Japan has always had one of the best and most thrilling film industries in the whole world. While some of the cinematographers are known rather only within the nation, a lot of them are even widely recognized as some of the best internationally. Here is a list of 10 legendary Japanese cinematographers of all time.
1. Akira Kurosawa (1910 – 1998)
Akira Kurosawa is a well-known and well-respected name among the Japanese filmmakers. His films can be seen influencing a lot of the popular genres in the West. The three masterpieces by the Japanese director are – Seven Samurai (1954), Rashomon (1950), and The Hidden Fortress (1958). Some of his other films include Drunken Angel (1948), Yojimbo (1961), Sanjuro (1962), and High and Low (1963). Throughout his career, Kurosawa directed 30 films in over five decades. Kurosawa received the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1990. The 2007 Bollywood film Taare Zameen Par is loosely inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s biography.
2. Yasujirō Ozu (1903 – 1963)
Yasujiro Ozu started making films in the era of silent films. He started his career with a few short comedy films. Afterwards, he slowly moved towards making films on more serious themes. The themes of Ozu’s films tended to focus especially on the relationships between generations, along with marriage and family. His notable works include Tokyo Story (1953), Late Spring (1949), and An Autumn Afternoon (1962). Ozu’s Tokyo Story was voted the third greatest film of all time on the 2012 Sight & Sound poll.
3. Nagisa Ōshima (1932 – 2013)
Nagisa Oshima was one of the leading directors within the Japanese New Wave. Some of his notable works include Death by Hanging (1968) and In the Realm of the Senses (1976). Oshima’s film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) is a unique film about the World War II Prisoners held by the Japanese. Through this film, Oshima explores the clash of cultures that inevitably occurs during wartime. Nagisa Oshima has pushed a lot of boundaries during his filmmaking career, which makes him one of the greatest Japanese cinematographers of all time.
4. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (1955 – )
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is an amazing Japanese cinematographer, screenwriter, and a professor at Tokyo University of Arts. He has worked in various kinds of genres, but he is mostly known for his horror films. Real (2013), Pulse (2001), Seventh Code (2013), Foreboding (2017), and Before We Vanish (2017) are some of his widely known works. Kurosawa’s psychological thriller film Cure (1997) is a masterpiece in the history of Japanese films.
5. Hayao Miyazaki (1941 – )
If you are an avid anime fan, you have definitely heard of Studio Ghibli. Hayao Miyazaki co-founded the said animation studio in 1985. He is an amazing filmmaker, animator, and manga artist. He is regarded as one of the most accomplished Japanese filmmakers in the history of animation. Miyazaki’s masterpieces include Spirited Away (2001), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), and Princess Mononoke (1997). He debuted with the animation film The Castle of Cagliostro (1979). Hayao Miyazaki’s works are loved and appreciated widely around the whole world.
6. Takashi Miike (1960 – )
Takashi Miike’s films explore various genres from violent to family friendly. His works have been criticized a lot for their extreme graphic violence. Some of his famous films are Audition (1999), Dead or Alive (1999), and Ichi the Killer (2001). Miike is known for his dark sense of humor and for pushing the boundaries of censorship in his films. He debuted with his work Eyecatch Junction in 1991, and since then he has directed over one hundred productions.
7. Ishirō Honda (1911 – 1993)
Ishiro Honda is acknowledged as one of the most internationally successful Japanese cinematographers. He co-wrote and directed the original film Godzilla in 1954. His other notable works include Rodan (1956), The Blue Pearl (1952), and Mothra (1961). The great Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa was his former colleague and friend. In 1975, after directing the final Godzilla film, Honda retired from filmmaking. The Godzilla franchise helped Honda gain worldwide recognition.
8. Satoshi Kon (1963 – 2010)
Satoshi Kon is another amazing Japanese cinematographer, animator, screenwriter, and manga artist. He was also a member of the Japanese Animation Creators Association (JAniCA). He is best known for his anime films Perfect Blue (1997), Millennium Actress (2001), Tokyo Godfathers (2003), and Paprika (2006). The theme of most of Kon’s works is the ‘mixture of fiction and reality.’ Kon’s impact on the Japanese animation was infinite. The great animator faced an unfortunate death at the age of 46. He died of pancreatic cancer.
9. Kenji Mizoguchi (1898 – 1956)
Kenji Mizoguchi is another very well-respected name in the Japanese film industry. The incredible storytelling in his films has helped the country earn its international fame. His notable works include The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953), and Shanso the Bailiff (1954). Mizoguchi directed roughly a hundred films in his entire filmmaking career. Along with Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi is considered to be a representative of the ‘golden age’ of Japanese cinema.
10. Shōhei Imamura (1926 – 2006)
Shohei Imamura is another key figure of the Japanese New Wave. He is the only Japanese director, who achieved two Palme d’Or awards. His films The Ballad of Narayama (1983) and The Eel (1997) won Picture of the Year and Director of the Year respectively for the Japan Academy Film Prize. Some of his other works are Pigs and Battleships (1961), Stolen Desire (1958), and The Insect Woman (1963).