Indie Japan

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.


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The Emperor's Naked Army Marches OnThe Emperor's Naked Army Marches On

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.

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Woman of the DunesWoman of the Dunes

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.

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Love ExposureLove Exposure

Comedy2008237 minsDirector: Sion Sono

Japanese cinema's enfant terrible, Sion Sono, unleashes this demented, whirlwind tale of cults, love, violence and perversion.

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Violent CopViolent Cop

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.

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Boiling PointBoiling Point

Crime199097 minsDirector: Takeshi Kitano

A young baseball player becomes mixed up with a psychotic yakuza, in Takeshi Kitano's hilarious and twisted crime tale.

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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.

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Inflatable Sex Doll of the WastelandsInflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands

Crime196786 minsDirector: Atsushi Yamatoya

A hitman is hired to track down a kidnapped girl in this hallucinatory mix of erotica and yakuza violence.

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Funeral Parade of RosesFuneral Parade of Roses

Drama1970106 minsDirector: Toshio Matsumoto

Toshio Matsumoto's kaleidoscopic masterpiece is one of the most intoxicating films of the 60s.

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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.

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A Scene at the SeaA Scene at the Sea

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.

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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.

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Getting Any?Getting Any?

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.

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Sawako DecidesSawako Decides

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.

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Mitsuko DeliversMitsuko Delivers

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.

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The Woodsman and the RainThe Woodsman and the Rain

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.

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A Snake of JuneA Snake of June

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.

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Tetsuo: The Iron ManTetsuo: The Iron Man

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.

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Tetsuo II: Body HammerTetsuo II: Body Hammer

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.

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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.

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Shinjuku Triad SocietyShinjuku Triad Society

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.

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Drama1995109 minsDirector: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Koreeda’s first fiction feature is an exquisite meditation on loss, loneliness, uncertainty, and coming to terms with the past.

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Horror196639 minsDirector: Nobuhiko Obayashi

Nobuhiko Ôbayashi's collagic-vampiric love story is a highly stylish homage to Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses.

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Drama196119 minsDirector: Nobuhiko Obayashi

A young couple have a life-changing picnic in the forest, in this short film from Nobuhiko Obayashi (House/Hausu)

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The Girl in the PictureThe Girl in the Picture

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.

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Dangan RunnerDangan Runner

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.