kawase Naomi


Koreeda Hirokazu

In the 2000’s Koreeda’s cinema slowly transformed from a strictly planned way of shooting to a more naturalistic one. One could say he continued the documentary approach of his 1998 film Afterlife with this naturalism, but by the end of the decade he almost completely abandoned this way of filmmaking with his stylised fairy tale Air Doll. Still his documentary-like method of researching, with years and decades of planning and research, has stayed mostly the same throughout the decade.

Distance was Koreeda’s first film of the 2000’s and an important step into that improvised way of shooting that would serve as an exercise for his later Nobody Knows. Still, the film is more than just that, finely exploring Koreeda’s usual themes of death, loss and memory it examines the effects of the Tokyo Gas attacks on the family and friends of the offenders of the crime. Nishikawa Miwa, another talented director of the past decade was an assistant director on the set of Distance and later Koreeda’s production company co-produced some of her films.

With Nobody Knows Koreeda shows his social involvement once again, much more than in his other post-documentary work. The abandonment of three children by a neglecting mother is clearly brought to us as a social problem, without heroes and villains. Above all, however, it’s a touching coming of age story that transcends the social commentary film with its observing camera and the excellent naturalistic acting of the children actors, especially the oldest of the bunch; Yagira Yuya, who picked up a best actor award in Cannes.

Some critics have complained about Koreeda going more mainstream in this decade, casting popular actors like Abe Hiroshi and compromising more in his way of shooting. Nowhere this is more appearant as in his 2006 film Hana, a pacifist samurai film about a cowardly samurai who attempts to commit revenge on the man who killed his father. While it’s a daring step to make a jidai-geki and it shows the diversity of films Koreeda wants to make, Hana feels too much like a studio film and compromised compared to his earlier works.

Still Walking is Koreeda’s most personal film in the sense that it deals with the relationship he had with his mother. When he made this film he was told by producers that the film wasn’t universal enough to be exported abroad. It turned out to be a major mistake by the producers since the film became Koreeda’s most succesful film abroad. It proves Koreeda’s statement that the more personal the film, the more universal it becomes. Still Walking is a great revival of the home drama that is more indebted to Naruse’s work than that of Ozu’s, which it has been compared to by many film critics. Still Walking easily stands as one of the best films in this genre of the past decade.

Air Doll has received mixed reviews from critics and fans. Its overclear fairy tale message and simplistic characters have made it hard to swallow for many, but it’s hard to deny the talented performance of the Korean Boo-Dae Na, who already showed her Talent in Linda Linda Linda. With the camera of Lee Ping Bing and music by World’s End Girlfriend Air Doll is a clear example of style over substance and a misfit in Koreeda’s oeuvre.

Still Walking (2001)
Nobody Knows (2004)
Hana (2006)
Still Walking (2008)
Air Doll (2009)



SHIOTA Akihiko
HIROKI Ryuichi
TOYODA Toshiaki
KITANO Takeshi
SAI Yoichi

IWAI Shunji
MIIKE Takashi
KON Satoshi
ISHII Katsuhito

ANDO Momoko
TSUBOTA Yoshifumi

The Complete List
United Red Army (2007, Wakamatsu)
Still Walking (2006, Koreeda)
Shara (2003, Kawase)
Harmful Insect (2001, Shiota)
The Rebirth (2007, Kobayashi)
It’s only Talk (2005, Hiroki)
Eureka (2000, Aoyama)
Nobody Knows (2003, Koreeda)
Sweet Little Lies (2009, Yazaki)
Spirited Away (2001, Miyazaki)

Blue Spring 2001, Toyoda)
Vibrator (2003, Hiroki)
Yureru (2006, Nishikawa)
Letters from a Yellow Cherry Blossom (2005, Kawase)
Canary (2005, Shiota)
Dear Doctor (2009, Nishikawa)
Who’s Camus Anyway? (2005, Yanagimachi)
Hush! (2001, Hashiguchi)
Moon and Cherry (2004, Tanada)
Tokyo Sonata (2008, Kurosawa)

