Genkina hito’s Top Ten Films of 2019 and He Says Goodbye to a Tumultuous Year

Welcome to my penultimate post of 2019

Miss Hokusai Image 1

This is a melange of things including my New Year’s Resolution and my top ten films of 2019 rolled into one.

We’re about to start a new decade and I think we all managed to hold on to our collective sanity having lived through an era of austerity, unprecedented corporate greed and malfeasance and political extremism with fascism and chauvinist/supremacist politics back in vogue. Of course, we’ve been here before many times in the past such as the 30s and 50s so we can beat this. All it takes is organising, holding officials, business and media to account and protecting our democratic institutions.

2019 was a rough year as I lost my grandfather and then there was the arson attack at Kyoto Animation in July which devastated the anime community. Fortunately, I had family who rallied around in the first case and in the second case the anime community came together to help try and ease the loss. Death helps focus the mind on what really matters which is those who we are connected to and life itself so with that in mind I hope we can go into the new decade with a renewed focus on making the world a better place and taking care of each other.

Movies get me through everything and they have kept me steady this year and now I make peace with the year and present my top ten (pretend you care) in no particular order.

Last Judgement (Shinya Kawakami, 2018)

This was part of the 2019 run of the New Directions in Japanese Cinema and I saw this at an early screening towards the end of the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) 2019. It was the last of the five films and it was like a shot of adrenaline in my arm at a time when I was falling asleep. The percussive editing and soundscore left me shaken and excited by the energy, the camerawork and shot selection swooning with the smoothness and snappiness, and the charismatic acting swayed me into the story of two rivals at an art school vying for a place in a prestigious university but really discovering what it means to be an artist.

I sat up in my chair and started furiously writing notes at all of the visual and aural finesse on the screen. This 30 minute short was like someone taking me for a ride in a cinematic supercar, swerving and shooting along some scenic alpine mountaintop course. Okay, that was a bit overcooked but the film stuck with me so much I made sure to review it when it came up again later in the year.

Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2018)

Japan is a nation with all sorts of problems but few films address them directly. Shoplifters Film Image 2This is a slice of social realism from one of the great chroniclers of Japanese life, Hirokazu Kore-eda as he tells a heartbreaking story of an unconventional family saving a little girl from abusive parents but everyone falling under the wheels of an uncaring state as a result.

In his depiction of an unconventional family who have fallen behind the rest of society, Kore-eda tackles the class system and familiar issues of family bonds and how what is sanctified by the state and pushed by the media is sometimes more poisonous to an individual than the love offered by alternative families. This is the apotheosis and refinement of Kore-eda’s oeuvre and his talent for getting into the lives of his characters and selecting actors who brings the situation to life is almost peerless. In short, Shoplifters is one of his best.

I Am a Hero (Shinsuke Sato, 2016)

As a huge fan of the manga, and zombie movies in general, I was eager to see i am a hero film image yo oizumi masami nagasawa and kasumi arimurabrought to life in a live-action format and I wasn’t disappointed as director Shinsuke Sato and writer Akiko Nogi did a fantastic job converting the first few volumes of the manga into an action spectacle replete with the essential characterisation and development that made the story so compelling.

Actor Yo Oizumi perfectly essays Hideo, the scaredy-cat manga artist and guides him through numerous chase and action sequences that lead to a fulfilling character arc. It’s one of the best zombie movies I have ever seen with one of the best opening zombie invasions committed to celluloid.

A Silent Voice (Naoko Yamada, 2016)

This story of a boy trying to atone for bullying a deaf girl is the work of Kyoto Animation, a studio best known for putting in a tremendous effort in design and animation to create beautiful stories, most of which are full of hope. This is one of their darkest works and after the fire at Kyoto Animation, I helped to programme it at the anime festival I work for. I believe in its quality.

I have never seen a film get the physical and mental effects of guilt and shame and the efforts of those feeling those emotions to hide it and fit in so right like this one did. The character postures, facial expressions and movements and the hesitant voices dulled with emotional pain. and yet, despite the pain, it is full of levity and hope as characters reach out and try to reassure and comfort each other and so the narrative constantly balances between the joys and sadness of human experience and the perfectly done animation brings everyone to life. I cared so much for all of the characters and I know that audiences I watched it with were moved because the emotional energy that could be felt was electric, the sobbing and crying really loud.

Melancholic メランコリック (Seiji Tanaka, 2018)

This film epitomised the struggle for millennials and the gap between them andMelancholic Film image previous generations through a smoothly executed genre-mashup and smart character observation through lead character Kazuhiko, a university grad taking on “menial” work and resisting pressure from older characters as he tries to maintain his happiness but gets caught up in the criminal underworld. His values shine through as ones held by young people and it leads to a very satisfying ending as he places happiness with family and friends first.

Kamagasaki Cauldron War, The 月夜釜合戦 (Leo Sato, 2018)

Shot in and around the Nishinari area of Osaka, it tells an amusing tale of the anticsKamagasaki Cauldron War Trio of a sex-worker, an orphan boy and a pickpocket who get drawn into an absurd search for a cauldron, the symbol of a yakuza gang, and get caught up in the wider politics of the local area. Leo Sato really brings the character of the area and the people who inhabit it out in this film which is a charming and silly tale full of respect for a unique community.

