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5 Japanese movies that everyone is talking about in 2018: Part II

From zombies to heartbreaking human dramas, here are another five must-sees for the year

Last month you read about tear-jerking love stories, heartwarming family dramas and uplifting high school friendships, three major themes dominating this year’s most talked-about movie titles. But if you thought that’s all, you’re terribly mistaken. Jump along, here’s the second batch of our carefully selected films for 2018 that won viewers’ popularity across generations.

1. One cut of the dead (カメラを止めるな!)

If there’s one single title this year that has defied all odds of cinematography and storytelling, this is it. One Cut of the Dead started as a low-budget challenge by a team of known-to-none moviemakers and actors, and when it was first released, it made it to just two big screens. But something kept viewers going back — and talking about it. Was it the inability to comprehend what really was happening? Was it the willingness to be among the first to connect the dots of these seemingly nonsense three-in-one movies? Was it the well-hidden-but-still-too-obvious satire of modern-day Japanese showbiz? Or the sheer fun and simplicity that gave viewers hope that one doesn’t need to have stocks of cash and the best equipment in the world to make art? Regardless of the reason, the result is that this film is now taking Japan by storm; it’s now being shown at 300 theaters across the country and viewers are watching it over and over again.

The story? It’s about a film crew that travels to an abandoned water treatment plant in countryside Japan to shoot a live zombie TV show. Rumor has it, however, that the area was supposedly used for “human experiments” by the Japanese army. What follows is an uncut 37-minute shot of monster chaos: the crew is running for life, killing for survival and praying for god’s mercy. And then the reset button is hit and we’re back a month earlier when it all starts to make sense. Sort of.

Watch with: A group of friends. There will be a lot to talk about when the movie’s over.

Must-see scenes: The award-deserving transformation the motherly figure Harumi undergoes half-way through the movie.

Why we recommend it? Because it forever changed Japan’s indie movie history and managed to earn 700 times more than what its makers used to film it. The answer to all your questions comes 37 minutes into the movie, so don’t stop watching before that.

2. Lu over the wall (夜明け告げるルーのうた)

Undoubtedly the cutest entry in this year’s film festival, Lu is a rather unconventional mermaid character who takes us on a journey through a small fishing town in rural Japan where people have forever lived in fear of malevolent merfolks. Our protagonist Kai, a junior high school kid, has just unhappily moved there following his parents’ divorce, and he dislikes everything about the place — especially its people. The only thing that makes him happy is music, a hobby that holds the key to this story. It is through music that Kai meets his new friends, Kunio and Yuho, and of course Lu, who it turns out, loves to listen to music and dance. Kai grows fond of Lu, who helps him overcome his sadness and restore his faith in life. But Lu is a mermaid who has to remain hidden — until one day this is no longer possible and all hell breaks loose when the townsmen begin spreading rumors that it is Lu who cursed them. As they attempt to ward Lu off, however, they come to a realization that it wasn’t Lu who was dividing the town.

A simple yet beautiful story that, in an era of increasingly fearing the ‘foreign,’ reminds us that finding scapegoats in the unknown is never the solution to our actual fears — at times, climbing over the wall may mean finding peace and even new friendships.

Watch with:Your younger siblings.

Must-see scenes: Kai’s version of Kazuyoshi Saito’s Utautai no ballad — make sure you have a tissue.

Why we recommend it? Because it’s a little new and a little different from every Japanese animation we’ve seen so far. Director Masaaki Yuasa is currently in the spotlight, so don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in his world with this cute and heartwarming creation.

3. The Crimes That Bind (祈りの幕が下りる時)

The final installment of Japanese mystery master Keigo Higashino’s famous detective Kaga series, The Crimes That Bind is a story of crime and punishment just as it is about profound and unconditional family love. The story begins with the death, but for Kaga it’s not just another day, another case: the death is of his mother, the single most important figure in his life and one that he had been estranged with since his childhood. As he finds himself coming to terms with her death, the body of a young woman is discovered in Tokyo, a murder Kaga becomes involved with without knowing that it would be the most difficult case he would ever have to solve. The more Kaga digs into the case, the more traces (and bodies) he finds that help him connect the dots. And the more he finds about the stories behind these murders, the more he wishes he had never known the truth — and never solved the case.

An emotional rollercoaster executed so perfectly well by a fantastic crew led by Hiroshi Abe, Nanako Matsushima and Fumio Kohinata, this one will leave you in tears.

Watch with::Someone you’re not embarrassed to cry in front of.

Must-see scenes: When Hiromi and her father reunite for that one last time in that fateful tunnel.

Why we recommend it? Because it finally reveals Kyoichiro Kaga’s own mystery and because it exceeds every suspense we’ve seen so far by skillfully transforming mystery into a complex and profound human drama.

4.Laughing Under the Clouds (曇天に笑う)

The long-anticipated live-action film adaptation of Karakara-Kemuri’s supernatural comic series Donten ni Warau, the film takes us back to early Meiji period-Japan, times of great turbulence and political division. Tenka, the successor of the Kumo Shrine in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, is the hero of the city, making sure that every townsman is safe, well, and laughing — something Tenka places a special interest in. But his main mission in life after his parents were murdered by a former ninja clan, is to protect his two younger brothers: the rebellious Soramaru and the still-growing-up Chutaro. One day, their peaceful life is suddenly interrupted when the sky stays atypically gloomy for too long — a sign that a havoc taking form in a giant serpent that awakens only once every 300 years, is coming. The serpent, Orochi, takes human form and now that everyone knows it’s here, it is a group mission to find out in whose body it is hiding. For Tenka, this may be the end of his peaceful days. Or the beginning.

A movie filled with mind-blowing special effects and action that somewhat reminds you of The Three Musketeers, this movie will keep you awake until the very last minute.

Watch with:With your best guy friends.

Must-see scenes: The taiko drums and matsuri opening.

Why we recommend it? Because we wouldn’t miss watching a good action battle between several of Japan’s currently most popular young actors (Sota Fukushi, Yuma Nakayama, Yuki Furukawa and more). Also for the costumes — cosplayers from around the world, this may be your next look!

5. COLOR ME TRUE (今夜、ロマンス劇場で)

Up until this year, Sadako, the evil spirit of The Ring franchise, was the only Japanese woman to ever come out of the TV. Exactly two decades since its release, luckily we are moving away from horror and welcoming the fantastical-comical romantic drama Tonight, at the Movies where our heroine Miyuki (Haruka Ayase) is a beautiful actress living in a monochrome 1960s film — when one day she slips out of the screen right in front of Kenji (Kentaro Sakaguchi), a struggling assistant director, who adores her. As puzzled as Kenji is about this miracle, he naturally takes advantage of it and uses his once-in-a-lifetime chance to get to know her — or perhaps even more. As the two come close together and Miyuki gradually begins to rediscover color in her colorless life, it is time to reveal her secret — which Kenji is devastated to learn about.

Partially inspired by Enchanted and Roman Holiday (Ayase has a striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn in some scenes), the story is simple and as old as love itself, but the colorful displays, Ayase’s amazing costumes and the two’s perfect onscreen execution of the everlasting questions of what happens when miracles come true, is profoundly entertaining.

Watch with:: Someone you are deeply in love with.

Must-see scenes: Miyuki dancing under the stunning wisteria.

Why we recommend it? Because we all want to know what happens if our favorite actor or actress jumps out of our screen. It’s a romantic, yet simultaneously a little heart-wrenching story you shouldn’t miss.