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Top 10 Fantastic Asian Movies You Have Not Seen

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Thomas O'Connor

The great thing about being a cinephile is that there’s always more to see. From Dead Leaves to Tetsuo: The Iron Man, WatchMojo is counting down the greatest Asian films you may not have heard of.


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Script written by Thomas O'Connor

Top 10 Fantastic Asian Cinema Films You Have Not Seen

The great thing about being a cinephile is that there’s always more to see. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Fantastic Asian Cinema Movies You Haven’t Seen.

For this list, we’re looking at some awesome movies from Japan, China and other Asian countries that may have slipped under your radar.

#10: “Dead Leaves” (2004)

This should come as no surprise to fans of the genre, but anime can get more than a little weird. For a perfect example of the irreverent, madcap strangeness to be found in Japanese animation, look no further than this 2004 anime film directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi. Telling the story of two amnesiac misfits named Pandy and Retro, “Dead Leaves” sees the pair go on a massive crime spree before being jailed in the Dead Leaves prison colony. Oh, and did we mention Retro has a TV for a head? And what about the fact anime can be really, really weird? Maybe that wasn’t clear.

#9: “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” (2013)

Switching gears just a bit from the insane to the beautiful, this 2013 masterwork is a definite high note in the career of Studio Ghibli director Isao Takahata. Based on the Japanese fable ‘The Tale of the Woodcutter’, the film sees a bamboo cutter find a small girl inside a bamboo shoot. He takes her home and raises her as his daughter, but when she comes of age numerous suitors begin competing for her attention. The film is a beautiful, poetic, and visually stunning example of the artistic capabilities of not just anime, but also animation in general. Folklore has never been more beautiful.

#8: “The Resistance” (2011)

Set during the Japanese occupation of China by Imperial Japan during World War 2, this Chinese war flick sees a mysterious assassin called The Black Dress Killer cutting down Japanese officers. This causes tensions to rise in war-torn Beijing. Don’t let the low-fi special effects fool you; this little known gem combines martial arts, ninjas, war movies and character drama to craft a fun and memorable action epic that isn’t afraid to tackle some serious subject matter. You might not expect it, but the film’s director Peng Zang Li is a genuine Shaolin monk.

#7: “Noroi: The Curse” (2005)

The found footage horror craze may be past its golden years, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking out this entry in the genre from Japan. Following the exploits of a paranormal investigator trying to unravel a bizarre case involving ESP, demons and “ectoplasmic worms”, this J-horror staple should be noted for its extremely involved and complicated plot and its expansive cast. It may not be the most straightforward narrative to follow, but fans of Japanese horror and found footage films would do well to seek this one out. The film’s director, Koji Shiraishi, has directed numerous found footage horror films since, many of which are worth seeking out.

#6: “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” (1989)

Looking for some body horror, are you? Well listen, there’s body horror... and then there’s this 1989 cult classic, which takes body horror to a new level. Shot on an ultra-low budget with a small cast and crew who mostly lived on-set, the film sees an unnamed salaryman slowly and graphically transform into a walking collection of machine parts. To say that this one is not for the faint of heart might be underselling it a bit. But the film’s extreme violence, gore, low-fi aesthetic and oppressive atmosphere has earned it a dedicated cult following and two sequels. Just...know what you’re getting into. Seriously.

#5: “Survive Style 5+” (2004)

This 2004 Japanese film tells five stories, each one weirder than the last, that crossover, weaving together to create an insane basket of violence, black humor and the occasional musical number. In one story, Tadanobu Asano’s character repeatedly kills his wife, only to have her come back from the grave each time. Another tale sees a normal businessman hypnotized into believing he’s a bird. And through it all saunters Vinnie Jones as a professional killer, shouting and killing his way through everything in his path. Given the film’s madcap sensibilities, it’s no wonder that director Gen Sekiguchi got his start directing Japanese TV commercials.

#4: “Rampo Noir” (2005)

The name Edogawa Ranpo – or Rampo in romanized form - may not be too familiar to many North Americans, but in the world of Japanese mystery fiction, he’s something of a heavy-hitter. In fact, he is hugely influential and universally revered now decades after his death. Ranpo himself was heavily inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, so much so that his pen name is inspired by the American writer. This 2005 anthology film adapts four of Ranpo’s short stories, all of them twisted tales of death and the macabre. With a different director helming each segment, the film is a beautiful collage of styles and visuals. And murder. Style, visuals and murder. Gotta have all three.

#3: “Paprika” (2006)

When director Satoshi Kon passed away in 2010, he left behind a legacy most directors could only dream of, thanks to a slew of genre-defining anime films made under his practiced eye. His final film, this 2006 adventure, is one of his most loved. Our heroine uses a device that allows her to enter people’s dreams as her alter ego Paprika, helping them to overcome trauma and resolve emotional issues. If this sounds kinda similar to a certain Leo DiCaprio flick, don’t worry, you’re not the first person to notice. Colorful, lively, and impeccably crafted, this film is one every anime fan should have in their collection.

#2: “Manila in the Claws of Light” (1975)

The big city can be a dangerous place, especially for those entering it for the first time. Few films illustrate this better than this 1975 Filipino drama from director Lino Brocka. After his beloved is lured to the city by promises of a better life, a young countryman sets out to rescue her, leaving his rural life behind for the city of Manila. But our hero gets more than he bargained for, as the city - and city life - begin to take their toll. Considered one of the greatest films to come out of the Philippines, this harrowing drama might have you reconsidering the city life in favor of something a bit more pastoral.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

- “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988)

- “Cure” (1997)

- “Black Rain” (1989)

#1: “Shall We Dance?” (1996)

You may remember the 2004 remake starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, but let’s face it: the original is always better. At least, this rule certainly holds true in the case of this 1996 Japanese film, which follows the tale of a depressed, unfulfilled businessman who finds new confidence when he enrolls in a Ballroom Dancing class. The film was a smash hit, sweeping the Japanese Academy Awards with wins in every category it was eligible for and garnering massive praise from critics all over the world. And no wonder! You’d be hard-pressed to find a film more charming, heart-warming and uplifting. Just don’t forget to bring your dancing shoes.


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