films seen
18
average score
4.02*
nationality
Japan - 58 years old
status
Alive and kicking
more info

One of Japan's hidden gems. Tanaka's work is quirky, stylish and refined, with a strong focus on atmosphere and rhythm, not so much on structure and plot. His oeuvre has little to no weak entries, which is quite unique.

Beyond exceptional

Blessing Bell

Kofuku no Kane
2002 / 87m - Japan
Comedy, Drama
Blessing Bell poster

Tanaka's gentle and loving approach and Terajima's superb portrayal of his character take you along on an amazing trip, full of endearing, funny and warm moments.

Rare treats

Monday

2000 / 100m - Japan
Comedy
Monday poster

The film consists of nothing but memorable scenes, contains some genuinely laugh out loud funny moments and slaps on a stylish finish to make the package complete

Miss Zombie

2013 / 85m - Japan
Drama, Horror
Miss Zombie poster

It's certain to disappoint a few zombie fanatics who end up watching this without knowing what to expect, but people who've grown tired of the grovelling undead may find a welcome reboot of the genre.

Chasuke's Journey

Ten no Chasuke
2015 / 106m - Japan
Comedy, Drama
Chasuke's Journey poster

Chasuke's Journey is visually stunning, very well acted, original and most of all unique. It's exactly the kind of film that fuels my love for Japanese cinema.

Postman Blues

Posutoman Burusu
1997 / 110m - Japan
Comedy, Drama
Postman Blues poster

It was more than 10 years since I first watched this film and so I wasn't quite sure if it would still hold up after all this time.

Bunny Drop

Usagi Drop
2011 / 113m - Japan
Drama
Bunny Drop poster

Bunny Drop is a lovely film with lots to smile about. Wonderfully acted, creatively visualized and aptly scored, you can't really go wrong with this one.

The good stuff

Happiness

2016 / 90m - Japan
Drama, Fantasy
Happiness poster

Don't be fooled by the title, this isn't one of Tanaka's lighter films. Though the premise sounds perfect for a fun genre flick and the first third of the film leaves you guessing, the middle part and the finale hit pretty hard. Nagase is outstanding, the cinematography is stylish, the soundtrack is exemplary, the drama is captivating. Tanaka proves time and time again he's one of the most gifted and unique contemporary Japanese directors, which makes his somewhat lackluster international status that more frustrating.

Dancing Mary

2019 / 105m - Japan
Comedy, Fantasy
Dancing Mary poster

Dancing Mary is a superb blend of so many genres that it's nearly impossible to categorize. Fantasy, horror, crime, comedy and drama seamlessly mix together to tell a beautiful story about a long-lost romance that ended in tragedy. The cinematography is beautiful, the editing is excellent. Add a great score and a fine cast and you have another Tanaka masterpiece.

Mr. Long

Ryu San
2017 / 129m - Japan
Drama, Crime
Mr. Long poster

Another quality Tanaka film. More in line with Bunny Drop, combining drama and comedy to great effect. Mr. Long also introduces some crime elements, though they are very limited. Well shot, perfectly acted, dramatically impeccable. It's not as unique as some of his other films, but well worth a watch.

Drive

2002 / 102m - Japan
Comedy, Crime
Drive poster

Trademark Tanaka film. Drive is quirky and frivolous, not held back by rigid plot conventions and sporting a killer cast that knows how to deal with the dry comedy on display. The film has aged a little, but it still feels fresh and easygoing. Tanaka is one of Japan's hidden gems, Drive may not be his best film, but it's still better than most of its peers.

The Crab Cannery Ship

Kanikosen
2009 / 109m - Japan
Drama
The Crab Cannery Ship poster

Kanikosen is a solid come-back for Tanaka. Visually impressive, boasting a superb setting and a strong cast.

Jam

2018 / 102m - Japan
Comedy, Crime
Jam poster

An oldskool Tanaka. Different stories intersect to tell a bigger plot, some scenes have a tendency to venture off into a direction of their own and there's an underlying layer of dark comedy that keeps things interesting. It's not Tanaka's best film, but he's so skilled that he can make a film like this extremely entertaining without having to make a real effort. Good fun.

Hold Up Down

Hôrudo Appu Daun
2005 / 96m - Japan
Comedy
4.0*/5.0*
Hold Up Down poster

Hard Luck Hero

2003 / 79m - Japan
Comedy, Action, Crime
4.0*/5.0*
Hard Luck Hero poster

Solid pieces

My Blood & Bones in a Flowing Galaxy

Kudakechiru Tokoro O Misete Ageru
2020 / 127m - Japan
Drama, Thriller
3.5*/5.0*
My Blood & Bones in a Flowing Galaxy poster

Tanaka's latest is pretty peculiar, though also one of his lesser films. It starts off as a sweet but slow drama, only to take a drastic turn during the final half hour. Tanaka is known for the way he can quickly switch between different genres, so that's not really the issue. It's just that the (longer) drama segment is a bit pedestrian.

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When Hamada arrives late to a school meeting, he sees how Hari, a freshman student, is bullied quite harshly by her classmates. The bullying grows worse and Hamada decides to protect the girl to the best of his ability. The two enjoy each other's company, but Hamada is about to find out that Hari hides a dark secret.

The performances are solid, the drama is decent, but decent isn't good enough for Tanaka. Maybe if the bullying part had been reduced a little the balance would've ended up more satisfactory. The ending is pretty great though, it's there that Tanaka's talents surface again, but it's too little, too late to make this a true masterpiece.

Dead Run

Shissô
2005 / 124m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Dead Run poster

Dead Run was quite a change of direction for Hiroyuki Tanaka. Gone are the quirky characters, the free roaming narratives and the delightful coincidences, instead Dead Run serves relentless drama with a slice of Japanese nihilism. I still think it's a powerful and impressive film, but it does lack the visual rawness to make it work for the full 100%.

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Shuji is a young kid who lives in the shadow of his more successful brother. He doesn't really mind, until he starts hanging out with a girl and a priest from a less favorable part of town. While Shuji finds comfort in their presence, his brother looks down on them and tries to break up their relationship.

The performances are solid, and the drama is gripping, though it does take a while for the film to find its footing. Visually the film hangs between more traditional dramas and their darker counterparts, but doesn't really dare to pick sides. The somewhat grim and washed out look just doesn't do Dead Run that many favors. The result is a fine Tanaka, but not one of his better films.

Unlucky Monkey

Anrakki Monki
1998 / 106m - Japan
Comedy, Action
3.5*/5.0*
Unlucky Monkey poster

Worthy but flawed

D.A.N.G.A.N. Runner

Dangan Ranna
1996 / 82m - Japan
Comedy, Action, Crime
2.5*/5.0*
D.A.N.G.A.N. Runner poster