As teeming with creativity as it was during the 1960s new wave, contemporary Japanese cinema continues its decadeslong status as a garden of earthly and deliciously ungodly delights. Unlike the old days, Japanese filmmakers today know theyre not just making films for Japanese audiences anymore, and that thanks largely to the international success of Takeshi Kitano they wont have to wait 20 years for the rest of the world to catch up. Heres our at-a-glance (and far from exhaustive) checklist of five to watch:
Takashi Miike. Miike (pronounced Mee-kay) churns out gleefully sadistic crime films at a rate of two or three a year. San Franciscobased Viz Communications opened Dead or Alive in New York last month, with additional engagements and a DVD release to follow. In this cop-vs.-yakuza caper, the worlds longest line of cocaine leads to a stripper drowning in her own feces and a pair of bad guys who make Godzillas wrath look like the splashings of a tadpole. Audition (which opens in New York in August, sans distributor) a thoughtful film about courting, never mind the piano wire sawing through someones leg is Miikes best.
Rokuro Mochizuki. Unknown to all but the most thorough-minded American film-fest honchos, Mochizuki is philosopher king of the contemporary yakuza film, Kitano notwithstanding. Onibi: The Fire Within (1997) is perhaps the most beautiful portrait of hit-man ennui ever made, not to mention a furious renunciation of yakuza glamour, while Gedo: The Outer Way (1999) fuses sex, politics and religion in ways that even Imamura never imagined.
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Junji Sakamoto. A veteran of Japans independent-film scene, Sakamoto has 10 films to his credit, but its his masterpiece, Face (2000), that finally put him on the map. Both a tenderhearted portrait of a truck-shaped seamstress named Masako victim, murderess, lummox, goddess and a tough-minded survey of the geographical and emotional limits of Japanese life, Face is some sort of miracle: funny, devastating and uplifting in its ferocious desperation to claw away societys disfiguring masks.
Sogo Ishii. Ishiis been making films since the 70s, but his double return to form last year with the big-budgeted epic Gojoe and the frenetic garage flick Electric Dragon 80,000 Volts hot-wired this ingenious trashologists career. A tumult of samurai scruff and Buddhist babble, Gojoes 12th-century storyline has something to do with clan warfare and a haunted bridge; half as long but twice as loud, Electric Dragons battle between opposing guitar-osaurs suggests that sticking your head inside an overdriven amplifier is as good a way as any to glimpse the face of God.
Kaze Shindo. Granddaughter of veteran director Kaneto Shindo, Kaze Shindos made but a single feature so far: Love/Juice, a fish-out-of-water love story between two late-teenage girls. In a cinema whose creative forces have long remained almost entirely estrogen-free, Shindos is a breath of fresh air, even as her black-hearted humor suggests a promising affinity with the supersatirist Roman Polanski. A food film for those who found Tampopo closer to an emetic than an appetizer, the cannibalistically inclined Love/Juice gives new meaning to the notion of eating your lover out.