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8 Best Japanese Directors 2021

Are you looking for the best Japanese directors? Well, check out this list of top directors from Japan that have made the best movies of all time. Read further to know more. 

The Japanese film industry is one of the oldest film industries. It has given rise to some of the most talented movie makers that the world has ever seen.

Japanese movies are unique and have storylines that are a blend of Japanese traditions and folklore with a blend of modern culture.

Who is the best Japanese director?

Akira Kurosawa is the best Japanese director who has made several films exploring different genres. 

 Akira Kurosawa is not only a world renowned director, but he is also the one who lead the way for other Japanese movie directors to showcase their work in the global film industry.  Kurosawa’s movies, like “Samurai” and “Yojimbo” drew much inspiration from western directors like John Ford. He was also inspired by western cinema and literature which was portrayed in his work. 

When we think of Japanese films, the first thing that comes to mind is anime. But there is a whole other world of Japanese films that is waiting for you to explore.

Japanese directors are masterminds and their movies are true masterpieces. They have created a legacy that has impacted the film industry worldwide.

Here is a list of the best Japanese directors and their contribution to the world of cinema!

Best Japanese Directors: Quick Summary

Best Japanese DirectorsBest MoviesYears active
Akira KurosawaRashomon (1950)1936-1993
Yasujiro OzuTokyo Story (1953)1929- 1963
Seijin SuzukiBranded to Kill (1967), Zigeunerweisen (1980)1956- 2007
Kenji MizoguchiThe Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), The Crucified Lovers (1954)1923- 1956
Hayao MiyazakiMy Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001)1963- present
Kon IchikawaTokyo Olympiad (1965), Odd Obsession (1959)1935- 2006
Nagisa OshimaIn the Realm of the Senses (1972), Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), Empire of Passion (1978)1953- 1999
Kaneto ShindoChildren of Hiroshima (1952)1951- 2011

Best Japanese Directors

Akira Kurosawa

Years active: 1936- 1993

Best movies: Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961), Ran (1985)

 Akira Kurosawa is not only a world renowned director, but he is also the one who lead the way for other Japanese movie directors to showcase their work in the global film industry. He’s one of the best Japanese directors. 

 Kurosawa’s movies, like “Samurai” and “Yojimbo” drew much inspiration from western directors like John Ford. He was also inspired by western cinema and literature which was portrayed in his work. This made him quite popular in the West.

 Kurosawa is known for introducing the world to samurai films. He had a very distinct visual style that was a nice blend of western and eastern elements.

 His work impacted the western film industry as well and many western movies were based on his work. These movies include Star Wars, The Magnificent Seven, and A Fistful of Dollars.

Related: Best Japanese Live Action Anime Movies

Yasujiro Ozu

Years active: 1929- 1963

Best movies: Tokyo Story (1953), An Autumn Afternoon (1962), Floating Weeds (1959)

Yasujiro Ozu was another influential and one of the best Japanese directors of the 90s. He was also a screenwriter. He is often referred to as one of the fathers of Japanese cinema.

Ozu was known for his distinctive style and famous stories that revolved around marriage and inter generational conflicts. His movies portrayed unique characteristics like extremely low shots, static scenes, and actors talking to the camera instead of to each other.

Another unique characteristic of Ozu’s films were their titles. They were simple and usually had a reference to seasons, for example, “An Autumn Afternoon”, “Late Spring”, and “Early Summer”.

Related: Best Makoto Shinkai Anime Movies

 Seijin Suzuki

Years active: 1956- 2007

Best movies: Branded to Kill (1967), Zigeunerweisen (1980), Kagero-za (1981) and Yumeji (1991)

Seijin Suzuki was a rebel of sorts and one of the best Japanese directors. His work drew in much criticism but also inspired many other filmmakers.

While working for the Nikkatsu Company As a contract filmmaker, Suzuki didn’t have much say in the films he took on. Following a falling out with Nikkatsu, he was blacklisted for 10 years by all major production companies.

Suzuki was able to express his unique ideas through his B- films which were mostly about the Yakuza and other criminals. “Tokyo Drifter” and “Branded to Kill” are some of his best Yakuza movies.

Related: Best Japanese Horror Movies

 Kenji Mizoguchi

Years active: 1923- 1956

Best movies: The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953), Sansho the Bailiff (1954), The Crucified Lovers (1954)

Kenji Mizoguchi is known for his “one scene, one shot” technique. When his sister was only 14, she was given up for adoption and eventually forced into becoming a geisha. 

