3 Movies Like My Neighbor Totoro (1988) On Criterionchannel

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Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: Not Rated

Shattering the rules for how a biographical drama can look and be told, Paul Schrader's Mishima rejects the usual character study template in favor of a much more abstract attempt to understand a person through their art. Told in fragments that flit between Mishima's early life, dramatizations of his fiction novels, and the final day of his life, the film pieces together what it believes was the core of this person's life. Schrader's script (co-written with his brother Leonard Schrader) traces within Mishima's history a lifelong struggle with perceptions of his own masculinity and authority—as if he spent his every waking moment trying to compensate for a lack that he could hardly articulate. The character's eventual turn towards reactionary beliefs makes logical sense in the film, but remains baffling all the same.

With all of its talk about beauty—enhanced by Philip Glass' opulent musical score, and Eiko Ishioka's breathtaking production design that transforms Mishima's novels into tactile stage productions—the film conceals an incredibly dark heart. Mishima doesn't inspire sympathy so much as he inspires morbid fascination, and it's both a daring and frustrating choice to focus entirely on the character's harmful delusions without room for much else. Still, Schrader has constructed an unforgettable audiovisual experience that lingers long after it's over.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alan Poul, Bandō Mitsugorō X, Chishū Ryū, Eimei Esumi, Go Riju, Haruko Kato, Hideo Fukuhara, Hiroshi Katsuno, Hiroshi Mikami, Hisako Manda, Jun Negami, Junkichi Orimoto, Ken Ogata, Kenji Sawada, Koichi Sato, Kunihiko Ida, Masahiko Sakata, Masato Aizawa, Masayuki Shionoya, Miki Takakura, Minoru Hodaka, Mitsuru Hirata, Naoko Ohtani, Naomi Oki, Naoya Makoto, Reisen Ri, Roy Scheider, Ryō Ikebe, Sachiko Hidari, Setsuko Karasuma, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Yasuaki Kurata, Yasuhiro Arai, Yuki Kitazume

Director: Paul Schrader

Rating: R

A splendid animated movie by the legendary animator and director Satoshi Kon. A team of scientists and psychologists have created a device allowing them to enter someone else's dreams. Even if the usage of this device is not allowed outside of her facility, Doctor Atsuko Chiba is using it to cure patients from depression. Things start to get complicated when a stolen device is being used by someone to implement confusing dreams in various victims, causing them to mentally break down.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Akio Otsuka, Daisuke Sakaguchi, Hideyuki Tanaka, Katsunosuke Hori, Koichi Yamadera, Kouichi Yamadera, Megumi Hayashibara, Mitsuo Iwata, Rikako Aikawa, Satomi Koorogi, Satoshi Kon, Tohru Emori, Tôru Emori, Toru Furuya, Yasutaka Tsutsui

Director: Satoshi Kon

Rating: R