films seen
average score
Japan - 61 years old
Alive and kicking
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A director who built his career on dreamy, poetic teen dramas. Iwai's style is breezy, effortless and subtle, but rarely without a darker twinge. No doubt one of the essentials of contemporary Japanese cinema, but his films are not for everyone.


The Case of Hana & Alice

Hana to Alice Satsujin Jiken
2015 / 100m - Japan
Drama - Animation
The Case of Hana & Alice poster

Iwai found the right balance between Japanese live-action drama and the magic of animation. The film looks great, the story is moving, and the characters are quirky but lovable.


1996 / 68m - Japan
Drama, Fantasy
Picnic poster

A sublime little drama from Iwai. It's been ages since I last watched it, and I'd forgotten how unique and special this film truly is. From the lovely cinematography to the gentle score, from the soothing drama to the flashes of weirdness and horror, this is Iwai exploring the boundaries of his signature style. Add to that some splendid performances and a killer ending, and you have a sweet, challenging, compact drama that easily stands the test of time.

Hana and Alice

Hana to Arisu
2004 / 135m - Japan
Hana and Alice poster

All in all, it's a very sweet, very natural, and naive little film that has charm aplenty and feels particularly short for a film that runs well past the 120-minute barrier.

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle

Rippu Van Winkuru no Hanayome
2016 / 179m - Japan
A Bride for Rip Van Winkle poster

With this film he returns to his core style, picking things up right where he left off back in 2004. Strong acting, an intriguing plot and a warm, dreamy atmosphere make this an easy recommend.

Swallowtail Butterfly

1996 / 148m - Japan
Drama, Sci-fi
Swallowtail Butterfly poster

A vibrant and wild trip through an alternative world. One where the yen became the dominant currency and foreigners flocked to Japan to earn a quick buck. It's one of the least typical films in Iwai's oeuvre, but also one of the most interesting. While a little uneven in places, there is so much raw energy here that I had no trouble convincing me of its strengths a second time around.

April Story

Shigatsu Monogatari
1998 / 67m - Japan
Drama, Romance
April Story poster

This was one of the first Iwai films I watched when I started my journey into Japanese live-action cinema, so it is safe to say I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this rewatch. It turned out to be a true delight. Iwai uses the short runtime well to serve a very small yet endearing story about a young girl moving to Tokyo to start college. There's a sweetness and a penchant for tiny moments of beauty and bliss that make this film a joy to watch. If you want something short and sweet to get acquainted with Iwai's work, you can't go wrong with this one.


1994 / 47m - Japan
Drama, Romance
Undo poster

Last Letter

2020 / 120m - Japan
Last Letter poster

In a slightly surprising turn of events, Iwai decided to remake Last Letter, his first China-based film released just two years ago. This is pretty much exactly the same film, only shot in Japan with a Japanese cast. For that reason alone, it's probably best to leave some time between watching both films.

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The story hasn't really changed (and is still a bit too convoluted). When Yuri returns from her sister's funeral, she goes to a reunion to inform her sister's classmates. Once there she's mistaken for her sister, and she finds herself incapable of telling the truth. When she meets her sister's first love, things get a bit complicated.

Performances are good, with a stand-out parts for Takako Matsu and Suzu Hirose, and a fun cameo from Hideaki Anno. The film looks pristine, with some trademark Iwai shots, the soundtrack is comfy and on point. It's just that the story gets in the way of the atmosphere sometimes, which messes up the pacing.

The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8

Yoka de Shinda Kaiju no Juninichi no Monogatari
2020 / 88m - Japan
Comedy, Fantasy
The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 poster

Iwai's take on screenlife cinema. Some parts of The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 were exactly what I was expecting from this odd combo, but Iwai has a few surprises up his sleeve. The biggest one being that this is effectively a core comedy, built on a slightly fantastical premise. Made up of Zoom calls, YouTube videos and moody black and white segments in the near-empty streets of Tokyo, the COVID-19 atmosphere is tangible.

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Japan is in lockdown, people are bored. Actor Takumi Saitoh figures he should do his part to combat the virus and orders a "capsule kaiju", a small monster egg that's supposed to grow into a real kaiju and help humanity fight the virus. While tending to the egg, he checks in with friends for help and pointers.

It's a rather absurd premise, especially for people not familiar with Japan's kaiju history. Iwai's deadpan approach is delightful though and the DIY vibe works in favor of the film. There are some more arthouse-like moments (the modern dance sequences - beautifully realized) and the message at the end is a bit heavy-handed, but overall this was a very light, fun and inventive little film. Comes well recommended for fans of Iwai's work, but some familiarity with kaiju culture is necessary to enjoy this film to its fullest.

Last Letter

Ni Hao, Zhihua
2018 / 114m - China
Drama, Romance
Last Letter poster

Shunji Iwai in China. Last Letter is certainly better than his American adventure, but it doesn't quite match his prime Japanese work. The drama is fine, but there's a little too much intrigue and not enough time to delve into the core drama. The acting is great though and there are some pretty shots scattered throughout the film. A solid entry in Iwai's oeuvre, but he's made better films.

Jam Films poster

Love Letter

1995 / 117m - Japan
Drama, Romance
Love Letter poster

Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?

Uchiage Hanabi, Shita kara Miruka? Yoko kara Miruka?
1993 / 49m - Japan
Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? poster

All about Lily Chou-Chou

Riri Shushu no Subete
2001 / 146m - Japan
All about Lily Chou-Chou poster

Fried Dragon Fish

1993 / 50m - Japan
Mystery, Crime
Fried Dragon Fish poster

Ghost Soup

1992 / 58m - Japan
Ghost Soup poster

The Kon Ichikawa Story

Ichikawa Kon Monogatari
2006 / 83m - Japan
The Kon Ichikawa Story poster


2011 / 120m - USA
Drama, Horror, Thriller
Vampire poster

Friends after 3.11

2011 / 120m - Japan
Friends after 3.11 poster