Join the community on Revolt

If you're familiar with Discord, you'll feel right at home on Revolt. The difference? It's not a data grabber.If you continue and haven't registered yet, you can click the link again after registering to get in to the Fraemes server.

Five great Asian films under the radar #2

Proud samurais and a bittersweet demystification of romantic idealism

We once again take a look at Asian cinema, which has long since made its way onto the global stage. There are yet many smaller works that remain largely unseen, which is why we’d like to take a closer look at some of them.

Written by


Aug 12, 2023

Asako I & II © Grasshopper Film

Asako I & II

Hamaguchi Ryūsuke (Japan, 2018)

After Drive My Car, Hamaguchi stands at the latest among the most exciting directors working today. Three years earlier, he had already made a notable film, Asako I & II (not a two-parter), which explored the mysteries of love and self-discovery.

The film begins with Asako (Erika Karata) meeting the charismatic Baku (Masahiro Higashide). The two have an intimate relationship. But then Baku suddenly disappears, leaving Asako heartbroken. Two years later, Asako settles in Tokyo where she meets Ryohei (also played by Higashide), a friendly and reliable employee who looks uncannily like Baku. With her initial confusion and hesitation aside, Asako gradually falls in love with Ryohei and starts a new life with him. The situation gets complicated, as Baku reappears as a famous model, and Asako has to face her unresolved feelings and the consequences of her decisions.

Asako I & II is a film that challenges conventional notions of love and commitment, asking us to reflect on why we love someone and how it affects our identity. Hamaguchi's direction is subtle and elegant, while also achieving an atmosphere that hovers between reality and surrealism and allows the protagonists as well as the viewer to move in its intermediate space, leaving them sensing the truth but also the beauty of mundane life.

Postman Blues

SABU (Japan, 1997)

From director and actor SABU comes this superbly entertaining mixture of everything that manages to defy all genre classifications.

The film follows Sawaki, a postman who unwittingly gets involved in a series of misunderstandings after visiting his old friend Noguchi, who is now involved in criminal territory. I won't go into the story any further, the trip with the characters is full of twists and turns, whose pleasure I don't want to anticipate.

With such ease, SABU is able to merge comedy, crime, thriller and drama in such a way that the boundaries between them fade away. In its absurdity, it reminds of the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading, stylistically often also of Quentin Tarantino, but this is flavoured with a very own Japanese sensibility, that is able to turn all absurdity from one moment to the next into a fleeting glimpse of life’s beauty. SABU shows us sparks of dignity and grace in the obscurity and cruelty of life. In the effortless blend of genres, the film highlights something fundamental within human emotions, allowing us to laugh, be moved and in it all find delight in the simplest of moments.


Juhn Jai-hong (South Korea, 2008)

Based on a story by Kim Ki-duk, his protégé and assistant Juhn Jai-hong wrote and first directed this film. At all times, one can feel the influences of his teacher here, both stylistically and in the way he increasingly shifts between reality and surreality in terms of narrative and atmosphere.

The film tells the story of Eun-young, a woman haunted by her beauty. She is badgered by men and envied by women. The madness begins when a stalker lies in wait for her.

In several ways, the film magnifies and exaggerates things like beauty, madness and obsession in order to capture a society marked by objectification and masculine hegemony. Beautiful pushes its protagonist into madness in a similar way as Perfect Blue does, even if there are flaws in the execution that diminish the overall experience. Despite this, Juhn’s directorial debut remains absolutely worth seeing, especially for admirers of Kim Ki-duk's cinema.

Samurai Fiction

Nakano Hiroyuki (Japan, 1998)

Samurai Fiction is a hommage to the classic samurai films of the past, but with a modern twist, featuring rock and roll music by the legend Hotei Tomoyasu, who also is starring as the antagonist. Shot mostly in black and white, there are a few occasional splashes of colour when someone dies.

This film follows the young aristocrat Heishirō as he sets out to reclaim his clan’s precious sword from Kazamatsuri (Hotei Tomoyasu), who stole it and killed one of his friends. On his way, he meets an old samurai and his daughter, who make him question the strict law of the samurai and teach him the value of life and love.

Samurai Fiction is a beautiful fusion of comedy and adventure, with references to the samurai genre and other films. It stands out with a light-hearted touch and a distinct style, but also has some serious moments and themes such as contrasting tradition and modernity with confrontations of honour and revenge, violence and peace.

With its great humour, stylised fast-paced fights and a bad ass rock and roll samurai villain, the film is also recommended to genre newcomers.

This World of Ours

Nakajima Ryô (Japan, 2007)

The final mention is a bit more unusual, as I have only seen the film once, shortly after it was shown at the Pia Film Festival in Japan. Director Nakajima Ryô had made it available for free on his website shortly afterwards, since then it has only been released in Japan on DVD exclusively in Japanese.

This World of Ours
was visibly low-budgeted, but made use of the limitations to craft an authentic feel. It is a dark and unsparing portrait of three young people caught in a cycle of violence, loneliness and despair. Ryô Nakajima, who was only 19 when he wrote the film, was at the time a Hikikomori, a Japanese social phenomenon that describes people who isolate themselves in their own spaces.

The film feels raw and personal, imparting a sense of empathy for flawed and broken individuals who are products of a society that has failed them. Nakajima creates such a dense tension of the burning despair of a youth whose fire consumes everything in its path, leaving only ashes and scars behind.

It’s certainly not a film that entertains or comforts, rather one that disturbs and provokes. Similar to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange or in its ruthlessness to Lars von Trier, it makes you feel something, even if it’s something we don’t want to feel.

Alternate takes

No items found.
Cookie Consent

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.