When I began this blog I did not foresee that I would run out of Japanese movies and books to post about. They have not been my exclusive focus, but despite the name of the blog, I’m embarking from that Japanese archipelago—first from Japanese to Javanese, then to rescuing from oblivion various lists I posted on the defunct epinions.
Before making this pivot, I decided to look back and list my favorite Japanese writers and film directors. I think quality has much to do with my esteem, but these are rankings of how well I like their work, not claims that the lists are in order of merit.
Had I been asked a few years ago which Japanese film directors I most venerated, I would have said “Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu.” Great as I think “Sanchô, the Bailiff” is, I’ve cooled on Mizoguchi. Before I began blogging, Kobayashi had bumped Mizoguchi from second place. Before 2016 I had never seen a Kinoshita film, and I have been amazed by his successes in diverse genres. And I have decided that at least in the films in which his wife, Wada Natto, was involved in the scripts (credited or not), Ichikawa directed some great films (and many that have not made there way across the Pacific). I think the three films Teshigahara directed written by Kôbô Abe are great, other Tshigahara films (of which there are not many) less so.
I had only seen one Naruse film (A Woman Ascends the Stairs). Seeing more has not impressed me with his visual flair, and, even more than Mizoguchi, they are repetitively portraits of female misery that become tiresome.
I like the least typical Ôshima film (Merry, Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, which is mostly in English) the most, whereas many others try my patience. Imamura made some boring, opaque films, too, but also many very good ones.
So, my new “holy trinity” is Kurosawa, Kinoshita, and Kobayashi. Another, still active K, Koreeda may some day join them, and has already earned a position in (the bottom tier of) my pantheon. The members with my favorite of their films:
Koreeda Hirokazu, I Wish
Shindô Kaneto, Onibaba
Inoue Yasushi, Tun-Huang
Dazai Osamu, One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji
Mishima Yukiô, After the Banquet
Tanizaki Yunichiro, The Key
Endô Shûsaku, Deep River
Nastume Sôseki, Kokoro
Kawabata Yasunari, The Old Capital
Ranpo Edogawa, The Red Chamber
Murakami Haruki, Kafka on the Shore
Oe Kenzaburô, Prize Stock
(the image at the top is one of Hokusai’s hundred views of Mount Fujiyama)