films seen
average score
Japan - 62 years old
Alive and kicking
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Prolific director who remained under the radar for a long time, but is finally starting to get the respect he deserves. He has a knack for dark drama and taboo subjects, yet handles them with grace and dignity. A gem in the rough.

Solid pieces

In The Wake

Mamorarenakatta Mono Tachi E
2021 / 135m - Japan
Drama, Crime
In The Wake poster

The new Zeze is pretty much what I expected from it. He's been doing these gritty thrillers with strong dramatic foundations for a while now, and In The Wake perfectly fits in with his more recent efforts. Combining the aftermath of the tsunami with a police investigation, it's another worthy addition to Zeze's oeuvre.

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After the tsunami hit a small seaside town, three people find comfort in each other's company. Times are tough, and they get separated, but eleven years later fate brings them back together. A police investigation is launched when two corpses are found, tied up and starved to death. The suspect is Yasuhisa, one of the three.

The performances are very solid, Zeze has the gritty look down and the police procedural elements flow well with the drama. Of course there's a little social commentary too (this time focusing on Japan's poor welfare system), but that's just par for the course. Nothing too exceptional, but good, quality film making from one of Japan's more interesting directors.


2020 / 130m - Japan
Drama, Romance
Yarn poster

Takahisa Zeze goes full in on the romance with Yarn, though before he allows his characters the relief they are so desperately yearning for, there's a lot of drama they'll have to wade through first. It's a pretty typical film, elevated by a competent director and a more than capable cast.

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Ren an Aoi literally bump into each other when they're still kids. The two hit it off, and it's immediately clear they are meant for each other. But Aoi's home situation is hardly ideal, and before the two can properly hook up, Aoi flees her home, leaving Ren behind. It's the start of a long journey where fate will actively work against the reunion of the two.

Zeze deliver a rather typical romantic drama, but with Komatsu and Suda in the lead it's a lot easier to capture the audience's attention. The plot is decent, the cinematography is clean and the soundtrack, though borderline sappy, does what it's supposed to do. A very good film, there's just nothing that makes it truly great.

The Promised Land

2019 / 129m - Japan
Drama, Thriller
The Promised Land poster

Why is it that films referring to promised lands (or Shangri-Las, or utopias, or whatever they call it) always use the reference in an ironic manner? I hadn't heard a thing about Zeze's latest, but at no point did I expect this film to be a pleasant, heartwarming drama about a place that feels like an actual promised land.

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The titular promised land is a small community in rural Japan. A sunny village hidden between the mountains that does look like an idyllic place, at least from afar. Of course these communities hide a lot of toxicity too and when a young girl goes missing a long feud begins, one that will make its fair share of victims.

Performances are solid, the film looks pretty nice and the mix of drama and thriller elements works very well. There's little wrong with this film, but it also doesn't really set itself apart from many others. It's a solid, memorable and at times impressive drama that further underlines Zeze's talent, but never quite dazzles.

My Friend 'A'

2018 / 128m - Japan
My Friend 'A' poster

A bleak and dark drama that deals with childhood trauma. Zeze takes a less typical approach by zooming in on the perpetrators, kids who screwed up at a young age and are forced to live their lives knowing they've committed irreparable damage not only the victims, but also their own families and friends.

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Masuda is an aspiring journalist who isn't really cut out for the job. He goes to work in a small factory where he meets Suzuki, a silent and reclusive kid who shies away from his colleagues. Masuda and Suzuki grow close, but Masuda is a little too intrigued by Suzuki's past and starts digging for information, which puts a strain on their friendship.

Performances are strong, the cinematography is fitting and the film has several gripping moments. It's just a little too safe. Zeze's films tend to miss that little extra polish, that tiny bit of personal signature that would elevate them to real masterpieces. Even so, well recommended for fan of grim Japanese dramas, but not quite best in class.

The Lowlife

2017 / 120m - Japan
The Lowlife poster

Despite the subject matter, Takashi Zeze made a very tender and subdued drama that follows the life of a couple of women directly and indirectly impacted by the adult entertainment industry. The actors do a great job, the presentation is solid and the drama works well. A fine drama that is sure to please the fans.

