films seen
17/25
average score
3.05*
nationality
Japan - 57 years old
status
R.I.P. (1964 - 2022)
more info

A versatile and unique director who regularly alternates between drama, crime and thriller. Aoyama's style is difficult to capture in a few words, except that the quality of his work is pretty consistent. A hidden gem of Japanese cinema.

The good stuff

Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani?

by Shinji Aoyama
Eri Eri Rema Sabakutani
2005 / 107m - Japan
Sci-fi, Music
Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani? poster

A very odd Aoyama feature. Part sci-fi, part music film, part drama. It's a full-on arthouse project though, so expect a very deliberate and slow film that isn't too interested in presenting a clear-cut narrative or enjoyable characters. Instead, we're getting harsh noize concerts and tragic cyphers who hardly open up during the course of the film. This won't be everybody's cup of tea, it's by far my favorite Aoyama film, with great performances by Asano and Miyazaki, a superb score and neat cinematography.

Solid pieces

Living in Your Sky

by Shinji Aoyama
Sora ni Sumu
2020 / 118m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Living in Your Sky poster

Shinji Aoyama's star slowly faded this past decade, so I was more than happy to see another film from him. Living in Your Sky isn't the most eye-popping drama, but it has some notable and contemporary elements that does set it apart from its many peers. It's not among Aoyama's best films, but fans of his work won't be disappointed.

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Naomi is a young woman who works at a small publishing firm. A traffic accident kills both her parents, after which her rich uncle takes care of her and donates her a fancy apartment. Naomi is surrounded by caring people, still she feels lonely and uncertain about the next steps in her life. Then she meets Morinori Tokito, a popular actor living in her building.

This is a perfectly fine drama with a strong central performance, polished cinematography and a beautiful score, yet it lacks a bit of focus and some interesting details to make it really stand out, even though Aoyama did make an effort. There are so many Japanese dramas out there that you can't just settle for baseline quality, it would've been niche if Living in Your Sky would've pushed things just a little further.

Sad Vacation

by Shinji Aoyama
2007 / 136m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Sad Vacation poster

Lakeside Murder Case

by Shinji Aoyama
Reikusaido Mada Kesu
2004 / 118m - Japan
Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
Lakeside Murder Case poster

Mike Yokohama: A Forest with No Name

by Shinji Aoyama
Siritsutantei Hama Maiku: Namae no Nai Mori
2002 / 71m - Japan
Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Mike Yokohama: A Forest with No Name poster

Eureka

by Shinji Aoyama
Yûrika
2000 / 217m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Eureka poster

An Obsession

by Shinji Aoyama
Tsumetai Chi
1997 / 109m - Japan
Drama, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
An Obsession poster

Wild Life

by Shinji Aoyama
1997 / 102m - Japan
Comedy, Thriller
3.5*/5.0*
Wild Life poster

Helpless

by Shinji Aoyama
1996 / 80m - Japan
Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Helpless poster

The inoffensive

Dog-Eat-Dog

by Shinji Aoyama
Tomogui
2013 / 102m - Japan
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
Dog-Eat-Dog poster

Desert Moon

by Shinji Aoyama
Tsuki no Sabaku
2001 / 131m - Japan
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
Desert Moon poster

Enbalming

by Shinji Aoyama
Enbamingu
1999 / 96m - Japan
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Enbalming poster

A more straightforward horror film from Shinji Aoyama, that clearly shows the influence from mentor Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Like many of these late 20th century Japanese horror films, there are strong police procedural elements, mixed with psychological horror and some twisted human behavior. The film is certainly effective, but doesn't really manage to stand out.

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Miyako is an embalmer. When she is working on the body of Yoshiki, a young boy who presumably committed suicide, she notices some strange needle marks in his face. Things get weirder when someone breaks into her work place and steals Yoshiki's head. Miyako joins the police investigation and hits a mysterious body parts trafficking group.

Don't expect too much straight-up horror, instead Aoyama shoots for a disturbing and alienating atmosphere. It's all rather expected and the police case isn't quite as exciting as intended, but there are some memorable moments that are sure to stick in your brain. Not one of Aoyama's most remarkable films, but a solid addition to his oeuvre.

A Cop, a Bitch and a Killer

by Shinji Aoyama
Waga Mune Ni Kyoki Ari
1996 / 92m - Japan
Action, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
A Cop, a Bitch and a Killer poster

Chinpira: Two Punks

by Shinji Aoyama
1996 / 101m - Japan
Drama, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Chinpira: Two Punks poster

Worthy but flawed

Tokyo Park

by Shinji Aoyama
Tokyo Kouen
2011 / 119m - Japan
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
Tokyo Park poster

Plain forgettable

To the Backstreet: The Films Kenji Nakagami Left Out

by Shinji Aoyama
Roji E: Nakagami Kenji no Nokoshita Firumu
2001 / 64m - Japan
Documentary
1.5*/5.0*
To the Backstreet: The Films Kenji Nakagami Left Out poster

Director Shinji Aoyama isn't really known for making documentaries, To the Backstreet gives us a little insight as to why that may be. Though he tried his hand at a few around the turn of the century, he just as soon abandoned the format. My guess is that they were deemed a bit too hermetic to do its subjects justice, at least that's my take after watching this film.

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Not knowing anything about Kenji Nakagami (a famous writer) is a real hindrance, as Aoyama isn't interested in the least to give any kind of context. The film starts with a 10-minute car ride through a mountainous region in Japan, mostly spent in silence with the driver. It takes a while before you realize Aoyama is stitching together footage from Nakagami's personal archive with his own, discovering the region where he grew up.

In between there are segments of Nakagami's literature being read aloud. And that's about it really. Fans of Nakagami may get something out of it, at the very least it's a decent look at the Japanese countryside, but I was glad this documentary was just 60 minutes long. Only for true Nakagami insiders, others may be better served reading the man's Wikipedia page.

Big nopes

Shady Grove

by Shinji Aoyama
Sheidî Gurôvu
1999 / 99m - Japan
Drama, Romance
1.0*/5.0*
Shady Grove poster