The Taste of Tea (2001, Ishii)
Campaign (2007, Soda)
Kakera: A Piece of our Life (2009, Ando)
Strawberry Shortcakes (2006,Yazaki)
Tokyo Trash Baby (2000, Hiroki)
A Snake of June (2002, Tsukamoto)
Distance (2001, Koreeda)
The Mourning Forest (2007, Kawase)
Bashing (2005, Kobayashi)
Bright Future (2003, Kurosawa)

Permanent Nobara (2009, Yoshida)
Yasukuni (2007, Li)
Blood and Bones (2004, Sai)
Noriben, the Recipe for Fortune (2009, Ogata)
Tokyo Sora (2002, Ishikawa
Shadow of Sand (2008, Kaida)
Millennium Actress (2001, Kon)
Dolls (2002, Kitano)
Linda Linda Linda (2005, Yamashita)
Miyoko (2009, Tsubota)

Visitor Q (2001, Miike)
One Million Yen Girl (2006, Tanada)
Girlfriend (2000, Hiroki)
Air Doll (2009, Koreeda)
All About Lily Chou Chou (2001, Iwai)
Howl’s Moving Castle (2003, Miyazaki)
Woman who is Beating the Earth (2007, Inoue)
A Gentle Breeze in the Village (2007, Yamashita)
The Sea was watching (2002, Kumai)
Suki da (2005, Ishikawa)

Battle Royale (2000, Fukasaku)
Symbol (2009, Matsumoto)
Funuke, Show Some Love You Losers! (2006, Yoshida)
Zatoichi (2003, Kitano)
Summer Wars (2009, Hosoda)
Hanging Garden (2005, Toyoda)
All Around Us (2008, Hashiguchi)
Ichi the Killer (2001, Miike)
Hana & Alice (2004, Iwai)
Pistol Opera (2001, Suzuki)

Paprika (2006, Kon)
Nonko (2008, Kumakiri)
Autumn Adagio (2009, Inoue)
Cat Soup (2001, Sato)
Vital (2004, Tsukamoto)
Where are you? (2008, Kobayashi)
Ponyo (2008, Miyazaki)
Tony Takitani (2004, Ichikawa)
I am an S&M Writer (2000, Hiroki)
Wild Berries (2003, Nishikawa)

I just didn’t do it (2006, Suo)
The House of Small Cubes (2008, Kato)
Ain’t no Tomorrows (2008, Tanada)
Hana (2006, Koreeda)
Fine, Totally Fine (2008, Fujita)
Fish Story (2009, Nakamura)
Man Walking on Snow (2001, Kobayashi)
Sad Vacation (2007, Aoyama)
Megane (2007, Ogigami)
The Twilight Samurai (2002, Yamada)

Nanayomachi (2009, Kawase)
Princess Raccoon (2005, Suzuki)
The Dark Harbour (2008, Takatsuga)
The Kon Ichikawa Story (2006, Iwai)
The Magic Hour (2008, Mitani)
Villon’s Wife (2009, Negishi)
Box (2004, Miike)
The Homeless Student (2008, Ishii)
Yama no Anata (2008, Ishii)
Takeshi’s (2005, Kitano)

The Cat Returns (2002, Morita)
How to Become Myself (2007, Ichikawa)
Achilles and the Tortoise (2008, Kitano)
Zebraman (2003, Miike)
Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad (2007, Matsuoka)
Glory to the Filmmaker (2008, Kitano)
Be With You (2004, Doi)
Big Man Japan (2007, Matsumoto)
Memories of Matsuko (2006, Nakashima)
Departures (2008, Takita)



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great list!

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Thanks for this!

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Dimitris Psachos


Confidentially speaking, this is the best list concerning 2000's Japanese cinema in the Auteurs aka MUBI ;)

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Blue K, Custodian of the Cinema


yes, yes, yes, tsubarashi.


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