Another year gone, another round-up of the finest films I discovered. I'm not so much a man of traditions as I am a man of routine, but this recap has been running since the very first year I started this blog and should by all means be considered a wholesome onderhond.com tradition. Like most years, it's mostly films from previous years dominating the list, that's what you get when favoring Asian cinema I guess. If 10 films isn't enough and you're looking for even more recommendations, here's a rundown of all the previous editions: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.
10. In This Corner of the World [Kono Sekai no Katasumi Ni] (2016)
Finally Grave of the Fireflies has a little sister. The impact of In This Corner of the World might be slightly smaller, but that doesn't take away from the beauty and heartfelt drama that drives this film. Wonderfully animated, featuring an exquisitely crafted main character and a devastating finale, this is clearly one of the animation highlights of 2016. It's a shame this film remained somewhat under the radar though.
09. Isle of Dogs (2018)
Wes Anderson is back with a new stop-motion animation film. Fantastic Mr. Fox was a welcome surprise in Anderson's oeuvre and Isle of Dogs improves quite a bit on the stop-motion work there. Set in Japan, the tale of a group of cast-away dogs isn't the most creative one, but the execution is top notch, the voice acting is on point and the blend of languages and cultures makes for a very novel, original experience.
08. Suffering of Ninko [Ninko no Junan] (2016)
It took Suffering of Ninko a while to get here, but the wait was definitely worth it. A crowd-funded film, but you really wouldn't know. Norihiro Niwatsukino's first is well made, creative and surprising from start to finish. It's a bit of an acquired taste of course, there's quite a lot of Japanese weirdness to wade through, but at least to me that's a perk. I'm already looking forward to Niwatsukino's next.
07. Legend of the Demon Cat [Kukai] (2017)
Kaige Chen had to work hard to get himself accustomed to commercial film making, but he's clearly arrived at the point where he has mastered blockbuster cinema. Legend of the Demon Cat is one of the most lush films to have come out of China these past years. The scenery is simply jaw dropping. The story is fun enough and the acting is solid, but this is first and foremost a visual feast that drags you in from start to finish.
06. The Tenants Downstairs [Lou Xia De Fang Ke] (2016)
One of the most twisted films I've watched all year, which is quite a feat since it doesn't really present itself as a core horror film. Even so, the adventures of a malignant landlord can get pretty depraved and the beautiful but stark presentation only makes it worse. The ending is little too preoccupied with trying to explain everything, but it's only a minor gripe that has little impact on the overall feel of the film.
05. High & Low: The Movie (2016)
High & Low is an interesting series and Shigeaki Kubo gave it the film it deserved. It looks gorgeous, there's plenty of kick-ass action and it can hold its own when compared to the Crows series. It might even be a little better, coming closer to Sono's Tokyo Tribe. The franchise is a bit of a mess and only parts are available outside of Japan, but seasoned fans won't have much trouble catching on, it's not a very complex film.
04. Big Fish and Begonia [Dayu Haitang] (2016)
China is still trying to crack the international market. They're willing to try everything and from time to time, something great comes of it. Big Fish and Begonia is China's first successful animation film and what a treat it is. It plays like a Chinese version of Miyazaki's films, featuring lots of local folklore mixed with strong fantasy elements. The animation is stunning, the world building is amazing and it's by far the best animated film I've seen this year.
03. Bitter Honey [Mitsu no Aware] (2016)
Sogo/Gakuryu Ishii is still alive and kicking. Bitter Honey is a bit different from his other work, though the hand of Ishii is still easy to recognize. He brought together Fumi Nikaido and the late Ren Osugi in a quirky, imaginative and unique little film. It's hard to describe what makes Bitter Honey so great and I'm sure some won't get what Ishii was trying to do here, but if you like your films a little different, this is definitely recommended.
02. Colonel Panics (2016)
A talented young South-Korean director went to Japan to make his first feature film. The result is an edgy, mysterious and unsettling cyberpunk thriller which dazzles from start to finish. Maybe Cho tried to cram in a little too much, but there are so many great ideas and the film looks so amazing that it's absolutely not an issue. If only there were more directors like him, making this kind of risky films. Must be seen to be believed.
01. The Limit of Sleeping Beauty [Rimitto Obu Suripingu Byuti] (2017)
It's been years since I gave a perfect score to a film, then again The Limit of Sleeping Beauty is exactly the kind of film I love. Extremely visual with a strong dependency on a demanding soundtrack. An urban fantasy with some strong drama and a perfect performance by Yuki Sakurai. It's sure to be a divisive film, but that just means that it's a film with a firm vision and no compromises to water things down.