Once you start getting serious about film you can't get around the influence a director has on the final product. Directors can make or break a film and I'm going to use this feature to put some of them into the spotlight. I'm not just going to list my favorite directors though, instead I'm going to single out the directors of whom I've seen at least 10 films, providing a little introduction into their work.

hideo nakata

June 24, 2013
Hideo Nakata

Hideo Nakata, master of the Japanese Asian suspense wave, director of the original Ringu and international horror icon supreme. What most people don't know though is that Nakata's Ringu was just the international trendsetter. About 7 years prior to the release of Ringu, it was Norio Tsuruta who kicked off the Asian ghost rage with Honto ni Atta Kowai, a Japanese horror anthology series (in which Nakata did participate by directing one of the sequels).

Still, Nakata did earn his stripes and has been a constant in the Japanese horror scene ever since. When Tsuruta disappeared from the scene after the Honto ni Atta Kowai series faded away, Nakata continued to work hard, releasing Joyu-Rei (Ghost Actress, a film that would later get a remake by Fruit Chan) in 1996. It paid off big time when he released Ringu two years later. Nakata went on to direct the Ringu sequel and scored another international hit with Honogurai Mizu no Soko Kara (Dark Water), still one of his best films to date.

Nakata's international ventures (The Ring 2 and Chatroom) weren't big successes, though Chatroom in particular did deserve a better fate. His attempts to break himself loose from the horror scene (Last Scene, Garasu no No) didn't fare any better, which probably explains why Nakata is now back in Japan, releasing horror titles at a rather steady, if not blistering pace. His overall best film is Kaidan, a rather obscure but interesting take on the classic Kaidan horror, his worst is Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi, though it's a must see for people interested in the roots of the modern Asian suspense wave.

I'm not the biggest Hideo Nakata fan as I never truly liked the Japanese suspense wave, but if you're into horror you owe it to yourself to at least try out some of his films, as they played a big part in defining the Asian horror scene.

Best film: Kaidan (4.0*)
Worst film: Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi: Jushiryou (Curse, Death & Spirit) (1.0*)
Average rating: 2.71 (out of 5)

kiyoshi kurosawa

June 23, 2013
Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a director with depth. Here in the West he gained notoriety with two films (Kyua and Kairo) which happily hitched a ride on the Asian suspense wave (and to date there are still some people who primarily consider him a Japanese horror icon), but in reality Kurosawa's reach is a lot broader. He has worked in lots of genres, under wildly different circumstances and with a rich selection of prime Japanese actors at his disposal.

Even when he started out in the AV business (Kanda-gawa Inran Senso, Do-re-mi-fa-Musume no Chi Wa Sawagu) Kurosawa never really kept to the boundaries of the genre he was working in. The man likes to play around with genre tropes while fiddling with more complex and interesting themes right below the surface. It doesn't always result in great films, but it left him with a wildly interesting and varied body of films.

It's not easy recommending specific movies as it all depends on what you prefer. If you are into stilted dramas Oinaru Gen'ei is a good starting point, if you prefer the absurd eco-horror Karisuma is a saef bet. I personally like Kurosawa's Rofuto best when picking from his horror work, while Akarui Mirai is arguably his best drama. But he's an avid crime filmer too, with films like Kumu no Hitomi and the Katte ni Shiyagare!! series as prime examples. Whatever film you pick to start with though, don't give up too soon as there's a lot to discover in Kurosawa's oeuvre. Not everything will work for you, nor will everything be easy to find, but I assure it's worth the effort to dig deep in this man's work.

Best film: Kumo no Hitomi (Eyes of the Spider) (4.0*)
Worst film: Kanda-gawa Inran Senso (Curse, Death & Spirit) (1.0*)
Reviewed film(s): Kumo no Hitomi
Average rating: 2.81 (out of 5)

noboru iguchi

May 09, 2013
Noboru Iguchi

Noboru Iguchi is without a doubt one of the liveliest directors of modern Japanese cinema. And he's not just famous for his weird, outrageous and outlandish films, his appearances on film festivals too are quite remarkable and entertaining. Iguchi's most famous film is also a pretty important one, as The Machine Girl kick-started the entire Sushi Typhoon (Japanese splatter) rage, a runaway (and unexpected) international success formula.

