Japan has produced various well-written and acted thrillers over the years. Be it in the form of animated characters of real-life enactments, they are not one to shy away from gruesome plots and loads of blood. Several of these films are inspired by the crimes of real-life serial killers, whereas others explore the effect of mass media on murder investigations. Is it possible to remain unaffected when you are bombarded with information every second of the day? From open-and-shut cases to multi-layered non-linear plots, Japan has done it all. If you were a fan of the movie Audition by Takashi Miike, perhaps you would like the give the following films a chance as well.
Perfect Blue, 1997
Widely believed to be one of the inspirations for Black Swan, Perfect Blue is an animated film by Satoshi Kon (also known for his other equally captivating work - Paprika). Despite being released over 20 years ago, Perfect Blue occasionally occupies spots at various thriller film listicles, and with good reason! Perfect Blue follows Mima, a J-pop idol who aims to leave behind the music industry and start acting. A lot of her fans are unhappy with the decision. The movie she will star in feature adult scenes and jer fans are angered by this change in image. If you are someone who follows J-pop, you might be familiar with the extreme care taken to curate the 'image' of the idols. Mima is joined by her long-time manager Rumi who was also a pop singer once.
However, Mima's career decision leads to an obsessive fan stalking her. She finds an online website-cum-journal that contains entries about her daily life - things no one but she should know about. However, the stalker has erratic patterns. People who speak ill of Mima turn up dead, and all evidence points towards her! Is Mima losing her grip on reality? Does she suffer from multiple personalities? Satoshi Kon weaves together an intriguing thriller with an ending that you won't have seen coming! Be warned, Perfect Blue is, by all means, a violent film featuring lots of gore, murder, trauma and abuse.
Cold Fish, 2010
Loosely based on the life of two real-life serial killers in Tokyo, Cold Fish is the tale of how an unassuming father places his entire family on the path to destruction with a single wrong choice. Nobuyuki is a fish-seller who has a less-than-ideal life at home. His wife is a timid creature, his daughter Mitsuko has reached peak rebelliousness. Things take a turn for the worse when his daughter is caught shoplifting fish from a larger tropical fish shop. However, a man on the scene manages to get the case dropped and instead asks Nobuyuki to allow his daughter to work at his shop. It is much larger, and the owner believes will tone down Mitsuko's nature.
Nobuyuki himself also enters into a partnership with the man. Here, he also meets the man's wife who turns out the be Nobuyuki's first wife. the two talk and decide it is certainly fate that brought them back together. That is until of course, Nobuyuki discovers the taste for blood that the couple has developed. Cold Fish is a gruesome drama balancing on a tight line of suspense, sexuality and horror. Watch it for Denden's amazing performance as the killer, if nothing else!
Miki Noriko is a beautiful and charming woman who works at a cosmetic company. She inspires gossip and envy with every step. So naturally, when she is found dead and burnt, suspicions fall on her plain co-workers. One of the co-workers being interviewed decides to call up Yuji - an old-time friend and now journalist. Yuji's career is not going so well and in this case, he sees a possible money maker. Yuji starts live-streaming the interviews with Miki's co=workers until all suspicions point to a Plain Jane named Shironi Miki. He decides to interview her and while digging in, the views on the videos pile up.
Once doubts start piling up, the keyboard warriors on the Internet go wild. Even the innocent aren't spared from the internet's mass judgement. If you are watching this movie for a riveting murder case - you will certainly find one. But what the film deals with more is the effects of social media. The Internet can help us access millions of bytes of data, but can it reveal the truth? This is what Yoshihiro Nakamura investigates in this thriller. we watch Yuji investigate the case as an outsider - just as someone watching one of the online interrogation videos he put up.
Chaos is a kidnapping flick that turns tables on the kidnapper. The premise is certainly chuckle-worthy if it wasn't for the twisted plot. The movie is based on the novel named The Woman Who Wants to Be Kidnapped. It follows the story of a handyman who is hired to kidnap the wife of an affluent businessman. The woman is surprisingly complaint and he kidnaps her without much hassle. He secures her binds at his place and leaves for the day. When he returns in the evening, he finds that she is already dead, lying in a pool of her own blood. Panicking, the handyman drags and buries her body deep in the woods.
It's over - that's what he thinks. Right until one day, he spots her walking down the street! Chaos follows a non-linear timeline and nothing is as it seems. As the movie unfolds, it turns out everyone has their own motives. Is the lady still alive? Who ordered her kidnapping? the entire film is shot with a perpetuating sense of dread. while Chaos begins with a run-off-the-mill kidnapping, the plot twists into anything but. Watch it if you are looking for a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat till the end.
The Forest of Love, 2019
This is the second film on the list by Sion Sono (the first being Cold Fish). Sion Sono has returned with another crime movie again based loosely on a real-life serial killer. The Forest of Love almost has the pacing of a slice of life drama. It deals with the conman-cum-serial killer Murata who manipulates a group of filmmaking students and a girl. None of the characters are likeable and all of them make questionable choices throughout the movie. We have Taeko, a very confused girl with frequently changing motivations, Mitsuko, who grew up in a strict household and rebels secretly in her own ways, the filmmaking students Jay and Shin and Murata himself.
It is difficult to summarise The Forest of Love because there is no central theme or plot. it simply follows these characters as they find themselves tangled in plots of murder, extortion, manipulation and abuse. Running over 2.5 hours, it might be a bit too long for those looking for a taut thriller with a satisfying ending. It does get tiring to watch the girls make one creepy choice after another. But I would still recommend it to those looking for a well-shot movie exploring the depravity displayed by humans. And it is available on Netflix with extra scenes!
Know more Japanese thrillers that should have featured on the list? Let us know in the comments below.