There is a whole world of movies out there that you have not been exposed to! I'm not talking about the Last Samurai or Kill Bill. These movies rarely make it overseas, and when they do they are usually tucked into a corner somewhere at an obscure (but I'm sure good) DVD shop. I would thoroughly recommend tracking these shops down, or else looking on the internet because Japanese cinema, and Asian cinema in general can be very rewarding.
However, Japanese movies can be intimidating for a few reasons.
For one, there is the language barrier. I mean yes, there are subtitled movies out there for the watching, but I am a little unsure about my feelings on subtitles as of late. Once you get to the level that you can understand most of the content of a movie without subtitles, they can subtract from the experience. I find myself thinking "that's not really what that says in the dialogue," quite a lot. I understand that the writer of the subtitles probably has little choice but to cut content and translate differently at points, but a lot of the time there is just something lost in translation.
On a similar note, culturally there are going to be differences too. You might find yourself wondering why the protagonist is checking to see if the strange girl has legs or not (he's checking if she's a ghost), or why the movie seemed to end so abruptly, without an all-loose-ends-tied ending. Because of the cultural upbringing and historical context of the director or writer, we may be missing out.
That said, whether in raw Japanese, through subtitles, or (shudder) dub, Japanese cinema offers a lot of rewarding and sometimes weird experiences. Here are some of my recommendations, in no particular order. Got something to add? Leave a comment. Click on the names for the IMDB pages! 花火 Hanabi
Fireworks - Drama, Crime★★★☆☆
For those: who want a deeper, American beauty kinda' feeling
I am usually in two minds about Beat Takeshi's films. On the one hand, they can be pretty beautiful and poetic. On the other hand, it seems like he tries too hard to be poetic. Though, what he does do well is the dark, underworld, Yakuza type movies. This movie is about a police officer who basically goes off the deep end, and its humorous at points, but is very much a serious film full of symbolism and imagery. Almost too much, but just enough to bring some kind of weird, content feeling at the end of the movie. If action and a fast pace is more your cup of tea, you may wanna' give this one a miss.
Battle Royale - Gore, Horror, Thriller★★★★☆
For those: who like gore on a decent budget
Battle Royale is something of a cult classic by the crazy director Takashi Miike, who is known as a horro kinda' guy anyway. Basically the world is crazy, and as a matter of politics, a class of high school kids have to do a last-man-standing on an island, no holds barred.
Seven Samurai - Samurai, Classic★★★★☆
For those: who love the oldschool samurai movies
Sure, it's long. A whopping 3 hours. But it is good. As with many movies of the time, it moves slowly, and takes a while to heat up, but Kurosawa's defining movie is his most well-known for a reason. Seven samurai take it upon themselves to selflessly defend a poor village from bandits. The villagers don't have enough money to pay, so these 7 samurai basically put their lives on the line as volunteers.
Ring - Creepy Horror★★★★☆
For those: who want a horror with a twist
Ring made us realize that horror doesn't have to follow any golden rules. Sure, they have the long-haired woman draped in white, but the circumstances of her haunting are interesting, revolving around a (fairly) modern technological device: The modern VHS tape. Basically, you watch it, you die a week later. Expect to have the hair on your neck prick up, and to jump at points. The character Sadako, the ghost, has become something of a cultural icon. Ring has become a small series, with a recent 3D edition.
The Grudge - Creepy Horror★★★☆☆
For those: who want a more traditional horror
More of a textbook horror than Ring, but great nonetheless! The story follows a haunted house, and an unlikely main character, a caregiver for old people who wanders into this house. Though everything seems to be wrapped up at the end of this movie, it did go on to spawn a few other movies of varying quality.
Ghost in the Shell - Animated, Technology, Philosophical★★★★☆
For those: who like deep, serious anime
Ghost in the Shell takes place in the future and follows an elite defense force, their leader "the major" is, as many people are, more machine than human, chock full of cybernetic enhancements. Even her brain is machine which raises the theme and the title of the movie: if I am all machine, am I a person? Great animation and voice acting in the original Japanese version.
Survive Style 5+
Survive Style 5+ - strange★★★★★
For those: who want an unpredictable movie
SS5+ is one hell of a ride. The story revolves around 5 different people and their unique situations, eventually coming together. For example, one man kills his wife only to find that she won't stay dead. One man suddenly thinks he's a chicken. It's whack, but is indeed a good watch, and is also full of some of the bigger names in Japanese cinema. Watch it high.
Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl - Crime, Strange, Comedy★★★☆☆
For those: who just love Tadanobu Asano
This one is a doozy. I watch it once, and would be very glad to give it another go. It was based on a comic book, so there's that to consider. It is like a mix between a gangster movie, a comedy and a fashion show. Each of the gangsters has their own, very strong personality and style, and just like the previous movie, there are a lot of the big names!
Symbol - Strange, Comedy, Philosophical★★★★☆
For those: want a riddle until the endDowntown's Matsumoto Hitoshi
is famous for making slightly deep, yet light-hearted comedies. A man finds himself in a room with buttons. When a button is pushed, something happens. He wants to escape. That's it. It gets very deep in the last 10 minutes, but still quite funny!
Departures - Love, Life, Philosophical★★★★☆
For those: want a sad, eventually happy story
Departures is about a man who loses his job, and is basically forced to become an undertaker. This job is avoided and shunned by those around him, he goes as far as to lie to his wife. The story is about his struggle to have people understand the importance and difficulty that his job has. A great story that may even get you to shed a tear or two.
Useful Links:Asian Horror Movies
has streaming horror movies from all over Asia. Watch in your browser!Brave Blog
has a few other recommendations and in-depth reviews.