Like many others in Japan, Iguchi started off his career as an AV director. It was only around the turn of the century that he started directing more mainstream films (though mainstream is a stretch - Iguchi is for the bigger part a true niche director). His first attempts were pretty shabby (Oira Sukeban, Madara no Shojo) but with The Machine Girl he finally hit a good balance between cheaply-produced pulp horror and intensely insane comedy. Even though his films often borrow a lot from the horror menu (Zombie Ass, Dead Sushi, Mutant Girls Squad), the only true straight-faced horror flick Iguchi directed is Tomie: Unlimited, one of the better entries in the series. In the end, Iguchi seems more interested in pulpish charm and comedy, which resulted in his biggest budget film to date: Denjin Zaboga: Gekijo-Ban.

Iguchi earned his stripes, rightly landing him an entry in the prestigious The ABCs of Death anthology. Even though I find his partner in crime Yoshihiro Nishimura and fellow Sushi Typhoon director Yudai Yamaguchi to be better overall directors, Iguchi's films are always worth a peek, if only for the slew of demented, creative and original ideas that flourish in his work.

Best film: Sento Shojo: Chi no Tekkamen Densetsu (Mutant Girls Squad) (4.5*)
Worst film: Oira Sukeban (Sukeban Boy) (1.0*)
Reviewed films: Mutant Girls Squad - The Machine Girl
Average rating: 3.00 (out of 5)

benny chan

May 03, 2013
Benny Chan

Benny Chan is the median of Hong Kong action cinema. He never really excels, but if you need quality genre filler he has some of the better films on offer. It's a small miracle that (like many of his peers) he never attempted to make the jump to Hollywood, then again that's probably for the best. The closest Chan ever got to Hollywood was when he directed Connected, a remake of Cellular.

Chan is somewhat of a film series man. He started the A Moment of Romance series (first two parts), made Gen-X and Gen-Y Cops and took over the Police Story series from Jacky Chan. He's worked with many of the greats of modern Hong Kong cinema (Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Jacky Chan, Nicolas Tse and Shawn Yue, to name a few) and considering the popularity of his films I don't think he's ever had to worry about working on a shoe-string budget. The mainstream character of his films also has a downside though. They never really differ from the norm and they tend to blend in with the millions of other Hong Kong action films out there.

Still, if you're yearning for a good action flick and you're running out of established masterpieces, Benny Chan's films are a pretty good option. Solid is the keyword here.

Best film: Bo Chi Tung Wah (Connected) (3.5*)
Worst film: Tian Ruo You Qing (A Moment of Romance) (2.0*)
Average rating: 2.79 (out of 5)

shinji aoyama

April 24, 2013
shinji aoyama

Shinji Aoyama is a director that is hard to capture in a few words. While his films feature a common style and approach, you're never quite certain what to expect when sitting down for a new Aoyama film. While Aoyama's stylistic choices are usually quite timid and he (usually) keeps his films firmly in the realm of the acceptable, the setting, tone and themes can vary wildly between separate entries in his oeuvre.

Aoyama's best-known film is without a doubt Eureka (nominated for a Palme d'Or and picked up by the prestigious Artificial Eye label), which forms an unofficial trilogy with Helpless and Sad Vacation. All three are definitely worth seeing. If you aim for a lighter/more commercial selection of Aoyama films, I can heartily recommend Lakeside Murder Case and Wild Life. Those of you craving more experimental films will get their fill seeking out Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani? and so far I've seen only one film that I wouldn't recommend to Aoyama first-timers, namely Shady Grove.

It's hard to go wrong with Aoyama. Even though I find most of his films a little too mundane to rate high enough "for review", there are always some interesting perspectives or nifty ideas that make his films worth a try.

Best film: Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani? (4.0*)
Worst film: Shady Grove (1.0*)
Average rating: 3.15 (out of 5)