Prestigious cinema magazine Kinema Junpo has released its always anticipated “Best 10” list for films released in 2021, the 95th edition. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car largely sweeps the board taking not only the top spot but several of the individual awards including director, screenplay, and supporting actress while Yuya Ishii’s pandemic-era drama A Madder Red comes in second with an acting nod for Machiko Ono.
1. Drive My Car (ドライブ・マイ・カー, Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
A theatre director reeling from the death of his wife finds an unexpected connection with a reserved young woman hired to drive his car in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s deeply moving adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami.
2. A Madder Red (茜色に焼かれる, Yuya Ishii)
Set during the pandemic, Yuya Ishii’s latest stars Machiko Ono as a widowed single mother whose husband was killed in a traffic accident caused by an elite bureaucrat who refuses to apologise. Forced to close her cafe, she works part-time at a garden centre and supplements her income through sex work but struggles to make ends meet while falling in love with an old classmate who predictably turns out to be not quite all he seems.
3. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (偶然と想像, Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
The second film Hamaguchi released this year is a delightfully Rohmer-esque triptych of tales inspired by serendipitous encounters and a healthy dose of romantic fantasy that lead each of its wounded souls towards a kind of liberation.
4. Under the Open Sky (すばらしき世界, Miwa Nishikawa)
Inspired by Ryuzo Saki’s 1993 novel, Miwa Nishikawa’s melancholy social drama stars Koji Yakusho as a purehearted man of violence who struggles to adapt himself to the hypocrisies of the contemporary society after spending the majority of his adult life in prison.
5. Minamata Mandala (水俣曼荼羅, Kazuo Hara)
15 years in the making, Kazuo Hara’s epic documentary charts the fight for justice among those affected by the Minamata Disease caused by industrial pollution in the 1960s many of whom find themselves battling an intransigent state that refuses to recognise their suffering.
6. Aristocrats (あのこは貴族, Yukiko Sode)
Mugi Kadowaki and Kiko Mizuhara star as two young women from opposite ends of the class spectrum involved with the same man (Kengo Kora) who is himself a prisoner of outdated feudalistic social codes in Yukiko Sode’s empathetic social drama.
7. Intolerance (空白, Keisuke Yoshida)
Keisuke Yoshida’s intense drama stars Arata Furuta as a bullying father of a teenage girl killed in a traffic accident trying to run away from a store clerk (Tori Matsuzaka) who caught her shoplifting. Refusing to believe his daughter could have been guilty of the theft, the father turns his ire towards the store owner who is consumed with remorse while unfairly victimised by an unforgiving media.
8. A Balance (由宇子の天秤, Yujiro Harumoto)
A TV documentarian’s journalistic integrity is strained when a student at her father’s cram school claims that he is the father of her child in Yujiro Harumoto’s emotionally complex social drama.
9. Ito (いとみち, Satoko Yokohama)
The latest quirky dramedy from Satoko Yokohama is set in her native Aomori and follows a shy young woman who gradually learns to accept herself and her past trauma while working in a maid cafe and perfecting the art of Tsugaru shamisen.
10. We Made a Beautiful Bouquet (花束みたいな恋をした, Nobuhiro Doi)
Romantic drama from Nobuhiro Doi starring Masaki Suda and Kasumi Arimura as a young couple who meet after missing the last train home and later fall in love only for their innocent romance to gradually fall apart over the following five years.
Best 10 International
- Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
- City Hall (Frederick Wiseman)
- Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell)
- American Utopia (Spike Lee)
- The Father (Florian Zeller)
- Last Night in Soho (Edgar Wright)
- Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (Gu Xiaogang)
- The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)
- Minamata (Andrew Levitas)
- Better Days (Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung)
Best 10 Documentaries
1. Minamata Mandala (Kazuo Hara)
2. Lamafa (Bon Ishikawa)
3. Now Is the Past – My Father, Java & the Phantom Films (Shinichi Ise)
3. Ceramic Road (Shohei Shibata)
5. Sanma Democracy (Magoari Yamazato)
6. Asu wo Heguru (Tomoki Imai)
7. Tokyo Kurds (Fumiari Hyuga)
7. Tokyo Jitensha Bushi (Taku Aoyagi)
9. Owari no Mienai Tatakai: Shingata Coronavirus Kansensho to Hokenjo (Nobue Miyazaki)
10. Whiplash of the Dead (Haruhiko Daishima)
10. Green Jail (Huang Yin-Yu)
Best Screenplay: Ryusuke Hamaguchi & Takamasa Oe (Drive My Car)
Best Director (international): Chloé Zhao (Nomadland / Eternals)
Best Actress: Machiko Ono (A Madder Red / A Family)
Best Actor: Koji Yakusho (Under the Open Sky)
Best Supporting Actor: Ryohei Suzuki (Last of the Wolves / Baragaki: Unbroken Samurai / Mole Song Final)
Best Newcomer (actor): Iori Wada (A Madder Red)
Readers’ Choice Best Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car)
Readers’ Choice Best Director (international): Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)
Readers’ Choice Award: Shiraku Tatekawa (Tatekawa Shiraku no Cinema Tsurezuregusa)
Special Award: Tadao Sato (Critic)
Source: Kinema Junpo official website.