I think it’s around 2010 when I started to seek out more global films beyond what I’ve usually consumed, and having been exposed to Japanese culture since childhood, it didn’t take long for me to hit up on the country’s output. Japan obviously has one of the finest cinematic pedigree in the world, with the likes of Ozu and Kurosawa frequently mentioned in the discussion of greatest filmmakers ever, and the country along with Iran has been my co-favorites as far as Asian filmmaking nation goes. The quality goes along with a relatively high level of accessibility, as you don’t need to be a film school student or an old cinema buff to appreciate the best of Japanese films; just a taste for powerfully melancholic media, perhaps.
With the caveats of my relatively brief experience and the many classics I haven’t seen yet (it’s a bit heavy on the more recent stuff as you could see), here are the stuff that resonated with me the most in chronological order. For variety’s sake, I decided to cap things at two films at most per director. It would’ve been very easy for Kurosawa, Ozu, and Kore-eda to completely dominate the list otherwise; therefore, consider my personal picks for those names as endorsements for their respective ouvre rather than just the particular film being mentioned. I also chose to include animated films here instead of the favorite anime list, because why not.