3 Best Movies to Watch by Tetsu Watanabe

Staff & contributors

From the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, and courtesy of Studio Ghibli, which also brought you Spirited Away, comes this epic whirlwind of a story. Set during a fantastical late Muromachi period, the medieval era of Japan, in a time when many humans were still living among nature, while others set out to conquer and tame it, the movie follows a young man named Ashitaka, who he seeks cure for the curse of a boar god, giving him superhuman powers but eventually killing him. He rides west on a fantastic beast, where he eventually sees a young woman named San, also known as Princess Mononoke. What unfolds from here, is an epic tale of mythical war on many fronts, between the nature gods and humans. While this may sound like a dichotomy, it never is that morally simplistic. The story is action-packed and fast-paced, drawing freely from Japanese mythology as well as modern hot-topic political issues. Add to this the fantastic visuals: Hayao Miyazaki uses a mixture of hand drawings and 3D rendering that are nothing short of spectacular. In short, Princess Mononoke is movie history. If you haven't seen it yet, do it now.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Fantasy

Actor: Akihiro Miwa, Akira Nagoya, Akira Sakamoto, Alex Fernandez, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Corey Burton, Daikichi Sugawara, Debi Derryberry, Gillian Anderson, Hisaya Morishige, Ikuko Yamamoto, Jada Pinkett Smith, John DeMita, John DiMaggio, Kaoru Kobayashi, Keith David, Kiho Iinuma, Makoto Satō, Masahiko Nishimura, Minnie Driver, Mitsuko Mori, Mitsuru Satô, Shiro Saito, Shirou Saitou, Sumi Shimamoto, Takako Katou, Tara Strong, Tetsu Watanabe, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Tsuzuki Kayako, Yayoi Kazuki, Yôji Matsuda, Yoshimasa Kondô, Youji Matsuda, Yûko Tanaka, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG-13

Without context, Minbo, or the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion seemed like a goofy satire, especially when the silly trumpet score pops up, and unfortunate hotel employees Suzuki and Wakasugi flounder around trying to solve the hotel’s yakuza problem on their own. And when Nobuko Miyamoto shows up as the brilliant lawyer, it’s so satisfying to see her turn the tables on the yakuza purely through words, strategy, and knowledge of law. It’s hilarious, but Minbo doesn’t just poke fun– it demystifies the gangster as a cool and untouchable figure, portraying them instead as loudmouthed bullies that we can handle. It also shows us how much can be done, only if we, as a group, perhaps as a whole nation, can muster the courage to fight.

Genre: Comedy, Crime

Actor: Akio Tanaka, Akira Nakao, Akira Takarada, Guts Ishimatsu, Hideji Ōtaki, Hōsei Komatsu, Kōji Sekiyama, Masahiko Tsugawa, Noboru Mitani, Nobuko Miyamoto, Shigeru Yazaki, Shirō Itō, Takehiro Murata, Tetsu Watanabe, Toshiro Yanagiba, Yasuo Daichi, Yuji Miyake

Director: Jūzō Itami

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