4 Best Movies to Watch by Mitsuru Hirata

Staff & contributors

Shattering the rules for how a biographical drama can look and be told, Paul Schrader's Mishima rejects the usual character study template in favor of a much more abstract attempt to understand a person through their art. Told in fragments that flit between Mishima's early life, dramatizations of his fiction novels, and the final day of his life, the film pieces together what it believes was the core of this person's life. Schrader's script (co-written with his brother Leonard Schrader) traces within Mishima's history a lifelong struggle with perceptions of his own masculinity and authority—as if he spent his every waking moment trying to compensate for a lack that he could hardly articulate. The character's eventual turn towards reactionary beliefs makes logical sense in the film, but remains baffling all the same.

With all of its talk about beauty—enhanced by Philip Glass' opulent musical score, and Eiko Ishioka's breathtaking production design that transforms Mishima's novels into tactile stage productions—the film conceals an incredibly dark heart. Mishima doesn't inspire sympathy so much as he inspires morbid fascination, and it's both a daring and frustrating choice to focus entirely on the character's harmful delusions without room for much else. Still, Schrader has constructed an unforgettable audiovisual experience that lingers long after it's over.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alan Poul, Bandō Mitsugorō X, Chishū Ryū, Eimei Esumi, Go Riju, Haruko Kato, Hideo Fukuhara, Hiroshi Katsuno, Hiroshi Mikami, Hisako Manda, Jun Negami, Junkichi Orimoto, Ken Ogata, Kenji Sawada, Koichi Sato, Kunihiko Ida, Masahiko Sakata, Masato Aizawa, Masayuki Shionoya, Miki Takakura, Minoru Hodaka, Mitsuru Hirata, Naoko Ohtani, Naomi Oki, Naoya Makoto, Reisen Ri, Roy Scheider, Ryō Ikebe, Sachiko Hidari, Setsuko Karasuma, Tadanori Yokoo, Toshio Hosokawa, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Yasuaki Kurata, Yasuhiro Arai, Yosuke Mizuno, Yuki Kitazume

Director: Paul Schrader

Rating: R

Even if you aren't familiar with Akira Kurosawa classics like Rashomon and Seven Samurai, Madadayo works as a portrait of a great man who seemed to feel nothing at the end of his career other than gratitude. Made up of long, wholesome conversations between real-life Japanese academic Hyakken Uchida (Tatsuo Matsumura) and his former students, the film finds plenty of wisdom in observing the little things. And as hard as his students try to make sure Uchida's twilight years are as comfortable as possible, there's still something elusive about this man overwhelmed by all the good and bad fortune in his life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Akira Terao, Asei Kobayashi, Eiji Bandô, George Tokoro, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Hisashi Igawa, Kazuhiko Kasai, Kinzō Sakura, Kōjirō Kusanagi, Kyōko Kagawa, Masahiko Tanimura, Masayuki Yui, Masuo Amada, Mie Suzuki, Minoru Hirano, Mitsuru Hirata, Nobuto Okamoto, Noriko Honma, Norio Matsui, Shigeo Katô, Shû Nakajima, Takao Zushi, Takeshi Kusaka, Tatsuo Matsumura, Tetsu Watanabe, Tetsuya Ito, Tomoko Ôtakara, Toshihiko Nakano, Yoshitaka Zushi

Director: Akira Kurosawa

With a new, fast-paced media landscape, Call Me Chihiro might feel too slow for people new to the story. Composed of serene, slice-of-life moments, the film starts off feeling plotless, as the titular protagonist builds random interactions with the townspeople. She makes friends with people who seemingly don’t have much in common with her. Despite this, each interaction feels meaningful and genuine, thanks to the subtle acting of Kasumi Arimura. And as these scenes build up, and Chihiro’s friends begin to become friends with each other, these day-to-day moments form a character study of a lonely woman whose kindness and appreciation for life make her feel so admirable. For those wistful Sunday nights, Call Me Chihiro might be a great watch, but only if you’re in that certain mood.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Fusako Urabe, Hana Toyoshima, Itsuki Nagasawa, Jun Fubuki, Kasumi Arimura, Keiichi Suzuki, Lily Franky, Mitsuru Hirata, Miwako Ichikawa, Ryuya Wakaba, Shigeo Ôsako, Tetta Shimada, Toshie Negishi, Van, Wakaba Ryuuya, Yoichiro Saito, Yui Sakuma

Director: Rikiya Imaizumi

Rating: R, TV-14