Top 5 Films Featuring Japan
Japan is a country that definitely has seen its fair share of coverage through movies. From Tokyo being synonymous with a futuristic, Jetson-like metropolis to the stern, honor-bound samurai, we’ve all seen Hollywood’s depiction of Japan and wondered if the country really lives up to the hype. Here’s a list of the Top 5 films which feature Japan. As a disclaimer, these aren’t necessarily the best films critically or cinematically, but just this writers humble opinion of the top 5 films that prominently feature Japan in an interesting way.
5. You Only Live Twice (1967)
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Starting off the list is a relatively unknown Bond film when compared with the heavy-hitters such as Casino Royale and Goldfinger. Starring Sean Connery, “You Only Live Twice” takes place almost entirely in the land of the rising sun as Bond is dispatched there during the height of the Cold war between The Soviet Union and America. Whilst the film is set in Japan, it does little to really utilize the landscape aside from the obvious thematic scenery. Alot of interesting locations were used during the filming. Himeji Castle in Hyogo was used to depict a ninja training ground. Places such as Kobe Harbor were also used for the fighting scene on the dock. Whilst definitely not the best Bond film out there, “You Only Live Twice” is interesting enough to keep viewers entertained and is definitely worth a watch.
4. Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
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“Memoirs of a Geisha” is a film adaptation of a book by the same name and follows the life of a young girl, Chiyo Sakamoto who is sold to a geisha house at a young age and then proceeds to learn the life of a geisha. In the process, Chiyo struggles to find love and to come to grips with who she is. There is a heavy look at the role of geisha and their place in Japanese society and certain commentary is made on the patriarchal society of Japan. The film was nominated for six Academy awards and won three for best cinematography, art direction and costume design.
A polarizing film, “Memoirs of a Geisha” certainly received its share of criticism both by Western and Asian audiences. There was particular controversy among Chinese and Japanese audiences as the main three leads are all Chinese. Zhang Ziyi, who plays the films lead Chiyo, has spoken out in defense of the film, stating that “a director should cast people he believes is appropriate for the role and that decision should be made regardless of race.” The film was eventually banned from screening in China due to high tensions between China and Japan. Many people felt that it would bring back memories of Chinese women being taken by Japanese soldiers in World-War 2 and forced to be “comfort women”. There was also a misconception that geisha’s were the equivalent of prostitutes and the fact that Chinese women were cast to play these roles only heightened controversy.
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Godzilla. You knew it was coming. What can be more iconic than the fire-breathing, Tokyo-crushing, amphibious, reptilian Kaiju (monster) called Godzilla. With several movies under his (or her) belt and constant references being made in pop culture, Godzilla has become synonymous with Japan and spawned a whole subculture of Tokusatsu films and television series. For this list we`ve decided to go with Godzilla as the mammoth icon that he (or again, she) is, rather than trying to single out a particular film. However, the new Godzilla film (2014) definitely wasn`t his finest outing, despite an epic final 30 minutes.
2. Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
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Who can forget the O-Ren Ishii anime-flashback scene? Or the restaurant battle sequence against the Crazy 88? Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 “Ode to Japan” epic makes it to number two on our list today and with good reason. Quentin Tarantino masterfully fuses beautiful set pieces and cinematography with a gripping revenge story of a jilted wife with an amazing soundtrack to craft a stunning homage to traditional Japanese samurai film. Everything about the film is stylistic and tongue-in-cheek whilst remaining effortlessly “cool”. Kill Bill Volume 1 goes down as one of Quentin Tarantino’s most commercially successful films and is a much watch for budding Tarantino fans.
1. Lost in Translation (2003)
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Any foreigner that has ever spent an extended period of time in Japan will understand the dizzying lights, bizarre and often perplexing cultural differences and subtle alienation portrayed in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film, Lost in Translation. The film delves deeply into exploring the feeling of loss of purpose in a city where everyone seem’s to have a place to be. Two people find each other at very different stages in their lives but are able to connect through a desire for the familiar. Along the way they find that the things they shared in common in the beginning are not as important as the level of comfort they are able to offer one another. These two characters end up being the protagonists of the film, but the crux is the city of Tokyo. The city is full of life, whether it be the hustle and bustle of Shibuya and Shinjuku or the quiet serenity of Meiji Shrine.
The film is adept at tapping into some very subtle emotions, one which I believe any foreigner in Japan is somewhat familiar with. The scene where both characters are at a restaurant but don’t know what the differences are between the meats, the nightlife and karaoke and the feeling that you’re 7 feet tall walking on eggshells are all nuanced feelings one may experience whilst living in Japan and is a side uniquely explored within this film.