Author, curator, filmmaker and Arrow disc producer with a specialist interest in Japanese cinema.
|KOROSHI NO RAKUIN
|The Ballad of Narayama
|Imitation of Life
|KYOJIN TO GANGU
|Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
KOROSHI NO RAKUIN
A film that sums up everything I love about Seijun Suzuki and Japanese cinema as a whole, particularly from the studio era of the late 60s. Far from the quirky, nonsensical exercise in style some might dismiss it as, I love this film for its masterful marriage of style and content. It's a hypnotic, dreamlike and complex film where every element for me is just perfect, from cinematography to soundtrack, and one that always reveals new aspects to me on repeated viewings – and believe me, I've watched this film many many times over the past 20 or so years.
The Ballad of Narayama
This was my first real introduction to Japanese cinema when I saw it at the Scala around 1989. I hadn't seen anything like it, and to this today constantly find myself won over by its combination of documentary naturalism, beautiful cinematography, bawdy humour and the heart-rending final third. A stunning piece of cinema.
Imitation of Life
My favourite of all Sirk's remarkable films and one that never fails to move me. Nothing more to add.
A remarkable performance by Samantha Morton as the enigmatic, inscrutable main character and Lynne Ramsay's unique eye for framing and composing scenes make this a film I can watch again and again and always take something new from it. I'm frankly astonished this film isn't more widely heralded as the classic of British cinema it truly is. Absolutely magical.
A road trip with two pretty unlikeable but identifiable characters whose respective relationships to alcohol sums up their contrasting relationships to life. It's a wonderful character study to my mind that really captures the prickly relationship between two long-term male friends who have each failed to mature in their different ways.
KYOJIN TO GANGU
Frenetically paced, garishly coloured and bitingly cynical, Giants and Toys was 50 years ahead of the game of the TV series Mad Men in its portrait of characters enslaved by the ruthless demands of the advertising business. It's a rich and entertaining work that really seems to have its finger on the pulse of a rapidly changing Japan then in the throes of its economic miracle years.
This just has the edge over A Canterbury Tale for me as the best Powell and Pressburger film, with its remarkable art design and cinematography working in tandem with Rumer Godden's source novel to express the tensions that arise in the colonial desire to impose one belief system on top of another that has evolved within a completely different landscape.
An absolute tour-de-force of sound and colour that bowled me over at an early stage in my cinematic education, where any shortcomings in the performances, dialogue or plotting can be forgiven as adhering to the overall dream logic.
Where even to begin with a director who has made so many astonishing and very different films? Much as I love Throne of Blood, Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Stray Dog, I still see Ran as his most accomplished film, the work of a true master where every element of sound and image seems perfectly calibrated and where the deceptively slow pacing builds up to sweep the viewer into some of the most astonishing scenes ever committed to celluloid.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's depiction of the spiritual and emotional void at the heart of a post-Bubble, pre-millennial Tokyo is remarkable for the way it really gets under the skin, despite the stark ordinariness of what is captured in front of camera and the apparent simplicity of technique. It's an undeniably unsetting experience that takes repeated viewings to really appreciate the dark hidden currents beneath the surface.
I came up with this top 10 without initially looking back at my 2012 choices, but perhaps I'm not surprised to find that only a couple have dropped from my earlier list to be replaced by new ones. My choices reflect films that I find myself drawn back to over and over again, ones that made a huge impact on initial viewing and yet continue to absorb and entertain me while making me think about the endless expressive aesthetic and narrative possibilities afforded by the rich international language that is cinema. If there's a prevalence of Japanese titles here, it is because it is Japan that truly made me aware that cinema could take so many forms other than those of the films peddled to us on TV and in the cinemas in the UK while growing up in the 1980s. There are naturally regrettable omissions that no doubt others will include in their lists – Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Klimov's Come and See immediately spring to mind, and while I'm full of admiration for the work of De Palma overall, I couldn't think of any specific title of his to single out above any of the works chosen. At the very least, my hope is that my selection will draw attention to these personal favourites, many of which have been overlooked in previous polls.