films seen
average score
Japan - 53 years old
R.I.P. (1948 - 2001)
more info

One of the unsung heroes of 80s and 90s Japanese cinema. Somai has a very peculiar, pointed style that combines touching drama with strong genre influences. If you like the films of Obayashi, you should definitely give this guy a go.


Umbrella Flower

2000 / 116m - Japan
Umbrella Flower poster

A somewhat hermetic, but beautiful drama. Somai doesn't make it easy on his audience, the characters aren't the most charming and are pretty introverted, the structure is a tad confusing and their haphazard trip may feel rather pointless. But as the film moved along, the characters started to grow on me (helped by some terrific performances), the delicate styling didn't miss its effect and the drama grew stronger by the minute. Somai's swan song is a film to cherish, one that should appeal to people who love Japanese drama and don't mind an arthouse finish.


1993 / 125m - Japan
Moving poster

A worthy Somai film. I've been slowly going through his oeuvre, and that has been a pretty fun trip so far. He's consistently interesting and always adds something unique to otherwise basic dramas. Moving reminded me a little of Obayashi's family-friendly entertainment, probably because of the younger lead and the more rural setting.

Read all

Renko is still a young girl when her parents decide to divorce. At first, she isn't too worried, but Renko starts to panic when her friends remind her of the practical implications of such a divorce. When her father moves out of the house, she comes up with a plan to bring her parents back together.

Tabata does pretty well for her age, the setting is pleasant and the tone is light. The first half of the film is nice enough, but not all that notable. When Somai adds a bit of couleur locale to the second half things get noticeably better. The cinematography and soundtrack stand out and there are quite a few memorable moments. Another good Somai.

Tokyo Heaven

Tôkyô Jôkû Irasshaimase
1990 / 109m - Japan
Drama, Fantasy
Tokyo Heaven poster

I'm slowly catching up with Shinji Somai's films, and I'm not complaining. Tokyo Heaven reminded me a little of an Obayashi project. There's a decent dramatic basis here, but it's the fantasy elements that make the film interesting. It's not an ultimate classic, but certainly an underappreciated gem.

Read all

Yuu is a young pop talent who wants to make it big in the entertainment business. When she is forced to suck up to a wealthy mogul, she gets involved in a traffic accident and dies on the spot. In heaven, she negotiates another chance and is sent back to Earth, where she finds herself with the man who needs to cover up her death.

It's a fun setup (not entirely unlike Kon's Perfect Blue, there's even some imagery that matches) which allows Somai to work in some dreamy, fantastical scenes. These are the moments when the film shines and it becomes a little more than a simple, amusing narrative. A very pleasant surprise.

Luminous Woman

Hikaru Onna
1987 / 118m - Japan
Luminous Woman poster

Somai is one of Japan's forgotten treasures. It took me long enough to (re)discover this interesting director, but I'm a fan now. Even his older films are still pretty appealing. Point in case: Luminous Woman. This underseen film is a challenging romance with some eye-popping beautiful scenes, right up my alley.

Read all

A rugged mountain man travels from Hokkaido to Tokyo to reconnect with the woman he loves, once there things go differently than he expected. He discovers she has fallen for a shady club owner. Meanwhile, the man encounters a pop singer who wants to make it big into the opera scene.

Interesting characters, solid performances, and superb cinematography make Luminous Woman quite the treat. It's a tad too slow and long to be a true personal favorite, but some of the scenes are absolutely stunning and will be burnt on my retinas forever. This film puts me halfway through Somai's oeuvre, I'll be making sure to get through the other half too.

Wait and See

Ah Haru
1998 / 100m - Japan
Wait and See poster

A pretty straightforward drama by Somai, with a strong early 90s vibe. Whereas men like Koreeda were already well on their way to reinventing the Japanese drama, Wait and See is a film that belongs to the previous generation. It's a bit cruder, a little rowdier, and not quite as subtle as I would've preferred it to be.

Read all

Hiroshi's life is turned upside down when his father suddenly arrives on his doorstep. His mother told Hiroshi that his father had died when he was five. To add to the emotional turmoil, Hiroshi's company is about to go bankrupt. He tries to cope with this new situation as best as he can but finds himself way in over his head.

The performances are decent but a little rough, the drama is a tad predictable and while the presentation is nice, it never really stands out. The film is on the shorter side though, which helps. Ultimately, this felt like a safer entry in Somai's oeuvre, but it's definitely not a bad film. Just a bit of oldskool Japanese drama filler.

