The Asian Cinema 100 list was released last year at the BIFF (Busan International Film Festival), which marked its 20th anniversary with a poll of prominent Asian filmmakers and international critics of Asian film, who were all asked for their top ten of all time.
Japan accounted for 26 films on the list, followed by Iran (19) and Korea (15).
The oldest film chosen was Yasujiro Ozu’s I Was Born, But (1932), ranked 48th of all time. And the top animated film to make the cut was Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001), joint 18th.
The top 5 Japanese films are listed below in rank order.
1. Tokyo Story (1953), #1
Routinely hailed as one of the greatest films ever made. Tokyo Story is Yasujiro Ozu‘s restrained masterpiece of an ordinary family life, chronicling human behavior in ordinary situations.
It opens with the putt-putt sound of a boat and the wisps of smoke rising from the chimneys of homes in the quiet port city, Onomichi. An old couple pack for their trip to Tokyo, to visit their married children. The children are busy and a little put out by their visit. Only the widowed daughter-in-law (Setsuko Hara), of their son lost in the war, makes them feel welcome.
“Pillow shots” of trains, smokestacks, wires and clothes drying on a line, which serve as transitions between scenes, are referred to as Ozu’s most important contribution to film language.
2. Rashomon (1950), #2
“Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing.” Akira Kurosawa replied, when asked by his assistants to explain the script. Directed in the early years of Kurosawa’s career before he was hailed as a grandmaster, It is, for others like critic Pauline Kael, “the classic film statement of the relativism, the unknowability of truth.”
With Rashomon and his subsequent films such as Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954) and Ran (1985), Kurosawa came to rank among the leading international figures such as Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman.
3. Seven Samurai (1954), #6
Directed by Akira Kurosawa, it gave birth to its direct Hollywood remake, The Magnificent Seven (1960).
The New York Times sums it up: seven sword-swinging, bow-and-arrow footmen of varied courage and personality are on hand to oppose the forty mounted bandits when they come charging down from the hills.
The leader of the seven samurai, played by Takashi Shimura who looks old and withered in the 1952 picture, looks cool and collected in the film.
Seven Samurai is one of Kurosawa’s samurai films that have arguably been the most influential both in Japan and around the world.
4. Late Spring (1949), joint #15
Late Spring is one of the best two or three films Yasujiro Ozu ever made, in which Ozu uses his distinctive visual style, keeping the camera three feet off the ground, unmoving, at the eye-level of a person sitting on a tatami mat.
It tells a story of Noriko — played by Setsuko Hara, who is often seen as the archetypal Ozu female — a conflicted daughter, opposes the idea of venturing into marriage, wanting the emotional safety and sanctuary with her widower father –played by Chishu Ryu, who is masterful in the way he says “mmm”.
There is an incandescent scene where Noriko goes on a bike ride along the shore with her father’s assistant Hattori (Jun Usami) — an intoxicating play of light and air.
5. Ugetsu (1953), joint #18
Jean-Luc Godard declared Kenji Mizoguchi to be “the greatest of Japanese filmmakers, or quite simply one of the greatest of filmmakers,”
Often called one of the most lyrical films ever made, Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu is a haunting tale of love and loss with its exquisite blending of the otherworldly and the real.
The most celebrated proof of Mizoguchi’s visual mastery is the eerie scene of the two families crossing Lake Biwa through shrouds of mist.
Thoughts? How many of these have you seen? What else would you add?
Additional source: The Criterion Collection