One of the less-important but still regrettable victims of COVID-19 are all the resolutions and promises we made to ourselves at the beginning of the year. So many of us thought that 2020 was going to be our year only to end up in the middle of a terrifying global pandemic. It’s enough to get anyone down. If it happens to you, remember to breathe and put on one of the following Japanese movies to feel good about the world for a few precious minutes.
5. Tampopo (1985)
Juzo Itami’s Tampopo is… a lot. Seemingly telling the story of two truck drivers helping the proprietor of a ramen restaurant improve her recipes, it’s both a genuine Japanese take on spaghetti westerns as well as their parody. It takes some cues from sports movies like Rocky, what with its training montages, and anthologies like The Kentucky Fried Movie with its loosely connected vignettes. But underneath this mish-mash of ideas, you can feel the movie’s central theme, that of a beautiful, silly and earnest appreciation of food.
From the silly rituals humans have constructed around food to the connection between food and sex, the movie’s mocking tone clearly comes from a place of love. And thanks to the skillful comedic delivery, this love letter to food gets better every time you watch it. Just be sure to prepare some snacks first because Tampopo will make you hungry.
4. Shall We Dance? (1996)
From traditional theater performances like kabuki or Noh to bon odori, Japanese dancing has long been a solitary exercise. It’s undeniably beautiful but it involves no touching or intimacy between two people, as those are considered things to be kept private. No wonder then that Shohei, the protagonist of Shall We Dance, hides the fact that he’s been learning ballroom dancing. But the movie isn’t any kind of repudiation of traditional Japanese values, as Shohei’s adventure with dancing didn’t start from a good place.
One day, the married salaryman spotted a beautiful woman in the window of a dance studio, and signed up for lessons to be closer to her. But this infatuation quickly faded and what was left was the man’s love for dancing, and not because it was intimate but because it broke him out of his depressing rut. The movie is ultimately an appeal for people to have passion in their lives. And if, at the end of the day, you’re able to share it with someone close to you, as Shohei does with his wife, that’s when you will know true happiness.
3. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
It’s a bit weird to call a film that includes scenes of assassination and desecrating a corpse a “feel-good movie.” And yet here we are.
The story of Tokyo Godfathers centers around three homeless people finding an abandoned baby and trying to reunite it with its parents despite their own problems, personal demons and a gamut of obstacles showcasing some of the worst parts of humanity. But all the dark scenes in the animated Satoshi Kon movie only make its touching moments all the more powerful, especially at the end where all the darkness goes out the window and the day is saved by, well, magic.
It’s hard to talk about without spoiling the movie, but at one point, it’s like Tokyo Godfathers announces “Everyone’s suffered enough!” and delivers a deus ex machina that the audience has probably been secretly praying for. The movie might not be enough to make you believe in miracles, but once it’s over, you’ll happy they at least happened to someone. And that might be enough to give you hope for the future.
2. Miracle Apples (2013)
How long would you have to keep failing at something before you finally gave up? Could you last a decade while everyone around you doubted you and told you to quit? Akinori Kimura did. Based on the real-life experiences of an Aomori farmer, Miracle Apples tells the story of Kimura trying to find a way to grow apples without pesticides, which his wife is allergic to. Year after year, we see Kimura fail at his task as he dedicates more and more of his father-in-law’s orchard to his green experiment, losing all his money in the process.
His neighbors hate him, he constantly doubts himself, and while everyone else celebrates bountiful harvests, Kimura has to go off to another city to do odd jobs for money. But, and this is probably not a spoiler, he succeeds in the end. And if a movie about someone going through hell only to persevere through hard work and focusing on the future doesn’t comfort you somewhat, then you and I are clearly having a very different pandemic experience.
1. Quill (2004)
Alright, cards (and a spoiler) on the table. The dog dies at the end. And it’s very sad but it’s also a huge part of the movie’s uplifting message.
On the surface, Quill tells the story of Watanabe, a blind journalist bonding with Quill, a Labrador Retriever guide dog, but it’s really a movie about parting ways and living a good life. The movie explores themes of change through Quill being taken away from his mother, going from trainer to trainer, and finally to Watanabe, who dies near the end of the movie.
Every parting is hard but each one was necessary as it came from one chapter of Quill’s life coming to an end. The message here is that nothing lasts forever, and the best we can do is live a good life for as long as we can, just like Quill. In these uncertain times, Quill is a reminder to not waste any of the time we have left and cherish every little moment. It also has plenty of shots of puppies, which is always a plus for any movie.