For box offices around the world, 2012 was a great year and 2013 is kicking off in style with a few gems that are well worth a look – if you missed seeing them abroad during your Christmas holidays. Read on for the lowdown on the latest releases here in Japan:

by Christopher O’ Keeffe

Hotly anticipated this year are sequels to some of last year’s biggest films, such as The Hunger Games and The Hobbit, along with the follow up to 2009’s Star Trek reboot, Star Trek: Into Darkness.

The unstoppable flow of super hero movies continues with The Avengers, Iron-Man and Thor returning along with a second solo outing for Wolverine and DC attempting to take a cut of Marvel’s action with their Superman effort, Man of Steel. But before that onslaught of sequels in the summer and autumn, January offers a selection of exciting originals covering action, drama and comedy.

Looper – Japan Release: Jan 11

Looper is garnering praise internationally for offering what seems the rarest of things these days: an interesting, original concept within its sci-fi/action story.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has barely put a foot wrong since kicking off his adult acting career with the modern noir, Brick, and being included in Christopher Nolan’s go-to stable of players. He has proven a charismatic lead in films such as 500 Days of Summer and cut his action chops under Nolan in both Inception and last years The Dark Knight Rises.

Joining him is Hollywood legend and no stranger to action, Bruce Willis, along with Emily Blunt. Levitt (Below, with Willis) plays ‘Joe’, a hit-man – known as a ‘Looper’ – who is paid to kill people sent from the future by organized criminals. Joe’s problems start when the man he is to kill is his own future self.

This is Rian Johnson’s third feature and he is proving himself a skilful, intelligent filmmaker with the ability to keep a handle on a complex story, and with this film the director and his young star solidify their reputation as a formidable pair.

Ted – Jan 18

In Ted, a lonely young boy, John Bennett, wishes for his Teddy bear to come alive and be his best friend.

His wish is granted and, when we cut to the future we find the bear – Ted’s the name – has grown up to become a foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed lay-about. John (Mark Wahlberg – pictured at the top) is forced to deal with his best friend in an attempt to develop the relationship with his girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), who feels the bad-natured bear is standing in their way.

The film was directed and co-written by Seth MacFarlane, who also stars as the voice of Ted. Fans of MacFarlane’s long running TV show Family Guy will enjoy the bad language and crude humour of this funny and surprisingly sentimental comedy.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – Jan 25

This is a comedy with an interesting central idea but a slightly sombre tone. After it’s announced that the world will end in three weeks time, due to an approaching meteorite, a man decides to take a road trip with his neighbour in the hope – amid chaos and a crumbling society – of tracking down his first love.

Starring Steve Carrell and Keira Knightly, this is the directorial debut of screenwriter and actress Lorene Scafaria, best known for previous work, the 2008 romantic comedy Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Through the formula there are bright sparks and, perhaps unexpectedly, some intriguing relationships develop. Supporting cast members entertain as they take their own path (alcoholism, sexual promiscuity and depression amongst them) as the world heads towards ‘doomsday’.

Keira Knightly in 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'

Carrell continues to make his own space in the rom-com-that-even-guys-can-watch world with a fairly thoughtful performance and Knightly is as likeable as she gets, which is more than some had previously thought.

Flashback Memories 3D – Jan 19

Anyone who failed to catch Flashback Memories 3D at the Tokyo International Film Festival in November can do so now as it goes on general release.

Mixing documentary with live performance and somewhat hallucinogenic 3D visuals, the film tells the story of didgeridoo performer, GOMA, up to and after an accident that left him with a brain dysfunction that results in memory loss and difficulty in retaining new information. This film won the Audience Award at the festival, and not only those who were already fans of GOMA and alternative music will appreciate the talent of this artist and his free spirit.

Life of Pi – Jan 25

Life of Pi is an adaptation of the best-selling 2001 fantasy adventure novel of the same name by Yann Martel, made by Academy Award winning director Ang Lee, who will be hoping to add more of the gold statuettes to his collection as Oscar buzz already surrounds this highly anticipated feature.

The film stars newcomer Suraj Sharma as ‘Pi’ Patel, a 16-year-old boy who becomes ship wrecked when the boat transporting his family – as well as his fathers zoo – to Canada sinks. Pi is stuck aboard a lifeboat with a fearsome Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker, in an intense battle for survival.

The movie, like the book, is a philosophical tale that dwells on religion and human nature throughout its magical narrative which takes in a kind of story within a story within a story. Garnering rave reviews since its release at the New York Film Festival last September, it has been praised in particular for its stunning imagery – the 3D has won many fans amongst previously sceptical commentators – and could perhaps be the first must-see film of the year.

Life of Pi

Taken 2 – Jan 11

Taken 2 is a follow up to surprise 2011 hit, Taken, which was co-written and produced by esteemed auteur Luc Besson and starred Liam Neeson as an unstoppable former CIA operative hunting down the men who kidnapped his daughter.

That film was fast-paced, with hard-hitting action and found a ready audience, who lapped up Neeson’s role as a tough-as-nails old agent amid the hostage drama the title alludes to.

Fans anticipating more of the same might be disappointed to find they get almost literally what they wished for in this sequel, which has been slated as unimaginative and monotonous with none of the thrills of the previous effort.