films seen
20
average score
3.27*
nationality
Japan - 58 years old
status
Alive and kicking
more info

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.

Rare treats

The Case of Hana & Alice

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Hana to Alice Satsujin Jiken
Specifics
2015 / 100m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Animation
More info:
rating
4.5*/5.0*
toplist position
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, the characters quirky but lovable.

Hana and Alice

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Hana to Arisu
Specifics
2004 / 135m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
4.5*/5.0*
toplist position
Hana and Alice poster

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.

The good stuff

April Story

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Shigatsu Monogatari
Specifics
1998 / 67m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
April Story poster

Picnic

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Pikunikku
Specifics
1996 / 68m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Fantasy
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Picnic poster

Undo

by Shunji Iwai
Specifics
1994 / 47m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Undo poster

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Rippu Van Winkuru no Hanayome
Specifics
2016 / 179m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
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

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Suwarôteiru
Specifics
1996 / 148m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Sci-fi
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
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.

Solid pieces

Last Letter

by Shunji Iwai
Specifics
2020 / 120m - Japan
Genre
Romance
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
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.

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.

Last Letter

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Ni Hao, Zhihua
Specifics
2018 / 114m - China
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
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.

New York, I Love You

by Fatih Akin, Yvan Attal, Randall Balsmeyer, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Wen Jiang, Shekhar Kapur, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Natalie Portman, Brett Ratner
Specifics
2008 / 103m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
New York, I Love You poster

Jam Films

by Daizaburo Hanada, Jôji Iida, Shunji Iwai, Ryuhei Kitamura, Rokuro Mochizuki, Tetsuo Shinohara, Yukihiko Tsutsumi, Isao Yukisada
Specifics
2002 / 109m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Jam Films poster

Love Letter

by Shunji Iwai
Specifics
1995 / 117m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Love Letter poster

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

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Uchiage Hanabi, Shita kara Miruka? Yoko kara Miruka?
Specifics
1993 / 49m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? poster

The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Yoka de Shinda Kaiju no Juninichi no Monogatari
Specifics
2020 / 88m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
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.

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.

Worthy but flawed

All about Lily Chou-Chou

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Riri Shushu no Subete
Specifics
2001 / 146m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Romance, Thriller, Crime, Music
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
All about Lily Chou-Chou poster

Fried Dragon Fish

by Shunji Iwai
Specifics
1993 / 50m - Japan
Genre
Mystery, Crime
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Fried Dragon Fish poster

Ghost Soup

by Shunji Iwai
Specifics
1992 / 58m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Ghost Soup poster

Dubious filler

The Kon Ichikawa Story

by Shunji Iwai
Also known as
Ichikawa Kon Monogatari
Specifics
2006 / 83m - Japan
Genre
Documentary
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Kon Ichikawa Story poster

Plain forgettable

Vampire

by Shunji Iwai
Specifics
2011 / 120m - Japan, USA
Genre
Drama, Horror, Thriller
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Vampire poster

Big nopes

Friends after 3.11

by Shunji Iwai
Specifics
2011 / 120m - Japan
Genre
Documentary
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Friends after 3.11 poster