Celebrating the renegade spirit that powers the most exciting Japanese cinema.
Despite its exotic reputation in the West, Japanese cinema as a whole is generally conservative by nature, dominated for most of its history by the same five major studios: Tōhō, Tōei, Shōchiku, Kadokawa and Nikkatsu.
While those giants bequeathed greats like Kurosawa and Ozu, a parallel tradition has always run through Japanese cinema. It’s the rebellious spirit that inspired Kaneto Shindo to boldly set up his own independent production outfit in the 1950s, and later saw Seijun Suzuki part ways with Nikkatsu when his ideas became too wild.
Distributors like the Art Theatre Guild stepped into the breach, famously turning to production to nurture numerous talents (and classics like Funeral Parade of Roses), while TV companies also played their part in giving promising filmmakers a break, such as TV Man Union with Hirokazu Koreeda.
Come the 1990s – and the arrival of cheaper filmmaking technology – an entire rival industry had sprung up: V-Cinema. From this rough-and-ready scene directors like Sabu and Takeshi Miike emerged; filmmakers instilled with the mindset to shock, grab attention and work at furious pace, even now they're no longer required to.
The indie ethos is perhaps best personified by Takeshi Kitano, the gameshow host who struggled to gain acceptance from the Japanese film industry despite winning wide international acclaim. We celebrate the continuing defiance of such figures with this collection of iconoclastic classics.
Documentary1987121 minsDirector: Kazuo Hara
Kazuo Hara’s infamous and audacious documentary follows Kenzo Okuzaki, an ageing Japanese WWII veteran on a mission to uncover the truth about atrocities committed during the war in the Pacific.
Animation & Artists Moving Image1964147 minsDirector: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Hiroshi Teshigahara's mystifying, serene and provocative fable about an entomologist who becomes trapped in a young widow’s desert shack.
Comedy2008237 minsDirector: Sion Sono
Japanese cinema's enfant terrible, Sion Sono, unleashes this demented, whirlwind tale of cults, love, violence and perversion.
Crime1989103 minsDirector: Takeshi Kitano
In his brutal directorial debut, ‘Beat' Takeshi Kitano plays a renegade cop who frequently resorts to violence and unethical methods to get results.
Crime199097 minsDirector: Takeshi Kitano
A young baseball player becomes mixed up with a psychotic yakuza, in Takeshi Kitano's hilarious and twisted crime tale.
Crime199394 minsDirector: Takeshi Kitano
Takeshi Kitano's masterful and meditative gangster film, about a yakuza sent to the beautiful beaches of Okinawa where he has time to ruminate on his fate.
Crime196786 minsDirector: Atsushi Yamatoya
A hitman is hired to track down a kidnapped girl in this hallucinatory mix of erotica and yakuza violence.
Drama1970106 minsDirector: Toshio Matsumoto
Toshio Matsumoto's kaleidoscopic masterpiece is one of the most intoxicating films of the 60s.
Drama1981145 minsDirector: Seijun Suzuki
Seijun Suzuki's enigmatic, sumptuously designed dream of 1920s Japan might, just might be a ghost story... Voted the best Japanese film of the '80s by Japanese critics.
Drama1991101 minsDirector: Takeshi Kitano
An atypically lyrical offering from Takeshi Kitano, charting the course of a relationship between a boy and his girlfriend – both profoundly deaf – when the former decides to teach himself to surf.
Drama1997103 minsDirector: Takeshi Kitano
In one of Takeshi Kitano's most acclaimed films, he plays a detective who turns to crime while caring for his terminally ill wife.
Comedy1994109 minsDirector: Takeshi Kitano
From the acclaimed director Takeshi Kitano (Sonatine, Hana-Bi) comes a change of pace - a bizarre, over the top and absurd comedy full of slapstick silliness and never ending gags.
Comedy2010112 minsDirector: Yuya Ishii
Sawako tries to save her father's ailing clam-packing business, but it's an uphill struggle, in Yuya Ishii's joyous, nuanced, comic drama.
Comedy2011109 minsDirector: Yuya Ishii
An eccentric, pregnant young lady returns to her hometown to help her downtrodden old neighbours, in Yûya Ishii 's strange, whimsical comedy.
Comedy2011128 minsDirector: Shûichi Okita
A redneck lumberjack is recruited to work on a rookie producer's inane zombie movie, in this hilarious movie-making satire.
Drama200277 minsDirector: Shinya Tsukamoto
Bizarre and unsettling sex fantasy from Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo), about a woman blackmailed by a stranger into enacting his wildest fantasies.
Fantasy198867 minsDirector: Shinya Tsukamoto
Shinya Tsukamoto's wild cyberpunk tale of a businessman's agonising transformation into a walking scrap heap is a jaggedly dehumanised vision of the future.
Horror199181 minsDirector: Shinya Tsukamoto
Shinya Tsukamoto's sequel has the Iron Man transforming into a cyberkinetic gun when a gang of vicious skinheads kidnap his son.
Period drama1964102 minsDirector: Kaneto Shindo
Stylish, symbolic and erotically charged Japanese horror in which the fortunes of a murderous mother-and-daughter team are upended by a strangely masked samurai.
Gangster1995102 minsDirector: Takashi Miike
Amid a war between Taiwanese Triads and Japanese Yakuza, a mixed-race cop hunts a psychotic criminal who traffics in children's organs.
Drama1995109 minsDirector: Hirokazu Koreeda
Koreeda’s first fiction feature is an exquisite meditation on loss, loneliness, uncertainty, and coming to terms with the past.
Drama196032 minsDirector: Nobuhiko Obayashi
The debut film of Nobuhiko Obayashi (House/Hausu) is a wistful experimental short in which his formal dexterity is already evident.
Drama199782 minsDirector: Sabu
Acclaimed Japanese director Sabu (Happiness, Miss Zombie) with this frenetic, kinetic action comedy set on the bustling streets of Tokyo, the story of three losers brought together by fate.