films seen
average score
Japan - 40 years old
Alive and kicking
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One of Japan's most consistent directors. Ishii's trademark mix of gritty drama and dry, deadpan comedy is certainly not for everyone, but when you can stomach Ishii's particular style, his oeuvre's a real treasure trove.


All the Things We Never Said

2020 / 91m - Japan
All the Things We Never Said poster

Ishii tackles Japan's problems with communication, doing so with Hong Kong money. The film is part of the Back 2 Basics program that yielded six films in total. And it does feel like a smaller film for Ishii, even when he never really made anything grand or epic. The quality is still there though.

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Atsuhisa is a pretty ordinary guy, living together with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. Nothing seems off, until Atsuhisa comes home one day and finds his wife in bed with another man. Atsuhisa is overflowing with emotions, but he can't talk to his wife and not much later, they're divorced.

Japan is known for its more silent, reticent dramas, which generally work very well for me. This introverted behavior and lack of communication comes with its own set of issues, and it's nice to see Ishii addressing these head on. Performances are great, the drama feels genuine and even though the limit budget shines through, it doesn't affect the quality of the film too much. Another solid Ishii.

Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue

Yozora wa Itsudemo Saikô Mitsudo no Aoiro Da
2017 / 108m - Japan
Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue poster

Beautiful, dreamy drama with a darker edge, like most of Yuya Ishii's films. Strong across the board with some playful, almost experimental touches that never quite hit the right spot. Still a very worthy entry in Ishii's oeuvre, but it lacks that little extra refinement.

Our Family

Bokutachi no Kazoku
2014 / 117m - Japan
Our Family poster

A surprisingly straight-forward drama by Ishii. There's certainly no lack of disease-based dramas in Japan, but this stands out as one of the better in the genre. The direction is subtle, performances are great and the emotional climax is dignified. Not as edgy as some of this other work, but well recommended for fans of Japanese cinema.

The Great Passage

Fune wo Amu
2013 / 134m - Japan
The Great Passage poster

Yuya Ishii is one of Japan's more interesting drama directors of the moment. While I haven't seen a truly great film from his hands, the four films I have seen so far are all worth investing in. Fune Wo Amu (The Great Passage) is his latest feature and while quality-wise up to par with his previous efforts, I was quite surprised to find out Ishii was the director behind this film.

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Ishii never really conformed to the boundaries of traditional Japanese dramas. He likes to combine dry comedy with bitter drama to form an awkward but positively challenging blend of atmospheres. The characters in his films are usually not the nicest and/or most likeable people, but they do try to earn our respect throughout the course of his films. Well, there's none of that in Fune Wo Amu, which strictly adheres to the rules of the traditional Japanese feel-good drama.

The films tells of Majime, a young social outcast who is transferred to the dictionary department of the print company he works for. There he finds his true calling and as the people around him start to leave the project one by one, Majime overcomes his fears and limitations to shoulder the project himself: create a dictionary for the people of today (which ends up being a mix between the Webster Dictionary and the Urban Dictionary).

The film is helped by a stellar cast. Matsuda shines as Majime (and resembles a young Tadanobu Asano), Jo Odagiri assists him where necessary and Aoi Miyazaki is cast as his supporting love interest. A strong trio that brings the needed depth and subtlety to the core characters. Still, they cannot prevent that the film itself is a tad plain. Visually modest and traditionally scored, Fune Wo Amu never becomes much more than an endearing and warm drama with its heart in the right place. It's a nice film that leaves you with a smile, but lacks that extra something that would've made it truly special. Still, if you have two hours to spare you could do much worse.

A Man with Style

Azemichi no Dandi
2011 / 110m - Japan
A Man with Style poster

Mitsuko Delivers

Hara ga Kore Nande
2011 / 109m - Japan
Mitsuko Delivers poster

Sawako Decides

Kawa no Soko kara Konnichi Wa
2010 / 112m - Japan
Sawako Decides poster

To Walk Beside You

Kimi to Arukou
2009 / 91m - Japan
To Walk Beside You poster

A quirky drama by Yuya Ishii. Entirely on brand in other words. Ishii is known for mixing drama and comedy in various ways, To Walk Beside You is structured as a more traditional drama, but it gets interspersed with funny coincidences and some random moments of silliness. The result is pretty endearing.

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A 30-something teacher and her 17-year-old student feel stuck in the small rural town they grew up in. They decide to elope to Tokyo and live as a couple. Once there they switch to survival mode, as money is sparse and work hard to come by. When they meet a young couple who are planning to elope, they decide to help them.

The drama can get a little heavy, but Ishii's approach makes sure it never becomes overbearing or depressing. His films tend to be feel-good without the excessive sentiment, this one fits in just perfectly. The pleasant cinematography, fine performances and inoffensive score only add to the good-natured vibes. Another solid Ishii.

Of Monster Mode

Bakemono Moyou
2008 / 98m - Japan
Of Monster Mode poster

Girl Sparks

Gâru Supâkusu
2007 / 94m - Japan
Comedy, Drama
Girl Sparks poster

Quirky Japanese drama that mixes the slightly odd with the darkly dramatic. It's a coming of age film in the truest sense of the word, but Saeko's transition from girl to woman is a tough one. Her dad is struggling to keep his business afloat, Saeko hates school and doesn't have any real friends to fall back on. A typical Ishii film: solid, but stops short of greatness.

Bare-assed Japan

Mukidashi Nippon
2007 / 91m - Japan
Comedy, Drama
Bare-assed Japan poster

Early Yuya Ishii. A bit cruder compared to his later films, but his trademark style is already present. Comedy through bitter drama, it's not the easiest and most accessible approach to drawing laughs, but it's certainly different. Well acted, funny and just a little depressing, Bare-assed Japan is a perfect introduction into the work of Ishii.

A Madder Red

Akaneiro ni Yakareru
2021 / 144m - Japan
A Madder Red poster

Yuya Ishii's latest is a solid but overly basic Japanese drama, a film that doesn't really add much to Ishii's oeuvre, nor to the overcrowded niche it was released in. That's not to say it's a bad film, just that there are already too many films like it, making the long runtime somewhat of an unnecessary hurdle.

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Ryoko's life is turned upside down when her husband dies in an unfortunate traffic accident. Seven years later, she's still trying to make ends meet. She works as a prostitute, she has to take care of her father-in-law and her son is going through some rough times at school.

Ishii abandoned his love for dark comedy and edgier drama some years ago, this type of drama feels more like a solicitation for an upscale film festival. The acting is fine, there are some strong scenes, but it's all very much by the numbers and 140 minutes is a bit much for a film that has nothing new on offer.

The Vancouver Asahi

Bankûbâ no Asahi
2014 / 132m -
Drama, Sport
The Vancouver Asahi poster

A tiny slice of little-known Canadian-Japanese (baseball) history. Yuya Ishii is a very capable director, but here he takes things just a little too easy. The result is a decent but unadventurous sports drama that is very predictable and doesn't really warrant it's 2+ hours running time.

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A small community of Japanese people living in Canada struggles to integrate. The looming war and their poor relations with the Canadians makes their lives quite tough. The only hope they have is their local baseball team, but they can't win a single match. Until Reggie takes over the team and dreams up a new strategy.

The focus on the narrative is heavy, and the production design is pretty slick, so this should appeal to a rather broad group of people. The cast/performances are pretty great too, but for me, it was all a bit too classical and predictable. It's not a bad film, and it shows an interesting bit of history, but it's Ishii's worst so far.