Ass-kicking Japanese film heroines of the 2000s

Ass-kicking Japanese film heroines of the 2000s

The last decade was a good one for strong females in Japanese cinema. Here are the top seven
Japanese film heroines
Actress Anna Tsuchiya of film "Sakuran" poses with director Mika Ninagawa at a press conference for the film.

When one thinks of Japanese films featuring fantastic female fighters, names such as Meiko Kaji ("Stray Cat Rock" and the "Female Convict Scorpion" series) and Junko Fuji (the "Red Peony Gambler" series) loom large. Happily, the 2000s made up for the somewhat passive 1990s with plenty of feminine fury.

Here are some memorable characters from the past ten years.

2000: Kou Shibasaki as Mitsuko Souma in "Battle Royale." Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Renowned Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku's final film was an audacious cap to his career. In one of her earliest roles, singer and actress Kou Shibasaki personifies lethal sexuality as delinquent student Mitsuko. As she becomes one of the game's deadliest contestants, all you can ask yourself is "Where do I sign up to get killed by her?" Shibasaki's subsequent roles never quite utilized her to the same effect. Action titles "Dororo" and "Shaolin Girl" are for diehard fans only.

2004: Anna Tsuchiya as Ichigo "Ichiko" Shirayuri in "Kamikaze Girls" ("Shimotsuma Monogatari"). Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Model-singer-actress Anna Tsuchiya cemented her screen career with this early role as a spitting, cursing, head-butting moped-driving bosozoku. Tsuchiya's outrageous performance embodied the goofiest aspects of the modern yankii subculture before it went mainstream. The all-girl showdown at the end presided over by the 36-story tall Ushiku Daibutsu is particularly cinematic. Also see Tsuchiya in "Sakuran."

2005: Mitsuki Tanimura as Yuki Niina in "Canary." Director: Akihiko Shiota
An oddball choice on the list, but then 14-year-old Mitsuki Tanimura's portrayal of an abused 12-year-old juvenile delinquent is one of the most striking female debuts -- and roles -- of the decade. Yuki impulsively decides to accompany an emotionally troubled boy brought up in a disbanded Aum-like cult on his quest to reclaim his little sister, with the mission eventually becoming her own. When Tanimura marches through the rain, screwdriver in hand, as 1960s song "Silver Road" ("Gin-iro no Michi") plays on the soundtrack, the film channels the enigmatic power of heroines from past classics.

2008. Haruka Ayase as Ichi in "Ichi." Director: Fumihiko Sori
Takeshi Kitano's 2003 film "Zatoichi" generated renewed interest in the famous tale of the wandering blind swordsman. A female variation seemed like a good idea, with the coveted role going to fresh-faced cutie Ayase. With only three weeks of training before the shoot, Ayase is impressively adept at slashing all comers with the one-handed blade concealed in her cane. Her non-violent scenes of drama and shamisen-playing are also well performed in this reasonably entertaining jidaigeki

2008. Minase Yashiro and Asami as Ami and Miki in "The Machine Girl." Director: Noboru Iguchi
Irrepressible B-movie maniac Iguchi and special effects wiz Yoshihiro Nishimura (a director himself) provide a plum lead role for gravure idol Minase Yashiro as Ami -- a pretty high school student seeking vengeance for the murder of her little brother by a yakuza clan brat. Vats of blood spray from every imaginable form of amputation. Ami's arm suffers major abuse, even getting tempura'd, before being transformed into a lethal weapon. Former adult video actress Asami plays a bereaved mama who teams up with Yashiro in furious fashion. Iguchi and Nishimura are also responsible for other female-centric bloodbaths like "Tokyo Gore Police," "RoboGeisha" and more.

2009. Hikari Mitsushima as Yoko in "Love Exposure" ("Ai No Mukidashi"). Director: Sion Sono
Sion Sono's 237-minute opus of religion, perversion and family ties has won awards at home and overseas, continuing to surprise and confound audiences. A considerable part of its success is due to Hikari Mitsushima, who plays man-kicking object of worship Yoko (aka Maria). In one of the film's many highlights, she knocks the stuffing out of a bunch of goons as her stepbrother and lover-to-be watches in awe while dressed as Kaji's Scorpion character. A film that could only be made in Japan.

2009. Rinko Kikuchi as Lucifer in "Assault Girls" Director: Mamoru Oshii
Closing out the decade with a late December release, "Babel" star Rinko Kikuchi sprouts black wings and uses special powers to battle with rampaging "sand whales" in a virtual desert landscape. And that's pretty much it. The same character first appeared in an Oshii-directed segment of last year's violent showdown omnibus "Kill." Sometimes it's enough for something to look cool, and Kikuchi wages war with considerable flair and fashion sense. You also get the very easy-on-the-eyes Meisa Kuroki using heavy artilliery.

Special thanks to Todd Brown, Marc Walkow and Nicholas Rucka for talking about some of their favorite tough girls.