Doo-Na Bae gives a tremendously affecting performance as a blow-up doll who comes to life and tries to understand loneliness and what it is to be human.
2. Bare Essence Of Life (dir. Satoko Yokohama)
Satoko Yokohama's second feature is a gentle, funny, strange and occasionally surreal look at two people's, not to mention the human race's, attempts to try to control what scares them.
3. Symbol (dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto)
WTF has a new poster child and its name is "Symbol". Hitoshi Matsumoto's most recent film is a head-shaking, sometimes frustrating and sometimes hilarious experience that touches on the metaphysical, the religious and the philosophical.
4. Love Exposure (dir. Sion Sono)
The initial stills from Sion Sono's latest were enough to put it in my Top 5. And everything just kept getting better after that.
5. Still Walking (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda)
Yes, it's a cheat. Hirokazu Kore-eda's story about a family's annual ritual of getting together to remember the passing of the eldest son was actually a 2008 release. It made it's way to North American shores in 2009, though, so I'm allowing it. It's a simple, quiet and lovely bit of filmmaking that deserves further mention.
Top Five DVD Releases of 2009
1. Nikkatsu Noir (Criterion/ Eclipse)
5 films (each of which probably could have made the list by itself) of glorious black and white cinematography and lots of yakuza antics. Thank you Eclipse. Now bring us more!
2. The Human Condition (Criterion)
574 minutes of prime Masaki Kobayashi. Why wouldn't this be on the list?
3. Detective Bureau 2-3: Go To Hell Bastards! (Kino)
Rat-a-tat pulsing snare drums blast out of the speakers, scantily clad dancers jiggle around a Christmas tree and Jo Shishido smirks while holding a large machine gun like weapon...And that's just the menu of the DVD. Seijun Suzuki does it again.
4. 3 Seconds Before Explosion (Kino)
Another fast paced, colourful and completely entertaining story of undercover spies and gangs with lots of stylish violence.
A double shot of the lovely Meiko Kaji (as Nami The Red Cherry Blossom) righting injustices and having big final showdowns with bad guys.
Top Ten of the 00's
1. A Gentle Breeze In The Village (dir. Nobuhiro Yamashita, 2007)
A beautiful sweet tale of a young girl transitioning from her one room schoolhouse into adulthood. It's a crime this isn't available to a wider audience.
2. Linda Linda Linda (dir. Nobuhiro Yamashita, 2005)
You want a coming of age film for teens? Nobuhiro Yamashita knows how to make them. A sweet story about 4 young girls practicing for a battle of the bands competition, Yamashita allows the camera to linger with these characters and lets us get to know them.
3. The Taste Of Tea (dir. Katsuhito Ishii, 2004)
A tale of a Japanese family who are wrapped up in their own personal issues and problems until the head of the family is able to show them how to enjoy the simple things in life. Warm, wonderful, funny and surreal. And it contains The Mountain Song.
4. Pulse (dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's incredibly creepy ghost story is a doomsday scenario tied to a tale of humans being disconnected from the world around them. Brilliant sound design throughout.
5. Ju-On: The Grudge (dir. Takashi Shimizu, 2002)
Gradually this film works on you using its sound field, subtle effects and disorienting timeline until you're all curled up in a tiny ball in your chair.
6. Still Walking (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda, 2008)
Hirokazu Kore-eda has the ability to tell simple stories in very engrossing and compassionate ways.
7. Battle Royale (dir. Kinji Fukasaku, 2000)
Kinji Fukasaku's last great movie.
8. Nobody Knows (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda, 2004)
12 year old Akira has been left in charge of his three younger siblings (all from different fathers) by his selfish mother in this tragic and very moving story. Kore-eda does it again.
9. Survive Style 5+ (dir. Gen Sekiguchi, 2004)
Explosions of colour and fun. And Tadanobu Asano.
10. Spirited Away (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
The sheer amount of creativity and imagination put into this film and its characters is staggering.