Japan's lost sons of cinema

I admit, I have a soft spot for films from first-time directors. That first chance to make something universal and lasting is often met with considerable amounts of enthusiasm and spirit. And more importantly, creativity. On the other hand these films often lack bursts of balance and continuity, though this hardly bothers me at all.

From time to time these freshmen attempts outgrow their initial potential and turn out to be simple gems of cinema. These cases are rather rare, but they do pop up from time to time. For most directors its the start of a successful career towards more commercial successes.

But for a select few, it's their only moment of fame. Some directors disappear as quickly as the arrived, leaving only one masterpiece and a void of unfulfilled potential. For this ToM I looked for directors who should be forced to make their sophomore feature film as quickly a possible. I found quite a few, but hidden in that selection was a group of 5 Japanese directors, which made for a nice concept.

Here's my pick of Japan's lost sons of cinema:

01. Hiroyuki Okiura - Jin-Roh

jinroh_movie_logo.jpgBased on Oshii's long-running, multi-platform series Okiura created a little masterpiece in the bowls of Production I.G He took Oshii's world and gracefully made it his own. Okiura's style is a rarity even in Japanese animation and holds a level of maturity not often seen even outside animation. With Jin-Roh he brought tribute to one of the coolest army suits in the history of cinema and managed to pack the fanboyish joys in a beautifully crafted story. Even since Jin-Roh he's been linked to a bucket load of projects, but none of them seem to have surfaced for real. A real loss if you ask me.

02. Gen Sekiguchi - Survive Style 5+

ss5.jpgNot really a film director by profession (but mostly working in advertising), Sekiguchi bursted onto the scene with a bang. Survive Style 5+ is probably one of the wackiest, colorful and visual comedies of the last 10 years. Sekiguchi took Katsuhito Ishii's early style and raised it to new levels. Obviouosly not a film to everyone's liking, but to me it's still one of the most entertaining things to come around in a long, long time. The film raised plenty of international attention, helped by the colorful appearances of the director himself, but after that ... nothing. It's hard to believe Sekiguchi didn't even bother to try and follow up on his success.
 
03. Hidenori Sugimori - Mizu no Onna

mizu.jpgAt its core Mizu no Onna is a rather typical Japanese arthouse drama with a little fantastical twist. But the execution is so wonderful that it slowly grew as one of my favorite films. It's also a film that established Asano as one of my favorite actors. Sugimori sculpts a very mysterious and otherworldly tale firmly grounded in everyday reality and does so with convincing visual flair. He has all the necessary skills to give an extra layer of polish to the Japanese arthouse scene, but I never heard of him ever since. All that remains is a lonely DVD on my shelf.

04. Hiroki Yamaguchi - Gusha no Bindume

hellavator.jpgAfter winning a filmcontest Yamaguchi got the chance to make his first feature film. He succeeded brilliantly, but after showcasing so much potential he disappeared back into anonymity. He left a very typical manga-esque Japanese film, mixing scif-fi, fantasy and short dashes of insanity to create a very dense and strange little film. Gusha no Bindume (or Hellavator as it is known over here) almost struck me as a modern Japanese version of THX 1138, but it seems Lucas made better career plans after that.
05. Hakubun - Toy Reanimator

toy.jpgProbably the least known of the bunch. Hakubun made this little film in 2002, but looking back at it now it features some special effects that are unrivalled even by modern standards. The visual style is very much like the recently released Ink, with lots of strong colors and overexposed shots. But the wavy, vague, almost drunk-like visuals used for the toymaker himself defy explanation. The story itself is a cute little fantasy tale, very endearing stuff. It lasts only 47 minutes and could've been the perfect launch to bigger and longer projects, but I never heard from him again.


I'm sure there are others, so don't hesitate to expand the list in the comment section.
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