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'I Am A Cat': All Humans Are Gray In The Dark

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A scaled-down adaptation of Sōseki Natsume's dark comedy of human nature as seen through the eyes of a cat, but with all its cutting humor intact

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'The Castle Of Cagliostro': Thief Of Hearts

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Anyone curious about 'Lupin III' or Hayao Miyazaki's career, start here, as this is a grandly entertaining introduction to both at once

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'Sailor Suit And Machine Gun: Graduation': Shots In The Dark

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A functionally competent follow-up to the cult classic, but when your ancestor is a cult classic, you want more than just functional follow-up

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'Sailor Suit And Machine Gun': She Shoots To Conquer

This off-kilter 1981 comedy about a girl inheriting a crew of not-very-competent yakuza is an oddball masterwork that zags when you think it'll zig

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Here is one of those movies where the exact details of the execution mean everything. The plot is parboiled absurdity of the highest order, the characters are either die-stamped cutouts or leering loons, and the material sometimes veers near squick territory. But the end result is one of Japan's oddest and bounciest cultural milestones, a left-of-center adaptation of a popular novel that zags when you think it would zig.

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'Demon Pond': Spirits In The Material World

A lavish adult fairytale, now restored in 4K, and featuring a mesmerizing performance by one of Japan's legendary onnagata

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Most people these days, if they know Kyoka Izumi at all, it's from his appearance (as a drastically modified "her", that is) in Bungo Stray Dogs. This is a little like only knowing Orson Welles because he did voiceover work. Izumi's novels and plays inhabit a singular and idiosyncratic place in Japanese letters. They rejected modernity at a time when Japan lunged headlong into it, embodying a Gothic and fantastic sensibility, and exuding an atmosphere not matched by any of his contemporaries or influences. Only perhaps Ryunosuke Akutagawa (who claimed Izumi as an influence) comes close with what he evokes or aims for.

Masahiro Shinoda's Demon Pond (Yashagaike), adapted from one of Izumi's best-known plays, exhibits two key strands of Izumi's work: it has the simplicity and directness of a fable, but also the complexity of modern fiction. Only seen briefly outside of Japan when it first appeared in 1979, it's spend decades in near-limbo, with only the occasional badly subtitled print surfacing. Now it has returned in a 4K remaster, the better to show off its dreamlike visuals and the mesmerizing dual performance of the legendary onnagata (female impersonator) Bando Tamasaburo.

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'Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex': Twenty Minutes Into The Future

When so much cyberpunk dates badly, the futurology of the first 'Ghost In The Shell' TV series remains thrillingly relevant almost twenty years later

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Few things age faster than yesterday's tomorrow. As visionary and challenging as Blade Runner was, its futurology stops dead the minute Rick Deckard steps into a pay phone booth. The future seen in the 1991-through-1995 incarnations of Ghost In The Shell -- the original manga and Mamoru Oshii's animated adaptation -- looked a little bewhiskered by 2017, doubly so in its in its troubled live-action movie incarnation.

The 2003 TV series Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex avoided that trap by finding new ways to think about what life would be like "20 minutes into the future", as Max Headroom put it. The vision remains relevant, even as we end up living all the more, day by day, in a future a lot like that one. What makes Stand Alone Complex special, and still the pinnacle project of the Ghost In The Shell universe, is not that it gets technical details right but that it feels closer to now than I ever imagined it would. What a difference twenty years makes.

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