When someone talks about the Japanese movie industry in the 00s, inevitably the discussion goes towards anime, which, in the specific decade, accounted for 60% of the local film production. With films like Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” and the rest of Studio Ghibli’s productions, along with masterpieces from Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Oshii, Katsuhiro Otomo and other great filmmakers, there is no wonder why the 00s were considered “Japanese Cinema’s Second Golden Age”, particularly for the penetration of local films in cinemas around the world.

However, anime were not the only story Japanese cinema had to tell in this decade. Yojiro Takita also won an Oscar, Shinji Aoyama and Naomi Kawase won at Cannes, Hirokazu Koreeda continued his successful festival run, Yoji Yamada made an exceptional trilogy of samurai films, Shunji Iwai directed one of the most critically acclaimed film of the decade, Kinji Fukasaku released his last film and Takeshi Kitano his most successful. Furthermore, cult (exploitation) and horror favorites Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takashi Miike and Sion Sono established themselves as masters of the categories, while a number of independent directors also arose.

Without further ado, here is the list with the best films of the 00s, in random order, again with a focus on diversity, in a list that, once more, could feature many more titles.

1. Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000)

Kinji Fukasaku took all the psychological violence existing in the school environment and transformed it into actual brutal episodes among teenagers, who become cold-blooded killers much more easily than even they could fathom. Filled with irony and sarcasm, the film presents a harsh remark regarding political correctness, reality shows, and television in general, and at the same time parodies action films while managing to maintain a dark and vicious atmosphere that, at times, borders on splatter films.

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2. Monday (Sabu, 2000)

Sabu directs and writes a cult satire regarding contemporary Japan and its underworld, excessive drinking and gun control, through a pitiful salary man who decides to fight back against his misery.

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 3. Ichi the Killer (Takashi Miike, 2001)

Takashi Miike took the homonymous, overly violent manga and created one of the most controversial films of all time, due to its notorious characters, graphic depiction of torture and overall violence. Moreover, the film shocked the censorship committees to a point where they allowed only extensively censored versions of it, while Norway still forbids showing, distributing and even owning it.

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4. Visitor Q (Takashi Miike, 2001)

Miike included scenes of incest, fetishism and necrophilia in a film that sometimes functions as a perverse reality show about a family whose members act hypocritically normal, despite the various issues each one faces, at least until the visitor arrives.

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5. Suicide Club (Sion Sono, 2002)

Sono presented a new approach to the J-horror theme, by producing a terrifying effect without the assistance of the supernatural, simply by taking a social remark regarding technological advances and the influence of the media and taking it to its utmost extremes.

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6. 9 Souls (Toshiaki Toyoda, 2003)

Toshiaki Toyoda wrote and directed a surreal film that keeps a difficult balance between comedy and melodrama. His greatest achievement lies with the conception of the characters and the presentation of their resonance, with one example being the combination of a patricide and a filicide. He also includes a number of surreal and preposterous scenes, like the one with the sheep and the one in the strip club in the middle of nowhere that also includes an excellent song by Maki Asakawa.

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7. All About Lily Chou-Chou (Shunji Iwai, 2001)

Iwai directed and wrote a film regarding school alienation and the terrifying cruelty of teenagers. However, he does so in an abstract way, both in terms of the story’s progress and in terms of the presentation of his themes. His style is chiefly represented in the concept of Lily Chou Chou, a pop idol who never really appears in the film, although her impact is evident by the protagonists’ conduct.

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8. Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000)

Aoyama shot this 4-hour dramatic road movie almost completely in sepia tone, in an attempt to highlight the beauty of the natural world, as a measure of healing. Furthermore, he presents the facts, particularly the violent ones, in a subtle, almost transparent way, through their consequences upon the protagonists. For example, the hijacking is never shown in the film, just its aftermath. Aoyama stated that his inspiration for the film was the increasing level of blind violence in Japan, whose dramatic repercussions he portrayed here, particularly through Naoki, who is shocked to the point of muteness.

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9. 2LDK (Yukihiko Tsutsumi, 2003)

Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s script and direction are sublime, particularly considering the difficulty of the project. Undoubtedly, his biggest achievement is that he manages to analyze his characters to such an extent in only 70 minutes. Equally accomplished is the ending that gives the term “tragic irony” an actual meaning.

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10. Tony Takitani (Jun Ichikawa, 2004)

Jun Ichikawa presents a work with three specific goals: the dedication to Murakami’s writing style, and consequently, minimalism and surrealism. The former is evident due to the usage of two actors in two roles, the slow pace and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s low-key music. The latter is achieved through the presence of a narrator, whose phrases are frequently completed by the protagonists. The narration also adds to Ichikawa’s effort to stay close to the actual story.

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My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia. Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute. In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.