10 Essential Japanese Films

“Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing,” the great Akira Kurosawa once said. The statement forms the basis for his 1950 movie, Rashômon — a film credited with introducing Japanese cinema to worldwide audiences after winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Rashômon tells a non-linear story about a brutal rape and murder in the woods from four different, fallible perspectives. There is no ultimate resolution, and audiences are left questioning the nature of truth and perception. It’s a hypnotic and ambiguous journey. Kurosawa’s existential masterpiece has been given the Criterion Blu-ray treatment, and we thought it would be the perfect time to revisit other essential Japanese films. Head past the break to see what works made the cut. Since this is just the tip of the iceberg, feel free to add to our list in the comments section.

Tokyo Story (Tôkyô monogatari)

An early masterpiece in Japanese cinema, Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story is an emotional, deceptively simple portrait of several ordinary lives as they cope with the fleeting nature of human existence. An elderly couple takes a trip to Tokyo to visit their children, but find that their provincial ways are a burden. The children have little time for them, and when one of the parents falls ill, the younger family members are faced with a new, unavoidable encumbrance. “Isn’t life disappointing?” one of the children asks, but Ozu doesn’t condemn the family’s indifference. Instead, he quietly uncovers and observes, allowing us to absorb the transcendence of it all.