Strayer's Chronicle

Sutoreiyâzu Kuronikuru
2015 / 126m - Japan
Fantasy, Action
Strayer's Chronicle poster

Surprising Zeze. An X-Men vs X-Men story that pits too groups of youngsters with superpowers against each other. Not really the kind of film you'd expect Zeze to direct, but he does surprisingly well. Not all the actors were on point and the film needed a few more spectacular scenes, but overall this was pretty interesting.

Heaven's Story

Hevunzu Sutôrî
2010 / 278m - Japan
Heaven's Story poster

No doubt one of Zeze's most ambitious works. A four and a half hour long drama that doesn't pull any punches. It's the kind of film that requires the right state of mind (and some familiarity with Japanese dramas will also come in handy). When those requirements are met though, there's a lot to like here.

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The story is quite convoluted and hardly worth detailing, but it spans several years and a handful of main characters, centered around a plot of murder and revenge. It's not really a thriller or crime film though, Zeze focuses squarely on the characters and the emotions that they're trying to process.

The camera work is effective, the soundtrack is beautiful and the performances are top-notch. There are also quite a few stand-out scenes and a fair amount of memorable moments, but 270 minutes was a bit too much for my liking, especially for a film that is tonally consistent for its entire running time. A must for fans of Japanese drama, just make sure you're ready for it.

A Gap in the Skin

Hada no Sukima
2005 / 77m - Japan
A Gap in the Skin poster

This was a pretty bitter drama. Two mentally unstable characters try to flee the country after one of them stabbed his own mother. They don't quite succeed, but while they're together an unlikely romance blossoms. An interesting enough setup, but don't expect any relief or silver lining, Zeze piles drama on top of drama.

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It makes for a pretty inaccessible film. The motivations of the characters can be very tough to decipher, which makes it hard for people who need to fully empathize with them to enjoy the film. Luckily A Gap in the Skin isn't too long, so the negativity remains bearable, but it's certainly a challenge and you best be in the right mood for this one.

Visually there are some remarkable scenes, though Zeze relies a bit too much on green filters. The soundtrack isn't too memorable, but decent enough, while the performances are strong yet somewhat of an acquired taste. Not Zeze's easiest film, but if you like your drama to cut to the bone, it's a pretty solid choice.


1997 / 87m - Japan
Kokkuri poster

I never really pegged Zeze as a horror director, so I was quite curious to see how Kokkuri would turn out. The Japanese horror wave had been budding since the early 90s, but wouldn't become an international success until the release of Ringu in '98. From that perspective, Kokkuri is pretty impressive.

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Zeze's film differs in the sense that it doesn't follow the less-is-more approach that was gaining popularity around that time. Instead, Kokkuri plays more like a traditional drama, only with horror elements added. The curse that follows school kids is already present though, so is the creepy little girl that appears out of nowhere.

The pacing is deliberate, Zeze does a good job building up the tension and the underlying drama is strong, which is a bit unusual for a horror film. On the other hand, don't expect this to be very scary. It's mostly just very atmospheric, with a strong dramatic base and solid styling. Better than I expected it to be.


1997 / 75m - Japan
Drama, Thriller
Raigyo poster

A rather grim and often impenetrable mix of drama and thriller elements that would make a nice companion piece to Imamura's The Eel. Zeze uses the pinku format to his advantage, honouring the rules of the format but not letting it interfere with the drama. Well acted, properly shot and a decent kick in the gut. This is quite the calling card.

The inoffensive

The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine

Kiku to Guillotine Onna Zumô to Anarchism
2018 / 189m - Japan
The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine poster

A strange mix of politics and sumo wrestling. It's a solid drama and Zeze's maverick style vies the film some extra appeal, but it's not enough to fully support the 3+ hour running time. Properly acted though and there's plenty of intrigue, but the film starts to drag a little in the final hour. Not quite a Wakamatsu successor.

The 8-Year Engagement

8-Nengoshi no Hanayome
2017 / 119m - Japan
Drama, Romance
The 8-Year Engagement poster

Not what I expected from Zeze. The 8-Year Engagement is the kind of film that got very popular in the second half of the 00s. Suddenly every Japanese drama was about a romance tripped up by disease. While these films proved to be solid crowd pleasers, the cinematic quality of this niche was rather limited.

