1. Tokyo Godfathers (Satoshi Kon, 2003)
This is a film that you can feel has a lot of love, not only for its protagonists but for life in general. But it doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects. It makes you wonder if we’ll ever see the completion of Kon’s final film, or even just what was done at the time of his death would be nice.
2. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
Not much hasn’t already been said about this one…a film that benefits from multiple viewings as Ozu’s avoidance of melodrama lends itself to character interactions that seem cold and distant at first but upon each subsequent viewing of this film all that is repressed by these characters becomes apparent, making it an even more emotional.
3. Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008)
Ostensibly a horror film where the horror comes in the form of social anxieties. The father’s unemployment is portrayed with the kind of eerie tone straight out of Kurosawa’s earlier Cure or Pulse. This film is sort of the middle section of a "family" trilogy in which Teruyku Kagawa plays the father as has done for Kurosawa earlier in Serpent's Path and later in Penance, all about the disintegration of the family unit.
4. Tokyo Olympiad (Kon Ichikawa, 1965)
The Olympics, and athletics in general, holds appeal because we like to see others excel at something and perform on a level that the majority cannot match. With this documentary we get that in a more personal form as the many cameramen get closeups and let the athletes be. We see some of the triumphs but we also see the anticipations and the failures, as well as snaps of the crowd, and aerials of a post-war Japan rebuilding. The film’s final sentiment puts the Olympics in a context of peace. The enjoyment of which is like a dream that can fade out. To be honest I have not seen any of the 30 for 30s yet, but this is a prime example of what a sports documentary can do: finding the art in the sport alone, but using it for a more powerful agenda
5. Tokyo Fist (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1995)
A hyper-violent, kinetic in both film form and content portrait of three people and their relationship with their city and each other to a lesser extant. The use of extremely stylized make up effects somehow make everything seem more brutal. Just on a visceral level Tsukamoto’s film is on par with that other boxing flick.
6. Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki, 1966)
The two main reasons I like this film so much is that firstly it features the protagonist singing his own theme song, which the closest thing I’ve seen elsewhere that gives off the same sense of a filmic carefree quality is Jason Stathem whistling along to the score very briefly in Crank 2: High Voltage. The second reason is without this we would never have gotten Branded to Kill: a reaction to the reaction Suzuki got from the Nikkatsu higher ups over Tokyo Drifter.
7. Tokyo Twilight (Yasujiro Ozu, 1957)
Just as Ozu hated melodrama is why I like this film so much, probably one of his most melodramatic. It is still Ozu though so most of the more melodramatic events, like abortions and suicide attempts, either happen offscreen or in ellipsis. Still heartbreaking like Tokyo Story but through a slightly different method
Looking into this I found a number of films that I need to check out: Masaki Kobayashi’s 1983 documentary Tokyo Trial, Sion Sono’s rap musical Tokyo Tribe (edit: seen, won't make the list), Tokyo Eyes, Tokyo.Sora, a film directed by novelist Ryu Murakami Tokyo Decadence, and a more recent film from Shinji Aoyama called Tokyo Koen. There is also another non-native director making a film in Japan (Tokyo Eyes is from French director Jean Pierre Limosin) in Isabel Coixet with Map of the Sounds of Tokyo. Shout out to Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.