Miracle of Crybaby Shottan, The 泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 (Toshiaki Toyoda, 2018)

I’ve played shoji. I don’t understand it. This film makes it seem like the most important game ever even though it’s so static. The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan Ryuhei MatsudaToshiaki Toyoda pushes the art of cinema as much as possible to relay the drama of shoji but what I valued most about the film is its story of a person following their dream and how that person is brought up by a community that believes in him. It results in a tearjerker of an emotional climax. The ending is a fine moment of release and the overall message of the film, and Shoji’s example, is that pursuing a passion leads to happiness. It’s a healing message in a way as it shows perseverance is a skill and it will urge audiences to keep going. It’s a message I needed to hear.

Samurai Marathon サムライマラソン (Bernard Rose, 2019)

Based on real history, this presents a fast-paced narrative with a bunch of likeableSamurai Marathon Film Image characters played by the likes of Takeru Satoh, Nana Komatsu, Mirai Moriyama and Shota Sometani who take part in some swashbuckling action in nicely integrated separate sequences amidst the rugged landscape and there’s also plenty of humour – mostly the betrayals during the race..

Penguin Highway ペンギン・ハイウェイ (Hiroyasu Ishida, 2018)

The maturing of a little boy over a summer where his sleepy hometown is invaded Penguin Highway Film Image 6by an army of cute penguins. What makes this film charming is the main character’s intelligence and the resulting confidence as this precocious child searches his local area for the reasons why the penguins came into being. His character growth features genuine moments of care and love for those around him and it was touching to watch.

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019)

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Film ImageThis was pure delight for those familiar with the forms of Americana and movie culture that Tarantino puts on the screen and celebrates in this films but the film is more than that as we delight in the presence of characters and thus feel involved in various situations, both joyful and scary, that are developed to perfection thanks to the film’s verisimilitude and the plot which swings in and out of different storylines and delivers different types of atmosphere. The actors are charming and the movie becomes a truly moving farewell to the era portrayed. This feels a lot more mature than most of Tarantino’s works and stands as one of his best.

And those are my Top Ten Films of 2019.

What about resolutions?

Right, so, like many others, 2019 could have went better but we’re all still here and watching movies so that’s good. I also went back to Japan for the third time so that helped me complete some of my stated resolutions but I’m still adrift with others.

My resolutions for 2019

  • I will travel across more of Japan,

  • I will learn to speak, read, write and listen to Japanese to a much higher level than I currently do,

  • I will write down more of my adventures,

  • I will improve my writing style,

  • I will become super super positive,

  • I will continue to review films.

What about next year? The new decade?

My resolutions for 2020

  • I will travel across more of Japan,

  • I will learn to speak, read, write and listen to Japanese to a much higher level than I currently do,

  • I will write down more of my adventures,

  • I will improve my writing style,

  • I will become super super positive,

  • I will push myself to try and achieve more,
  • I will continue to review films.

I will be returning to Japan next March and I have some ambitions to do more creative writing which I will try to fulfil. There’s somebody waiting for me so that’s part of my impetus. All I can guarantee is that I’ll try my best!

I hope you stick with me!!

See you in the next decade!



8 thoughts on “Genkina hito’s Top Ten Films of 2019 and He Says Goodbye to a Tumultuous Year

  1. humbledaisy1

    It’s hard to make yourself become super positive but kudos to you for trying! I really enjoy reading your work and find a lot of movies and anime through your blog. Happy holidays and a profitable New Year!

    1. humbledaisy, thanks for reading my work!

      I’m glad it provides some pleasure and I hope you keep finding it useful in some way.

      With life, you have to be hopelessly positive and it’s easier when you have friends and family and the film community.

      Have a great holiday season and Happy New Year!

  2. I’m sorry for your grandfather.
    I hope 2020 will bring you more happiness and that you’ll have a great time in Japan next march.

    Your 2019 Top is very interesting, many Japanese movies I missed… I thought of a 2019 Top myself, not quite sure about the order though…
    My favourite movies released in Japan in 2019 (Parasite and Midsommar will be released in 2020!)
    1-The Mule
    2-Godzilla King of Monsters
    3-The Irishman
    4-Green Book
    5-Ad Astra
    J’ai perdu mon corps (did you see it? A great French animated movie, very original)
    First Man
    John Wick 3

    I loved Zan, , Manbiki kazoku, Korô no chi, One Cut of the Dead but those were released in 2018 in Japan.

    And I almost forgot: maybe the best serie of 2019, and it’s from Japan: The Naked Director, on Netlfix. Fabulous!

    See you soon, Jason.


    1. Hi Oli.

      Thanks for the kind comment and all of your comments. Yours, humbledaisy’s MIB’s and others help make blogging fun!

      I saw Ad Astra and Joker and admired their artistry rather than feeling a great visceral reaction to them. That’s what I judge my favourites on. I figure my Top Ten of the year and the forthcoming Top 25 will be unique because of the focus on Japanese films.

      I used to watch French films a lot but nothing recently. J’ai Perdu Mon Corps does look intriguing. Of course, The Naked Director and The Irishman I’d like to watch, as well!

      I hope 2020 is awesome for all of us and we can watch more films!

      Happy New Year!

  3. Sorry to hear about your grandfather. I hope things continue to improve for you in 2020. You always seem busy yet remain consistent in your blog output, so you’ve set your own precedent in what you can achieve.

    All the best to you! 🙂

    1. Thanks, MIB.

      I’m going into 2020 with a lot of positives and I hope to continue writing. Thanks for being a consistent visitor and supporter and I look forward to sharing more movies with you in the new year!

      Let’s make 2020 awesome!

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