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© Tezuka Productions / Mushi Productions 1001-nights-00.jpg

'Animerama: A Thousand And One Nights': Tezuka's Erotic Follies

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The first of Osamu Tezuka's experimental trilogy of animated films for adults is a fascinating time capsule that swerves between visionary and puerile

© TOEI ANIMATION CO. LTD./ Kyōsōgiga Project kyosogiga-00.jpg

'Kyōsōgiga': And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird?

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Buddhist lore, supernatural slapstick action, and domestic drama all combine to make this idiosyncractic instant classic

© Yoshitoki Ōima, KODANSHA/A SILENT VOICE The Movie Production Committee silentvoice-016.jpg

'A Silent Voice': Children Of Lesser Gods

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A gorgeous adaptation of the acclaimed manga, and a story with a hard moral question: Who gets to be redeemed?

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© 1957 Nikkatsu Corp. Ltd. s1.jpg

'Bakumatsu Taiyōden'/'Sun In The Last Days Of The Shogunate': Grifter's Paradise

All but unseen by Western audiences, this breezy, bracing 1957 comedy cross-sections Japanese society at a turning point, for both fast laughs and wise insights

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Comedy's hard. Not just because getting laughs naturally is a skill few people develop well, but because the best comedies look at our condition (boy, is it screwed up) and have something to say about it (laugh, 'cause you might as well). That's hard enough to do with a straight face; to do it with a grin is an order of magnitude tougher. Yūzō Kawashima's Bakumatsu Taiyōden starts and ends as effortless entertainment, a breezy and bracing comedy exuding endless energy. It's also a cross-section of Japanese society in the years before the Meiji Restoration, and ultimately the kind of social commentary by proxy that all the best comedies manage to have in their blood. But it never forces the points it's trying to make. It slips all it wisdom in under the door and between the laughs.

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'Like The Clouds, Like The Wind': From Country Girl To First Concubine

A real treat: a made-for-TV historical fantasy, by way of some Studio Ghibli regulars, that starts lighthearted and in time becomes genuinely ambitious

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Now here's a delight: a made-for-TV feature film from 1990, unlicensed officially outside of Japan until now, that plays like a forgotten earlier Studio Ghibli project. It isn't one, although it does employ a couple of Ghibli personnel — and its irrepressible heroine Ginga feels like a nod towards the plucky Ghibli girls we all know. But there's more to Like The Clouds, Like The Wind than nostalgia or cross-references; it's a fine project in its own right.

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© 1979 Toho / Film Link International B0002L4CNI-000.jpg

'The Man Who Stole The Sun': I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. Now What?

Almost forty years later, this jet-black comedy about a one-man nuclear terrorist ring remains an absurdist masterwork

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This essay originally appeared in a slightly different form at Genji Press.

When Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb appeared in theaters, there were more than a few critics who hated the movie on principle; after all, nuclear war was nothing any sane person could laugh at. Except, of course, that black humor and comedy are precisely how people have always dealt with the cruelest and most horrible of subjects. Today, complaining about Dr. Strangelove seems almost quaint—perhaps not so much a sign that we are desensitized to the whole apocalypse thing (when does the end of the world ever really stop being scary?) as that we have stopped wasting time with silly grousing about art being in bad taste.

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