For modern Japanese film, Midnight Eye is the definitive information source. Tom Mes and Jaspar Sharp's website covers film reviews, interviews, DVD releases, feature articles, a calendar of events and film festivals, and absolutely anything an interested person would want to know. With such a pedigree, there are no more qualified people to write a guide of this kind.
"The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film" is as excellent as one would expect, an essential book for those interested in modern Japanese film. The layout is well-balanced, covering director profiles and film reviews, using both original material and previously featured articles. The writing is crisp and clear, and each chapter provides insight even on topics where one is knowledgeable. Over 100 photos show some of the visual highlights of this visual media.
Each chapter focuses on a director, from history to motivation to style, with a review of that director's top five or six films. Being new Japanese film, the profiles begin in 1956 with Seijin Suzuki ("Elegy to Fighting," "Tokyo Drifter"), a complicated and controversial director. With the Criterion Collection currently making a push of Suzuki's catalog on DVD, this makes a great starting point and leaves me looking forward to each new release. All of the major directors are profiled, such as Shohei Imamura ("The Eel"), Kinji Fukasaku ("Battles without Honor and Humanity" "Battle Royale") Masato Harada ("Bounce KoGals"), Kiyoshi Kurosawa ("Cure"), Studio Ghibli luminaries Isao Takahata ("Grave of the Fireflies") and Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away"), Takeshi Kitano ("Hanabi"), Takashi Miike ("Ichi the Killer," "Audition"), Hirokazu Kore-eda ("After Life"), and Hideo Nakata ("The Ring"). Other, lesser-known directors are also given their due, such as Nara-based naturalist Naomi Kawase ("Suzaku.")
The final section covers what they call "The Other Players," those who have put out a film or two of exceptional quality but hadn't yet established a solid career in the same rank. Animator Satoshi Kon's "Perfect Blue," Masayuki Suo's "Shall We Dance?," Mamoru Oshii's "Avalon," Juzo Itami's "Tampopo" and Mitsuo Yanagimachi's "Fire Festival" are all given their due. More than just simple film-reviews, the authors pack each spotlight with as much interest and insight as their director profiles.
With Donald Richie's seminal "100 Years of Japanese Film" covering the past, it is great to see such a qualified inheritor of the future. Anyone interested in Japanese film will be pleased with "The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film," both for its insights into current favorites as well as the host of new favorites that they will undoubtedly discovered.