News and Opinion

Best 30 Japanese Films…of 1989–1997


I’ve been uploading some of my old articles to the Yale repository, but most have been the ones in English. This time I decided to upload a rather unique piece I did in 1997.

As some of you know, I picked the best ten Japanese films of the year for the annual Eiga geijutsu poll for a number of years. But my first experience in producing a “best” list for publication was a few years before that in 1997, when the Japanese intellectual journal Yuriika (Eureka) asked me to produce a list for a special issue devoted to the theme "Japanese Cinema: From Kitano Takeshi On." I was asked to write an article selecting the thirty best Japanese films made since Kitano Takeshi debuted as a director in 1989. The time span and the number of films was the editor’s choice, but the project intrigued me as an assertion not only that a period of cinema began in 1989, but also that the period was significantly defined by Kitano. I of course cited that in my book on him.

I was also intrigued by the possibility of selecting what is “the best.” Yes, there was a tiny bit of excitement over participating in the process of canon formation (though frankly I don’t think anyone has ever cited this list as a canon former), but I was more enthusiastic about being able to support some excellent films, including a few virtually unknown works. More importantly, this was an opportunity for a precocious young scholar to interrogate the concept of the “best” list itself. In the end, I selected films that themselves questioned the categories assumed by the list itself, particularly the notions of “Japan” and “cinema.” 

Everything © Aaron Gerow. Send comments and suggestions to