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Zeze does his best, but he too gets stuck in some of the genre's pitfalls. While performances are solid and the cinematography is decent, the film ends up being a bit too sappy and there's very little to balance out the sentimentality of the story. It's also quite long for a film that spoils its entire plot in the title.

That's not to say it's a terrible film. Takeru Satoh has some nice scenes and the easy-going pace of the film allows for a few nice breathers in between. The story itself (based on a true story, with credit-pics to prove it) is sweet too, but I've seen too many of these films to be truly touched by them.


Kansen Rettô
2009 / 138m - Japan
Pandemic poster

No doubt inspired by the SARS epidemic, but near-post-COVID, this film feels somewhat prophetic. A lethal flu-like virus transmitted by bats takes over Japan, with no known cure in sight. It's not a particularly original film from Takahisa Zeze, who sticks to all the familiar genre conventions, but it's a pretty effective and topical one.

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After misdiagnosing a patient, doctor Matsuoka seeks out his former mentor to battle what he believes is a dangerous, unknown virus. Before long, the infection is spreading through Tokyo and Japan, wreaking havoc as nobody is really prepared for a pandemic. Before they can even start thinking about a cure, they have to find out where the virus came from.

Outbreak/pandemic films tend to be quite samey, Zeze doesn't challenge that and simply made a Japanese version. Performances are decent, the drama a little overdone, but the tension is solid and the quest for a cure pretty interesting. Maybe not the right time for some people to watch this one, but I had quite a bit of fun with it.

Dog Star

2002 / 125m - Japan
Drama, Romance
Dog Star poster

A pretty decent drama by Zeze, though not as edgy as you might expect it to be. I also don't think Zeze's style is particularly well-suited for these more subdued dramas, but the film itself has its moments. It's a little uneven in places, nothing everything works as well as intended, but fans of the genre should be able to get something out of it.

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Etsushi Toyokawa and Ryo Ishibashi make a fun duo here, Haruka Igawa's part felt less confident. The story, about a dog turned human who ends up with his former owner is a tad cheesy though, the soundtrack borders on the verge of kitsch and the runtime is a bit long for a film of this caliber.

Luckily Zeze knows to balance this with some solid drama, the kind that is quite typical for those early millennial Japanese films. Important events are almost shown like static manga panels, focusing more on the aftermath than on certain faithful events. It's a bit dry, but it helps to contrast the sappier bits elsewhere. Overall a pretty solid film in other words, but not a real highlight.

The Cold-Blooded Trap

1998 / 99m - Japan
Thriller, Crime
The Cold-Blooded Trap poster

On paper a pretty basic serial killer film, but both Aikawa and Nishijima are on a roll and Zeze's subdued direction helps a lot to make this film stand out from the crowd. It's not a true classic, for that it's still too much of a typical genre exercise, but it's very solid filler that underlines Zeze's talent as a director.

Worthy but flawed

Moon Child

2003 / 120m - Japan
Fantasy, Action
Moon Child poster

Moon Child offers a pretty wild combination of themes and genres, it's almost like watching 10 films at the same time. It's definitely an ambitious project, sadly it's not all that consistent. Zeze does it best to keep everything together, but not everything works as well as it should and the constant jumps in quality become tiring after a while.

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Performances are pretty poor, but that's not too surprising considering there's quite a few pop idols (like Gackt) taking up the lead roles. Some better actors in secondary parts, but their roles aren't big enough to make a difference. The bits of drama and romance aren't too successful either, getting in the way of the fantasy and action and putting a break on the pacing.

On the other hand, the action scene are pretty slick and there's some visual trickery that is quite entertaining. The setting too is pretty intriguing, with some novel multicultural and fantasy elements that set it apart from other films. Zeze may not have been in full control of his film, at least it's a pretty cool train wreck.

Anarchy in JaPanty

Anâkî in Japansuke: Mirarete Iku Onna
1999 / 68m - Japan
Anarchy in JaPanty poster

Another pinku film not really worthy of its genre. Zeze clearly didn't care much for the erotic elements, instead he created this rather chaotic drama around a dysfunctional family. It's certainly a step up from your average pinku, on the other hand this would've been a lot better as a straightforward drama.

