Essential World Cinema: 5 Best Japanese Films

Perfect Blue


Anime takes all shapes and sizes, it houses the greatest variety of any kind of animation that currently exists. The thing that sets Perfect Blue apart is that if it had been made anywhere other than Japan it probably would’ve been a relatively low budget live action piece. It doesn’t need to be animated, the fact that it is just accentuates its artistic merit. It was the first film directed by the late, great Satoshi Kon, who would later go on to make seminal classics like Millennium Actress and Paprika. For my money though, Perfect Blue remains his strongest film, despite the fact that it divided audiences, was marred by budgetary constraints and bombed at the box office.

The central character is Mima, the leading member of a grotesquely saccharine J-Pop trio who branches off to try and make a name for herself as an actress. To say it doesn’t go well would be a stark understatement. She’s bullied by producers, maligned by her fans, forced to select demeaning (and sometimes deeply degrading) roles and hounded by an abusive stalker. It’s a dark, sad tale of the evils that young women have to endure to try and make ‘the big time’. The turmoil Mima is placed under weighs so heavily on her that she starts to hallucinate, an idealized, angelic pop-star version of herself haunts her every step, repeatedly telling her how ‘disgusting’ she is.

As the film goes on fantasy and reality begin to seamlessly blend and the tension reaches an almost unbearable fever-pitch, this film is as unpredictable as it is disturbing, it’s like Hitchcock by way of David Lynch but beyond that it’s also making some really important points about the treatment of women in show business. Darren Aronofsky actually acquired the rights to the film in order to recreate a shot from it in Requiem for a Dream and there are distinct similarities between it and Black Swan. Evil demon water and ghosts crawling out of TV sets are one thing but this is scary for far deeper, more important reasons.




The influence that feudal Japanese history has had on its cinema is significant to say the least. J-horror is built on a foundation of ancient ghost stories and the samurai mentality, particularly the idea of ‘Bushido’ is still very resonant. Akira Kurosawa understood this better than perhaps any director, films like Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress defined Japan’s golden era (and helped inspire Star Wars in the process) but I’d say that Ran is the real culmination of all his work, his greatest masterpiece.

Ran retells the story of King Lear in the context of ancient Japan, it’s not a direct adaptation and in fact the line between adaption and influence is pretty blurred. Though the main premise of a king (or lord in this case) dividing his land up amongst his three children (all male here) is still present, the characters and themes are markedly different. King Lear is a tale of ignorance, entitlement and greed whether as Ran is more about cruelty and the evils of war. Kurosawa’s legacy was assured by this stage in his career, so he was able to shoot the film on a massive scale, with additional money coming in courtesy of French producer Serge Silberman, a frequent collaborator with Luis Brunel. It might be the most beautiful film ever made. The romanticism of the landscape and the bold colours of the costumes create a striking contrast with the nihilistic statements the film makes, don’t look for thrilling action here, the battle sequences make no attempt to revel in the violence, instead preferring to linger on the aftermath and ponder over the pointlessness of it all. The further back in time you go, the more difficult it is to exemplify the horror of warfare but Ran is such an evocative theater of malice that it feels like it could have been set last week.

The film only enjoyed modest box office success, a lukewarm critical reception and a fairly comprehensive snubbing at the award ceremonies. It took a campaign from Sidney Lumet to even get Kurosawa a shot at the Best Director Oscar, which was ultimately nabbed by Sidney Pollack. Since then the film has earned a well deserved legacy and is often cited as one of Kurosawa’s greatest films. The man himself is widely regarded as one of the greatest directors of all time and I’m inclined to agree, his ruthless perfectionism and precision allegedly made him difficult to work with but his films carry an unmatched emotional impact. Ran is Lord of the Rings for people who like to sit in dark rooms listening to The Cure.

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.