The fifth James Bond film, 007 goes to Japan to prevent an evil genius (who inspired the look of Dr Evil) from starting World War III. His plan is to kidnap US and Russian space capsules, while they're still in space! Bond (Sean Connery) teams up with the Japanese secret service (and their army of ninjas!), shooting up Tokyo, fighting killer helicopters, and descending into an extinct volcano (one of the largest working sets ever built - with a full-sized space rocket, helicopter landing pad and even a monorail).
You Only Live Twice doubles as a travelogue, including a Shinto wedding, a Buddhist funeral procession, a fishing village, sumo wrestling, the neon lights of Tokyo, and the spectacular landscape of southern Japan. A great introduction to the country, although not everything in this travel guide is to be believed. "In Japan, men come first, women come second!" Lots more Japanese Bond here.
A battle unites all the yokai monsters in Japan against a common foe - a powerful ancient Egyptian shape-shifting vampire! The historical setting is influenced by the gothic atmosphere of Hammer Horror films. Yokai Daisenso (1968) was released on DVD in the US as Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare. It's not to be confused with the equally entertaining modern Yokai Daisenso, released on DVD as The Great Yokai War (2005), and directed by the maverick Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi The Killer).
Entertaining, daft, and a perfect example of a summer holiday TV spin-off. A Japanese schoolgirl faces an army of baddies (and a helicopter gunship) armed only with a steel yo-yo... The Japanese can't compete with big-budget action movies, so they invent nutty stuff like this. Schoolgirls preventing a coup d'etat. You'll believe a yo-yo can kill.
Like anyone, once they find a format that works, they milk it. Time and again, I watch a Japanese movie and find it's actually part of a phenomenon. Sukeban Deka lead me to the movie sequel, the anime, and three TV series...
As a Godzilla fan, I feel traitorous for recommending this rival of the monster that started it all, but it's still the best all-round Japanese giant monster movie. Of course, if you like it, try a load more, and the (28) Godzilla films are a great way to see how Japanese entertainment has changed trough the years, stretching from 1954 to 2004. If you're up for it, here's my big Godzilla DVD guide.
RING (1998)Predictable choice, but I can't not include this, even though it's a slow-burner. Ring defined Asian horror films for years and even if it doesn't shock you, it'll certainly explain a lot about what happened next in the world of horror. With a string of novels, a series of film and TV adaptions, there's a lot to the Ring mythos even before you even start taking in the US remakes. Start with the first Ring, but if you want more, here's my guide to this Japanese phenomenon.
JU-ON/THE GRUDGE (2000)While Ring gave me a scare, Takeshi Shimizu's Grudge series continually and repeatedly creeped me out. Not for nothing that he's still making these today. If you like them, make sure you don't miss out on his scariest film, Reincarnation (Rinne, 2005). I'm almost offended that it hasn't been remade in America...
GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (2004)
Another way animation is changing with the times is by mixing 2D with 3D animation. The integration between the two styles struggles a little here, but the result is spectacular. The CGI recreation of the contents of a corner shop (for a slow-motion shootout) is mind-boggling. The airborne approach to the abandoned city at twilight, and the Chinese festival, are animation milestones. Beautiful, colourful, feasts for the eyes, as wel as a detective story with killer cyborgs and psycho-villains.
You won't understand everything in the story without having seen Ghost In The Shell (1998), but watch this just to travel twenty years into future.
PAPRIKA (2006)Adult animation, from another giant of the art, Satoshi Kon. The plot, a machine that can make dreams a reality goes wrong, and starts leaking into our world. Only when the inventors make contact with their alter-ego dream-selves can they attempt to correct the problem. Eye-bending, mind-altering visuals, to the music of regular collaborator Susumu Hirasawa. Kon is the director of Millennium Actress and the superior anime series Paranoia Agent. A fuller review here.