Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on December 2009

©2001 二馬力・GNDDTM

©2001 二馬力・GNDDTM

1. Dare mo Shiranai (2004)
Hirokazu Koreeda has never been more in control of his craft than with this thoroughly compelling drama of children who must fend for themselves after being deserted by their mother. The denouement is simultaneously understated and overwhelming. Fourteen-year-old Yuya Yagira deservedly walked away from Cannes with the Best Actor award for his performance. English title: Nobody Knows. (141 min)

2. Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (2001)
Hayao Miyazaki’s best-known and most deeply loved film is Japan’s highest grossing movie of all time. Suffice it to say that it’s a masterpiece in the truest sense: a forcefully personal yet universal vision that is both bizarre and approachable at the same time, sketching a kaleidoscope of moods and feelings. English title: Spirited Away. (125 min)

3. Tokyo Sonata (2008)
Genre-hopping Kiyoshi Kurosawa crafted this powerful and finely tuned drama. Starting off as a brilliantly realistic tale of a laid-off salaryman, the film morphs into a surreal elegy that addresses many facets of contemporary Japan. (103 min)

4. Mind Game (2004)
Epitomizing the sheer energy and crazy inventiveness of the best of anime, Mind Game will mesmerize those with no particular draw to the form. A man murdered senselessly in a bar takes a phantasmagorical ride through the afterlife in order to return to the land of the living. Astounding. (103 min)

5. Fish Story (2009)
When Fish Story opened in March, I called it the best J flick of 2009. And I stand by that claim. The Charlie Kaufman-esque drama has everything—fantasy, romance, comedy, music, action—and its sprawling, multi-faceted plot does the unlikely by tying it all together. (112 min)

6. Nihon no Kuroi Natsu (2001)
Kei Kumai, the only director among this lot who has passed away, is something of a forgotten man in Japan. He had a brilliant 40-plus year career, and while 1986’s Umi to Dokuyaku (“The Sea and Poison”) is his masterwork, this sly take on the Matsumoto sarin gas attacks is a tour-de-force. English title: Darkness in the Light. (118 min)

7. Vibrator (2003)
Ryuichi Hiroki is among many mainstream directors who started out in softcore porn. Thus, it’s no surprise that this gripping, gritty flick, which won the Grand Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival, portrays a promiscuous, confused woman attempting to come to terms with life. (95 min)

8. Gururi no Koto (2008)
Ryosuke Hashiguchi burst onto the scene in 1993 with Hatachi no Binetsu (“A Touch of Fever”), becoming the first openly gay filmmaker in the industry. This work surpasses that excellent film. It’s a wonderfully intimate and insightful portrayal of ten years of marriage, replete with indifference, challenges and surprises. English title: All Around Us. (140 min)

9. Vital (2004)
Though director Shinya Tsukamoto is not generally my cup of tea, this startling flick manages to be both an intense drama and a metaphysical poem. Tadanobu Asano stars as a distraught med student who has lost his girlfriend in a car accident and ends up performing the autopsy on her body. Brilliant. (86 min)

10. Eureka (2000)
Director Shinji Aoyama’s magnum opus is a long, slow reflection on trauma and healing. Influenced by the sarin gas attacks as well as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, this hypnotic, sepia-toned tale will mesmerize those willing to put in the considerable effort. (217 min)