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Mizuki can't have any children, so when she sees an opportunity she kidnaps a little boy left behind in a car. She names the boy Yoshiki and decides to raise him by herself. Plans change when she meets Tatsutoshi, and she falls in love with him. The three form a wayward family that live by their own rules.

These nihilistic Japanese dramas are always tons of fun, but the pinku elements do take away from the impact. Zeze doesn't take them too seriously, but they still get in the way and mess with the rhythm of the film. If you like an edgy drama there's still plenty of fun to be had with this one, but Zeze made better ones.

Go to Hanada and You Will See Kids Dressed Like Pirates Ready to Attack poster

Rules. Some directors are inclined to follow them, others merely see them as a challenge. There's no better niche than the Japanese pinku to illustrate this. While I'm sure Zeze's first neatly checks all the boxes, it never feels like a true pinku. Instead, it's more like an early Miike crime flick with some nudity to meet the quota.

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A group of young delinquents gets into trouble when they get acquainted with a Yakuza boss' girlfriend, who they offer a place to hide. The Yakuza gang kidnaps one of theirs and wants to make a bargain, but when they overplay their hand they just get themselves into a bigger mess.

Zeze neatly groups the pinku scenes in the middle, which leaves him pretty much the rest of the runtime to focus on the characters and the crime elements. The cinematography is surprisingly decent, the Yakuza elements feel gritty, and the plot isn't half bad. A film that foreshadows Zeze's post-pinku qualities.

Dubious filler

The Dream of Garuda

Kôkyû Sôpu Tekunikku 4: Monzetsu Higi
1994 / 60m - Japan
The Dream of Garuda poster

Not the most interesting Zeze. A pretty static and slow pinku that feels like it was dragged down by the strict rules of the genre. It lacks the creativity of its more infamous peers and offers little in the way of drama or story. As a springboard for young directors the pinku genre deserves respect, but it didn't always result in good films.

Blue Sky

1989 / 61m - Japan
Blue Sky poster

If you like Japanese cinema, and you're somewhat of a completist, you'll eventually find yourself watching some cheaply produced pinku films simply because that's a pretty common career path for a Japanese director. Blue Sky isn't in any way representative of Zeze's further career, but it's also not the worst of its kind.

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The plot is pretty negligible, but what did you expect. A somewhat frumpy looking guy's big dream is buying a car to drive around the countryside, but he has financial trouble and the Yakuza wants their money back. When he meets a prostitute he decides it's time to chase his dream, and he takes her with him. The Yakuza aren't too far behind.

Zeze is clearly more interested in the characters and in between the prescribed scenes he does manage to build some proper drama. The cinematography looks cheap, and the soundtrack is terrible, but the performances are surprisingly decent and the friendship between the three leads is nice enough. Not a great film, but focus on the drama, and you'll see shimmers of Zeze's talent.

Plain forgettable

Tokyo X Erotica

Tôkyô X Erotika: Shibireru Kairaku
2001 / 77m - Japan
Tokyo X Erotica poster

There's a pretty interesting film hidden in between the pinku scenes, sadly they overshadow the entire production. Because of the format it's all very stop-and-go and the pinku scenes feel bland and lifeless. It's pretty difficult to keep yourself engaged when the film itself can't even manage that.

Irritation overload

Molester's Train

Chikan Densha: Rie no Fundoshi
1990 / 62m - Japan
Crime, Sport
Molester's Train poster

Pinku cinema has a unique place in Japanese cinema, as it was a perfect school for many a famous director. Ironically, its rigid rules also allowed for quite a bit of creativity, but the crux of the matter is that most of these films are hardly worth a second glance. As much as I appreciate Zeze's later work, his pinku work is pretty terrible.

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Train harassment is a pretty big issue in Japan, so it's no surprise to see some pinku films dedicated to the phenomenon. Somewhat surprisingly though, this film is actually about female show wrestling, with a bigger focus on the girls in the ring getting undressed. Why? I'm not entirely sure.

The plot is negligible, the performances are weak, and the pinku scenes are extremely unsexy. There's really no reason to bother with films like these unless you're a completist and you're interested in getting the full Zeze experience. I plead guilty, others can safely ignore this film.