Though the streaming wars are in full effect (helped along by COVID), the impact on the global spread of Asian cinema is still minimal. It has been improving, but things are still moving at a glacial pace. And so, I'll keep my yearly tradition going. I won't be doing a Top 10 2021, as my current list just isn't representative enough. Instead, you'll find a Top 10 of the best films I've discovered this year, a pretty impressive list if I say so myself. For those of you who feel 10 films just isn't enough, be sure to check the previous years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.
10. Fornacis by Aurélia Mengin
In a world where so many things are insignificant, forgettable, feeble and interchangeable, Fornacis certainly is "something". It's equal parts cult and arthouse, a moody and mysterious exploration of a mourning woman. It's not a perfect film, it's also very explicitly and selfishly the thing it wants to be, which I'm sure will alienate many people. But if you consider yourself an adventurous movie fan, it's a must-see. A perfect blend of genre and author that was right up my alley.
09. Tokyo Vampire Hotel by Sion Sono
Absolutely batshit crazy vampire flick from Sono. This film is the condensed version of the TV series, and it does show in places (the pacing and stylistic finish can be a bit wobbly), but man it this a blast. Colorful cinematography, colorful characters, gallons of blood, Sono's signature madness and an onslaught of memorable moments make this an absolute delight. I'm actually interested in watching the series now, though I'm glad I watched the film version first. A delight.
08. They Say Nothing Stays the Same [Aru Sendo no Hanashi] by Joe Odagari
Impressive second "debut" from Joe Odagari. Though he clearly benefited from his industry connections (Nagase, Aoi & Asano in the cast, Christopher Doyle behind the camera), it's equally obvious Odagari had a clear vision for his first feature. I hadn't expected such a slow and deliberate film, but the result is a tremendous mood piece that captivated me from the very start and didn't let go until the last credit had disappeared from the screen. I just hope this isn't Odagari's last film as a director.
07. Shell and Joint by Isamu Hirabayashi
A film about life, reproduction and death. Instead of turning it into a grim and serious affair, Hirabayashi churns out a dry, absurd and fragmented comedy that defies categorization. It's a film that reveals its secrets over time, it's certain to test your stamina, but it was like nothing I've seen before, and it made me laugh out loud more than once. A superb first feature of Hirabayashi.
06. Cocolors by Toshihisa Yokohama
Lovingly crafted indie animation that references quite a few other films, but still manages to stand on its own two feet. An atmospheric cyber/steampunk aesthetic, a beautifully realized art style and impressive cel shading lift this film far above the competition and immediately put Yokoshima on the map as a talent to look out for in the future.
05. G Affairs [G Saat] by Cheuk Pan Lee
A very candid, fresh and ballsy Hong Kong flick. Cheuk Pan Lee made quite an entry with this one. G Affairs is a visually arresting crime film that puts a couple of students in the middle of a violent crime scene. Two officers are trying to find out what happened, but the fickle medical conditions of the youngsters makes it hard to figure out what exactly went on there. G Affairs shifts between slick, poetic, raw, youthful and stylish at will, making this one of the strongest Hong Kong films of the past decade. Comes highly recommended.
04. Limbo [Ji Chi] by Pou-Soi Cheang
After a decade of mediocre blockbusters, Pou-Soi Cheang returns with a vengeance. Limbo is a gritty police thriller, a sprawling update of the film noir genre that thrills from start to finish. The stark black and white cinematography and the incredible visual density are the star of the show here, aided by Kenji Kawai's moody soundtrack. The plot is intriguing too, the performances are on point and the pacing is perfect. I had already given up on Cheang, but with Limbo he shows that he still has it in him. A truly magnificent genre flick.
03. Punk Samurai Slash Down [Panku-zamurai, Kirarete Sôrô] by Gakuryu Ishii
Gakuryu Ishii is a true blessing for cinema. At first, I figured Punk Samurai Slash Down was just a slightly subdued, tongue-in-cheek take on the jidaigeki genre, but don't be fooled. The film gets progressively weirder and builds up towards a finale that escapes description. Ishii delivers a sprawling comedy that piles on surprise after surprise and had me in stitches for most of its half-hour-long finale. This is how you do comedy.
02. Junk Head [Janku Heddo] by Takahide Hori
What to say about Takahide Tori's Junk Head? It's a passion project seven years in the making, merging the aesthetics of Giger and Nihei's Blame to create one of the most impressive stop-motion projects I've ever come across. My expectations were sky-high going into this film, but Hori delivers. The designs are stupendous, the camera work is amazing, and the setting is right up my ally. It's a sprawling adventure that houses surprises around every corner, an absolute must-see for fans of stop-motion and sci-fi.
01. Hotel Poseidon by Stefan Lernous
A modern-day Eraserhead. A film that defies description and simply has to be experienced to be believed. The symbolism is thick, the coherence can be fickle, and the brain may protest in disgust, but the creativity, absurdity and humor that bursts from every single scene and character is simply breathtaking. Not the easiest recommend, but if you think you can handle weird, you owe it to yourself to give Hotel Poseidon a try. Mesmerizing cinema.