If you read my list of favorite international drama movies, you'll probably know that I am a fan of world cinema, and my favorite among them is the Japanese film, Love Exposure. I particularly like Japanese cinema because it's often just so different from what we have in the western world, and makes for some hugely interesting films
Love Exposure comes from the mind of Sion Sono. Sono has been getting some attention recently for his upcoming Anti-Porno, which is billed as a satire of the pink film industry. Sion Sono is one of the bravest and most unique filmmakers working in the industry today. Sono goes places and pushes boundaries that other filmmakers wouldn't dream of. Sion Sono generally maintains something that other filmmakers may lose as they become more successful and want to be taken seriously: fun. Sion Sono is an experimental filmmaker with no set structure or style (except for being completely wacky and at often times, completely random). In that sense, Love Exposure is one of the mad genius's tamer films, but is still for me, his masterpiece.
This is not to talk down his other works, not at all. Sion Sono continues to shock and surprise us with films that we just would't see come from anybody else. Number 1 for me will always be Love Exposure, but aside from that, let's take a look some of his best, and whackiest movies. Now, I'm still working my way through Sono's films, so apologies if your favorite isn't here yet!
4. Tokyo Tribe/トーキョ．トライブ (2014)
Tokyo Tribe is one of the craziest and most original films I have ever seen. Think Step Up mixed with a '90s rap music video and all the shiny bling bling with martial arts. On steroids. The film revolves around a gang war going on between all of the "tribes" in Tokyo sometime in the future. The thing about this film, is that most of its dialogue is rapped. The film was described as "The worlds first battle rap musical."
Tokyo Tribe is one of those films that you just have to take with a grain of salt. It could be described as somewhat stereotypical, silly and misogynistic, as most of the women here are merely for show. There are exceptions: Kaori, professionally known as "Cyborg Kaori," a beat-boxer who is just too damn cool. And although only appearing in a few scenes for short periods of time, she was my favorite part of the movie. (Seriously, look her up!) Here's something worth noting: All of the rapping and such was done live, on camera. No lip-syncing or dubbing. However because of this, it becomes fairly easy to tell who's a professional and who's an actor!
You just can't help but have fun with Tokyo Tribe. Although its gimmick did wear on me after a while and I ultimately felt like the film went half an hour too long, it is a perfect, what I'd call "midnight movie" — something that doesn't require too much brainpower and something to disconnect from reality for a couple hours. However, be warned that there is a lot of provocative subjects, bloody violence and scenes of a sexual nature. This is not film with engaging characters and story. It's a film that at often times makes no sense, it's over the top and it's silly, but it is a damn good time.
3. Tag/リアル鬼ごっこ (2015)
I had a "WTF" look on my face throughout most of Tag. Not because it was bad, but because it's a film that deliberately makes zero sense and forces you to keep guessing. It revolves around the idea of parallel universes and escaping destiny. It ultimately begs the question of if our lives are already set out for us.
Tag ventures into the horror genre. It follows a girl named Mitsuko who narrowly escapes a massacre of her school class by a strong, violent gust of wind. Yep, wind. She flees and stumbles upon a different school and is welcomed by her friends that she does not recognize, leading us to believe that she has somehow crossed over into another dimension. This continues to happen as Mitsuko's situation and appearance changes as the film goes with each more bizarre than the last — from schoolgirl to track runner to a bride about to marry a man with a pig's head.
The revelation of what is happening is a little strange and maybe even silly, however it has a clever twist. Expect plenty of violence, gore, disturbing scenes and lots of head-scratching.
2. Cold Fish/冷たい熱帯魚 (2010)
Cold Fish is perhaps one of the less obviously wacky films to come from the mind of Sion Sono. It is wacky, but in a different, more serious way. Cold Fish is a serial killer horror that tells the story of a quiet tropical fish store owner who meets an eccentric fellow fish entrepreneur who seems perhaps a little too friendly.
As the film progresses, things just get darker and darker. Cold Fish is about what people can be capable of under the right circumstances. It's about social breakdown and what peer pressure can do. It's a little Breaking Bad-esque. It makes you question how far it'll actually go and whether this mild-mannered man will end up cracking under the pressure and reach his breaking point.
The performances here are excellent. Especially standing out are Mitsuru Fukikoshi as the shy Nobuyuki Syamoto, Denden as the eccentric Yukio Murata and Asuka Kurosawa as his seductive, even crazier-than-him partner in crime, Aiko Murata.
In the general sense, Cold Fish is slightly tamer than Sion Sono's other works. It's an unsettling, creepy, uncomfortable, shocking and often darkly humorous gore-fest.
1. Why Don't You Play In Hell?/地獄でなぜ悪い (2013)
Why Don't You Play in Hell? is wild, overly violent, silly and absolutely hilarious. It's probably the closest stylistically to Love Exposure, even using some of the same music in its soundtrack. Why Don't You Play in Hell? is about a high-school group of aspiring filmmakers who call themselves "The Fuck-Bombers." Yep. They walk around with their equipment constantly looking for cool things to film, including a dying man as he walks down a street dripping with blood. They make a wish to the "Movie God"to make a kick-ass action flick. Ten years pass and the furthest they've gotten is making a low-budget trailer for a samurai movie.
As the film progresses, they get thrown into the middle of a gang war and the chance to shoot the action film of a lifetime: a real, live yakuza battle to the death on 35mm. One of the gang bosses, Muto, wishes to make a movie starring his once-famous child star daughter, Mitsuko, for his wife to see when she gets out of prison for murdering members of the rival gang, led by Ikegami for attempting to kill her husband, which is where the Fuck-Bombers come in.
The result is a Kill Bill-style bloodbath that is both gory and hilarious, as the Fuck Bombers film the all-out revenge gang war that they are choreographing in the background, to which both sides are aware and have agreed. Seeing these ruthless gangsters slaughter each other mercilessly and then having the Fuck-Bomber's director, Hirata, shout "cut" and demand a retake, as people's real-life heads are rolling, is nothing short of brilliant. Hirata is so determined and dedicated to create his dream movie that he simply does not care how he does it.
Like I said, Sion Sono thinks up stories that nobody else would think of, and this is no exception.
The standout performance for me here comes from Shinichi Tsutsumi as Ikegami. Ikegami has a soft spot for Muto's daughter, Mitsuko, after loving the toothpaste commercial she was famous for as a child. She also showed compassion towards him while he was on the verge of death at the hands of her mother. Seeing his personality shift from merciless killer to mild-mannered, soft and friendly man when the situation concerns Mitsuko makes you support and root against him all at once.
Sion Sono is unlike any other filmmaker working in the industry today and if you like things that are over the top, violent and often darkly funny and haven't been introduced to his brilliant mind, well, you're welcome!
Now, while we're on the subject of Japanese cinema, allow me to quickly shift gears and mention a less wacky, non-Sion Sono film that I watched recently.
Confessions. Oh boy, Confessions. I won't go into too much detail about this, but I didn't quite know what to expect going in. I had a rough idea of the story but it went in a slightly different direction than what I was anticipating. Confessions, by director Tetsuya Nakashima and based on the novel of the same name by Kanae Minato, is about a school teacher whose daughter is found dead at the hands of two of her students. I don't want to say any more than that.
Confessions is a hugely dark mystery thriller that is deliberately ambiguous as it offers you the unfolding plot in small doses until it smacks you straight in the face as your jaw drops to the ground. The film boasts beautiful cinematography and absolutely superb performances, particularly from it's child stars. This, you need to see.
Check out the video below to see why Asian action films kick some serious ass and are some of the best in Hollywood:
What are your favorite Sion Sono and/or Japanese movies?