This had a profound impact on Mizoguchi and moulded his outlook on life. This led to a lot of his work focusing on the plight of Japanese women. Izoguchi is one of the best Japanese directors ever.

 Izoguchi’s movies are known for their purity and power to shake the viewer. There is a certain empathy and compassion with which his movies portray human suffering that makes his films so appealing.

Related: Best Japanese Dramas On Amazon Prime

Hayao Miyazaki

Years active: 1963- present

Best movies: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Princess Mononoke (1997), Howls’s Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008), Spirited Away (2001)

 Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese director, animator and manga artist. He is known internationally as the creator of Japanese animated feature films and one of the best filmmakers in the animation industry. Miyazaki is one of the best Japanese directors.

 Miyazaki is also the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, which is a world renowned studio for animated feature film. Many of his characters are inspired by his mother, Yoshiko.

 “Spirited Away” is by far his best movie which won an Oscar and broke the previous box office record held by “Titanic”.

Kon Ichikawa

Years active: 1935- 2006

Best movies: Tokyo Olympiad (1965), An Actor’s Revenge (1963), The Burmese Harp (1956), Fires on the Plain (1959), Odd Obsession (1959)

 Kon Ichikawa started off his career as an animator but soon had to switch to films because the studio he worked for shut down. He later worked with his wife Natto Wada and together, they produced some of his greatest successes. 

He drew a lot of inspiration from Walt Disney and Jean Renoir through his career. He is one of the best Japanese directors in the world. 

 “The Burmese Harp” and “Fires on the Plain” are two of Ichikawa’s most notable films, both gaining international acclaim.

 Nagisa Oshima

Years active: 1953- 1999

Best movies: In the Realm of the Senses (1972), Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), Empire of Passion (1978)

Nagisa Oshima is an iconic experimental director. He is best known for his war tale of a World War II prisoner, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”. Another popular movie by him is one of the most sexually explicit films ever made- “In the Realm of the Senses”.

Oshima has made a name for himself as one of the most daring and experimental directors. “In the Realm of the Senses” and “ Empire of Passion” were some of his more erotic movies that received much criticism.

 However, these movies won Oshima international acclaim, with the latter winning many awards. Definitely, Oshima is one of the best Japanese directors!

Kaneto Shindo

Years active: 1951- 2011

Best movies: Children of Hiroshima (1952), The Naked Island (1960), Onibaba (1964), Kuroneko (1968), A Last Note (1995)

 Kaneto Shindo was another important and popular film director in the Japanese film industry. He started his journey in the film industry by working as an assistant to Kenji Mizoguchi. 

best Japanese directors

He worked as a script writer for around two decades and wrote scripts for some of the best directors in the industry at that time. Shindo is amongst the best Japanese directors. 

 His directorial debut was the 1951 “Story of a Beloved Wife”, which was an autobiographical film. His movie, “Children of Hiroshima” received much criticism because it was one of the first films from Japan to address the atomic bombing that had taken place.

Some of the most prominent and popular themes of Shindo’s movies were social criticism of poverty, women, and sexuality.

Best Japanese Directors: FAQ

Who is the best anime director?

Hayao Miyazaki is considered as the greatest anime director of all time. He is the co-founder of Studio Ghibli. Some of his most notable works are The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Princess Mononoke (1997), Howls’s Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008), and Spirited Away (2001).

What are Akira Kurosawa’s best movies?

Some of Akira Kurosawa’s best movies are:
·         Drunken Angel (1948)
·         Rashomon (1950)
·         Ikiru (1952)
·         Seven Samurai (1954)
·         Throne of Blood (1957)
·         The Hidden Fortress (1958)
·         High and Low (1963)
·         Red Beard (1965)
·         Dersu Uzala (1975)
·         Ran (1985)

 What is Mizoguchi’s best known film?

“The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums” is considered as Mizoguchi’s best film. The film was released in 1939 and  tells the story of an arrogant artist who falls in love with a woman below his status.

Best Film Directors from Japan

Above listed directors from Japan have done a commendable job and have made Japanese cinema stand out in the global level. These best Japanese directors are worth applauding and deserve the best. Hope you loved the movies from these best Japanese directors of all times.

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