Better late than never! And why twelve? Because it’s hard to decide! This is my list of top twelve films I saw in 2014 so it covers movie releases both new and old. I watched a lot of films in 2014. I was going to the cinema nearly two or three times a month and renting/buying a lot of films so I have built up an impressive list that spans genres and eras ‘60s (Kuroneko, Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41) and ‘80s (Blade Runner, Ghostbusters) and 2014s…
My cinematic year began not with a Japanese film but American Hustle, a nice distraction before I headed down to London for the 2014 edition of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme. I came away from that film festival profoundly moved by the humanism and simple beauty of everyday life I saw in Kimi no Tomodachi, the perfect drama with a plucky protagonist in Shindo and the very dark existential drama Parade. I followed that with a trip to the Kotatsu Japanese Animation Film Festival where I cried buckets over Colorful and saw the future of anime in Patema Inverted. Despite loving these films so much it has taken me nearly a year to write/publish reviews of them because I was constantly going to the cinema to see the likes of Blue Ruin, The Wind Rises, Deliver Us From Evil, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Belle. Kotatsu was followed by the 2014 Terracotta Far East Film Festival in May which is where I met Akira Nagai, director of Judge!, the actors of Be My Baby, and I enjoyed watching The Snow White Murder Case. In September/October/November I was in London for the Raindance Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival where I met and interviewed/talked to even more directors. Out of all the films I watched between the two festivals it was Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats and The World of Kanako which impressed me the most.
Overall, 2014 was a good year for my Japanese film viewing but my final list contains a lot of western films. Here are my top films from 2014.
Here are my top films of 2014:
This is based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped by slavers in New York and sold to plantations in the southern states of America from which he tries to escape. Director Steve McQueen paints a complicated picture of plantation life and does not flinch from showing the gruesome details of the slave system. The film becomes harrowing as it enters the territory of horror both physical and psychological and delivers a real sense of what slavery must have been like while also beautiful at times.
The Light Shines Only There
Two outsiders lost in a fog of confused emotions and mistreatment at the hands of others and just sheer bad luck. The sunny seaside setting of the port city of Hakodate may look nice but we see the seedier side of things with prostitution and alcoholism, sexual exploitation and other crimes but we marvel at the resilience of the two characters as they seek some light in their darkness. Chizuru Ikewaki was magnificent and Go Ayano made a strong impact in a film that was tough but perfect in every way. Review coming soon.
Kyoto Inferno is the second part of the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy and it quickly establishes events and re-introduces characters as it sets in motion a tight and dramatically urgent plot that sees the fragile democracy of Meiji era Japan threatened by a bloodthirsty killer named Makoto Shishio. Fantastic action from actors giving tremendous performance, wearing traditional costumes, and battling on gorgeous sets which look to have been transported from Japan’s recent historical past! I cannot wait to see the final part!
Yasuhiro Yoshiura has created a boy meets girl story but gives a wonderful twist to the formula because said boy and girl have different gravities and must clutch onto each other to stop themselves from plunging into bottomless pits/the sky. The two must go on the run to avoid authoritarian government trying to capture Patema and they use their strange gravities. Yasuhiro Yoshiura demonstrated that he has a wonderfully light touch when it comes to delivering comedy and moments of humanity amidst convincing and detailed sci-fi milieu with his work on Time of Eve and he does so again.
Amma Asante’s film about a real life person. Dido Elizabeth Belle is a mixed-race girl at the heart of the British legal system as the ward of the most powerful judge in Britain at a time when the issue of slavery is being discussed and she brings her influence to bear. Assante crafts a love story and intriguing political drama that complicates and updates the traditional costume drama formula by looking at race and gender in a beautiful period drama. Belle is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and she is phenomenal.
Ryuichi Hiroki uses naturalisc acting and dialogue to and assured direction to bring to life the stories of normal people. We start with the tale of two girls, Emi and Yuka, both united by having physical infirmities and both developing a deep friendship which is affecting thanks to the performance of the actors. It is soon spun out into the tale of their friends and family and their community and the emotions are still strong Hiroki’s direction layers their emotions on the film and which becomes so intoxicating that the small tragedies and joys are keenly felt.
Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats
Yosuke Fujita’s dry and deadpan comedy is a good-natured story about a nice guy who avoids women because of a horrible past event. His friends try to get him together with a lady but the results aren’t what they hoped. Seeing his romantic travails and emotional growth is both hilarious and touching as he slowly comes out of his shell and gets to know a member of the fairer sex. Great enka music underscores some truly strange and delightful moments. Review coming soon.
Tetsuya Nakashima’s crime-thriller about a corrupt ex-cop (Koji Yakusho) looking for his angelic daughter (Nana Komatsu) who has gone missing sounds conventional but Fujishima’s directorial style artfully presents everything as an intense visual and aural assault on the senses that is disturbing and shocks as we see the cast of characters who are all dubious if not downright evil tear chunks out of each other.
Yoshihiro Nakamura takes a novel by Kanae Minato and crafts a coruscating satire on the Japanese media landscape and social media. A temping TV director named Yuji is fed a story about murder and immediately takes liberties and uses sticky journalism to create a media frenzy surrounding the possible perpetrator, Miki Shirono. Motives for everyone are murky and fine performances from Go Ayano and Mao Inoue keep the audience guessing and play on sympathies. Nakamura’s directing is flawless and inventive, especially the integration of social media in the film.
Adam Wingard and Simon Barret’s film about a soldier named David (Dan Stevens) who arrives at the house of a squad mate who was killed in action offering sympathy but hiding ulterior murderous motives. It is anchored by Steven’s performance which is a barrage of charm and good looks, a smooth veneer that hides a psychotic killer who emerges slowly until the explosive ending which erupts in chaos. The film combines black comedy, slasher and action film dynamics and it is all centered on a fantastic performance by the charismatic Dan Stevens.
This thriller is about a ghoulish loner named Lou Bloom, an amoral guy who cannibalises others to rise up the career ladder in the American news media. The role of Bloom is taken by Jake Gyllenhaal, a great actor who oozes strangeness and charisma and I was swept up by his performance which was equal parts sleaze and intelligence. Journeying with him through the nighttime streets of LA makes the film unpredictable until it builds to an exciting conclusion.
There is a girl who is a genius when it comes to music but she is beset with doubts. There is a guy who loves playing the piano but lacks the drive to succeed. The two meet and a fondness for each other grows into a chaste relationship and caring relationship. Koji Hagiuda’s drama is a totally conventional seishun eiga (coming of age movie) but with its lead characters of Uta Naruse (a sparky Riko Narumi) and Oto Kikuna (a solid Kenichi Matusyama) and perfect direction and convincing use of music to make the protags individual, it is still affecting.
Honourable Mentions: How Selfish I Am!, Rentaneko, Judge!, Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, Parade, Blue Ruin, The Wind Rises, Black Butler, The Grand Budapest Hotel, POV A Cursed Film, And the Mud Ship Sails Away, I’ll also throw in Blade Runner and Ghostbusters because seeing them on the big screen was a great experience!