Love Hotel

Rabu Hoteru
1985 / 88m - Japan
Drama, Crime
Love Hotel poster

A solid Somai, though not a film that is all that remarkable. I've seen plenty of similar dramas, dealing with failure, suicide, prostitution, and the like. It sounds quite heavy and there are some dark scenes, but it's not an overly depressing film. So far, Somai's work has been very consistent.

Read all

When Muraki's company goes under, he ends up in a whirlpool of trouble. His plan to lend money from the Yakuza is a bust, and when he can't pay them back they rape his wife. Muraki feels defeated and checks into a hotel, planning to kill himself. There he meets a prostitute, who he falls in love with.

The performances are good, the cinematography is decent (but somewhat unremarkable), while the drama covers familiar territory, (though admittedly, mostly covered by more recent films). It's a perfectly fine film that doesn't overstay its welcome, fans of Japanese dramas will feel right at home, but it lacks something to make it a bit more memorable.

P. P. Rider

Shonben Raidâ
1983 / 118m - Japan
P. P. Rider poster

An early Somai that reminded me quite a bit of Obayashi's 80s work, though without the fantastical spins. It's a quirky little adventure film where a couple of kids are getting messed up in adult affairs. It's not the most exciting or challenging premise, but the film is light and easily digestible.

Read all

Three kids are fed up with the class bully. They make a pact and want to get back at the kid. But out of the blue, he is kidnapped. The police are stumped and aren't too eager to invest too much effort into the kidnapping, so they decide to save their bully, so they can hand him a proper punishment themselves.

Some kids taking on the Yakuza isn't the most believable of plotlines, then again, this film doesn't take itself all that seriously. The performances are decent, the mood is light and pleasant, and even though it's quite a long film, it never bored me. It doesn't really stand out too much, then again, it's hard to stand out next to Obayashi. Cute.

The Catch

Gyoei no Mure
1983 / 140m - Japan
The Catch poster

Early Somai, which sees him exploring more straightforward drama territory. The film isn't quite as distinctive as some of his other work, but it shows that Somai is a capable director, even when he can't rely on a more flashy premise. More proof that my resolution to further explore Somai's oeuvre was warranted.

Read all

Shunichi is a young kid who falls in love with the daughter of a fisherman. He wants to marry her and learn the trade, as he loves the ocean, but her father is against the idea. He knows how dangerous the sea can be and he's afraid Shunichi won't be able to give his daughter the life she deserves. But Shunichi won't give up that easily.

The pacing is deliberate, the setting quite grim and Somai's choice to register rather than narrate is a solid one. The performances are good too, but the drama is pretty basic and predictable, and the runtime is pretty hefty for a film that holds few surprises. It's a good drama, but it lacks that little extra to distinguish itself.

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun

Sêrâ-fuku to Kikanjû
1981 / 131m - Japan
Sailor Suit and Machine Gun poster

Not the crazy genre fest you may expect from the title (or even the premise of the film), but a rather stylish and well-made coming of age drama set against a Yakuza background. This is only my second Somai film so far, but it seems I should be paying a bit more attention to his oeuvre in the future.

Read all

When a Yakuza boss dies, he carries over his gang to his nephew. What he doesn't know at that time is that his nephew isn't alive anymore. In that case the responsibility is carried over to the next of kind, but that turns out to be Izumi Hoshi, a young school girl who has never seen a Yakuza member up close.

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun has its share of genre elements (yes, at one point Izumi empties a machine gun in a room full of gangsters), but most of the film is a lot slower, reminding me a bit of Kitano's crime oeuvre, with people just hanging around. The cinematography is pretty nice too, the only thing that bothered me was the mediocre performance of Hiroko Yakushimaru as Izumi. An interesting film though, well recommended.

Typhoon Club

Taifû Kurabu
1985 / 115m - Japan
Drama, Romance
Typhoon Club poster

A somewhat meandering coming of age film by Somai. There's not much in the way of a real plot here, instead Somai creates a setting where his characters are allowed to blossom. The idea is pretty solid, but the execution feels a little too unfocused and some scenes drag on for too long.

Read all

The setting is a small rural school building. A typhoon is coming and everybody is asked to return home, but several kids get stuck at school and with the storm raging outside, they have no other choice to spend the night there. There's little else to do than loiter and get up to some good old-fashioned mischief.

Performances are pretty decent and I do appreciate the concept, but the film's a bit rowdy and the characters feel somewhat generic, which makes it exceedingly tough to spend two hours with them. There are some moments that stand out, but not enough to keep me engaged all the way through.