7 Best Movies to Watch by Tetta Sugimoto

Staff & contributors
In 2009, Departures surprised everybody by winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, instead of everyone's favourite, Ari Folman's Waltz of Bashir. This is even more surprising since this Japanese comedy almost never saw the light of day because many distributors refused to release it at first for its humorous treatment of a very human, but weirdly taboo subject: what happens when you die. Daigo Kobayashi (played by former boyband member Masahiro Motoki) just bought an expensive cello when he learns that his Tokyo-based symphony orchestra is going bankrupt. Daigo and his wife Mika, played by Ryôko Hirosue, decide to move back to his hometown, where he applies for an opening at what he thinks is a travel agency, hence the departures. You might have guessed by now that what he was applying for was, in fact, the job of an undertaker—a profession considered unclean in Japan. It's one of those rare movies that will make you laugh, to making you cry, and laugh again. It's dead-on!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Justin Lukach, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kimiko Yo, Maisie Williams, Masahiro Motoki, Nina Dobrev, Ryoko Hirosue, Ryosuke Otani, Sanae Miyata, Scott Wilson, Takashi Sasano, Taro Ishida, Tatsuo Yamada, Tetta Sugimoto, Tōru Minegishi, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Tyler Hoechlin, Yukari Tachibana

Director: Yōjirō Takita

Rating: PG-13

, 1987

While marked as a comedy, Zegen isn’t the kind of film that would make you laugh freely– it is, after all, a film that mocks the real-life sex trafficking of impoverished Japanese women during both world wars. This makes it a challenging film to watch, especially to viewers outside the country. But to Shohei Imamura’s credit, the butt of the joke isn’t on the women being sold, but rather, on the titular pimp Iheiji Muraoka, the delusions and lies he told himself and others, and the twisted nationalism he uses to exploit his ladies. Zegen is based on Muraoka’s supposedly true autobiography, but Imamura uses the text to mirror the follies (and consequences) of imperialism.

Genre: Comedy, History

Actor: Hiroyuki Konishi, Ken Ogata, Ko Chun-Hsiung, Mitsuko Baisho, Norihei Miki, Sanshô Shinsui, Shino Ikenami, Taiji Tonoyama, Tetta Sugimoto

Director: Shōhei Imamura

Everyone has those days where nothing goes right, but no one’s having as bad of a day as detective Yuji Kudo is in Hard Days. It isn’t just that nothing goes right– everything goes wrong, and he’s just a hair away from losing it all each time. This Japanese adaptation might take a slightly more serious tone than the South Korean original, but it does retain its ridiculous escalation of increasingly terrible things that could possibly happen, with Junichi Okada and Go Ayano letting loose in their detective characters’ morally dubious behavior. Hard Day is a decent watch, if a bit bloated, especially for those familiar with the story.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Akira Emoto, Go Ayano, Hayato Isomura, Junichi Okada, Kurumi Shimizu, Maho Yamada, Mario Kuroba, Ryoko Hirosue, Ryusuke Komakine, Takashi Yamanaka, Taro Suruga, Tetta Sugimoto

Director: Michihito Fujii

Yu Katayama lives in a remote village with a garbage disposal business that's slowly turning into a landfill. When his childhood friend Misaki Nakai returns to the village, she encourages Yu to make a better life for himself despite his mother's gambling and the village ostracizing him. The Village is a slow-burning film interested in Yu's struggles as an outcast and in discussing the takeover of small villages for capitalistic industrial motives. The film is shot beautifully with dark, brooding visuals and lingering shots of Yu's quiet intensity throughout the film. Unfortunately, secondary characters are not fully developed outside of their interactions with Yu, causing the film to feel flat outside of pivotal moments. An evocative idea with parts more memorable than the whole.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Arata Furuta, Daiken Okudaira, Hana Kino, Haru Kuroki, Naomi Nishida, Ryusei Yokohama, Sakuma Ryuto, Shidô Nakamura, Tetta Sugimoto, Wataru Ichinose

Director: Michihito Fujii

Rating: R, TV-MA

When it wants to be, City Hunter is a fun neon-lit buddy cop comedy that giddily and at times gorily takes us through the seedy underbelly of Tokyo. Leading man Ryo is charismatic, the perfect blend of cool and comedic, while leading woman Kaori is just as adept and charming. The film is also as fast-paced and seamless as you’d want any action-packed movie to be. The only problem City Hunter has is that, despite being a modern adaptation of the iconic ‘80s manga, it’s still stuck in a different century. The very first scene we get is that of Ryo ogling a woman’s breasts, which pretty much dictates the tone of the rest of the film. It’s all horniness and objectification—endless jokes at the expense of its female characters—which is a shame since Kaori is a badass lead. I’m not suggesting Ryo should magically transform into a woke and respectable man, scrubbed of all personality, just that the filmmakers should retain a smidge of control and refrain from fully surrendering to the character’s POV.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Akira Kamiya, Ami201, Asuka Hanamura, Ayame Misaki, Chase Kim, Fumino Kimura, Isao Hashizume, Masanobu Ando, Misato Morita, Moemi Katayama, Ryohei Suzuki, Stephanie Wong, Takaya Sakoda, Tetta Sugimoto, Yuuki Luna

Director: Yuichi Satoh

Rating: R