5 Best Movies to Watch by Yoshimasa Kondô

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, Sumi Shimamoto, Takako Katou, Tara Strong, Tetsu Watanabe, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Yayoi Kazuki, Yôji Matsuda, Yoshimasa Kondô, Youji Matsuda, Yûko Tanaka, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG-13

, 2023

Made on a clearly lower budget but with enthusiasm and love for the craft overflowing from every frame, Junta Yamaguchi's River gets clean and wholesome comedy—that's still plenty memorable—out of a terrific ensemble of actors, all of whom get to display a full range of expression for their increasingly exasperated characters. It's smart, economical filmmaking that's still dazzlingly put together, as each two-minute loop is done in a single unbroken shot that feels different with every reset. Yamaguchi is highly aware of how quickly this gimmick might overstay its welcome, so he allows the film's emotional landscape to open up considerably with every cycle. As the hell of this situation starts to chip away at the characters, the film also becomes more urgent and more soulful, leading the story down unexpected paths and inviting us to think beyond the pattern it sets up for itself.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Gota Ishida, Haruki Nakagawa, Kazunari Tosa, Manami Honjo, Masashi Suwa, Munenori Nagano, Riko Fujitani, Saori, Shiori Kubo, Takashi Sumita, Yoshifumi Sakai, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Torigoe

Director: Junta Yamaguchi

This beautiful, realistic, and nostalgic anime movie about childhood is one that almost anyone can relate to. Set in the year of 1982, twenty-seven-year-old Taeko Okajima is traveling to the countryside by train. Along her journey, she gets flashbacks of her childhood: mostly in elementary school, stealing glances at a boy, and navigating puberty. The movie goes back and forth between past and present, easily making one long for sun-filled summers of yesteryear and silly jokes between playfriends. As well as telling a story about Taeko's past, Only Yesterday also tells a story about her present, and the combined realism of the plotline with the beautiful animation grips you and doesn’t let go. Only Yesterday truly feels like home.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Romance

Actor: Chie Kitagawa, Ichirō Nagai, Issey Takahashi, Masahiro Ito, Masahiro Itou, Mayumi Iizuka, Mayumi Izuka, Michie Terada, Miki Imai, Toshiro Yanagiba, Yoko Honna, Yorie Yamashita, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Minowa, Yuuki Masuda

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

As a story, Knuckle Girl settles for the simplest beats, at times strung together by odd, obligatory choices (for example, a training montage that comes out of nowhere, or the film's abrupt ending). It's not particularly sophisticated as far as thriller narratives go. But taken as a showcase for boxing-centered action, the film really sets itself apart from many countless action movies on streaming. The fist-fights here are brutal and kinetic, shot through lots of dynamic footage and crunchy sound design—making every punch that's thrown feel desperate. And in the lead role, Ayaka Miyoshi makes for a convincing, everyman action star who always seems in over her head but perseveres all the same.

Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Ayaka Miyoshi, Eishin, Goki Maeda, Hideaki Ito, Kanata Hosoda, Kotona Minami, Masaki Miura, Narimi Arimori, Ruka Matsuda, Satoshi Jinbo, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yosuke Kubozuka, Yuichi Yasoda

Director: Chang

In Love and Deep Water is torn between multiple concepts. There’s a murder, sure, and a butler trying to figure out who’s the killer, but there also happens to be a romance plot where the same butler falls in love with the passenger that informs him of their partners’ infidelity. The film also tries to squeeze in comedy with the way the killers try to hide the dead body, the ridiculousness of some passengers, and cheeky but contextless commentary. While the romance is lovely, In Love and Deep Water isn’t the fun and chaotic murder mystery promised, as it drowns itself with interesting ideas that never really fully pans out.

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Airi Matsui, Aju Makita, Amane Okayama, Aoi Miyazaki, Hatsunori Hasegawa, Hidekazu Mashima, Ken Mitsuishi, Ken Yasuda, Kento Nagayama, Michiko Tomura, Miyu Hayashida, Nahana, Rinko Kikuchi, Ryo Yoshizawa, Saki Takaoka, Takashi Okabe, Tomu Miyazaki, Yasuomi Sano, Yoh Yoshida, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Izumisawa

Director: Yusuke Taki

Rating: R, TV-MA