best foreign movies and tv streaming

(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)

Now that we’re in the height of film festival season and coming off a festival in Venice, no less, this week seems like a perfect week to highlight foreign films that made a splash at festivals, isn’t it? Wrong! We’re surprisingly anime-heavy this week, though that wasn’t certainly intentional. Apart from Gaspar Noé’s titillating mind-trip and festival favorite Climax, we’ve got a few anime films and shows that even the non-anime fan should try checking out. First is Satoshi Kon’s dreamy masterpiece Millennium Actress, a remastered version of which just hit select theaters, followed by the satirical sensation Gintama, and Shinichiro Watanabe’s new rock musical anime, Carole and Tuesday. Rounding out the list is a moody Colombian supernatural crime thriller, Green Frontier.

Let’s fire up those subtitles and get streaming.

Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now

Millennium Actress – Amazon Prime

Country: Japan

Genre: Anime drama

Director: Satoshi Kon

Cast: Miyoko Shoji, Mami Koyama, Fumiko Orikasa, Shozo Iizuka, Shoko Tsuda, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Hisako Kyoda, Koichi Yamadera, Masane Tsukayama.

Satoshi Kon doesn’t have a bad movie in his sadly short filmography, but he does have a few underrated masterpieces. You’ll hear western filmmakers rave about the widely influential Paprika or Perfect Blue — and that may be because both the imagery of both those films have been ripped directly by films like Inception or Requieum for a Dream. But Kon’s dreamy 2002 film Millennium Actress remains immune to that kind of praise or homage. That’s probably because Millennium Actress, which follows two documentary filmmakers as they parse together the life of a retiring legendary actress, is a lavish, reality-blurring piece of cinematic art that plays with the medium in ways that live-action would be hard-pressed to imitate. The titular legendary actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara, is a woman forever searching for a man that she once saved as a child — a yearning that translates to each of the roles that turn her into a national treasure. But as she tells her life story to the two filmmakers documenting her life, her real and celluloid life begin to blur together for both her, and the audience. Technically brilliant yet surprisingly subdued, Millennium Actress contains all of Kon’s favorite themes of identity and the construction of the self that he first explored in 1997 psychological thriller Perfect Blue, but there is an emotional warmth to the film that seeps through its muted nostalgic tones.

Watch This If You LikeAtonement, Clouds of Sils Maria, Synecdoche, New York, carrying the banner for animation!!

Climax – Amazon Prime

Country: France

Genre: Psychedelic dance horror

Director: Gaspar Noé

Cast: Sofia Boutella, Kiddy Smile, Roman Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle, Thea Carla Schøtt.

Gaspar Noé’s hellish anti-drugs PSA is constantly upsetting, but never unwatchable. Following a dance troupe as they rehearse a wild dance piece in an empty school, Climax kicks into gear when the celebrating dancers realize that their drinks are spiked with LSD. The party soon descends into a debaucherous delirium, as the group turn against each other or turn to each other for comfort. The human drama anchors the film even as it spirals further into its frenzy. Climax is claimed to be the most “tame” of the provocateur behind Irréversible and Enter the Void, but it is by no means restrained. The last half hour of the film is its most disturbing, as boundaries are crossed and the body count keeps getting higher, and Noé’s camera movements become more chaotic. It’s the closest you’ll probably get to having a very bad, very fatal, trip.

Watch This If You Like: Suspiria, mother!, watching the Step Up movies on drugs (don’t do drugs, kids!).

Green Frontier — Netflix

Country: Colombia

Genre: Supernatural crime thriller series

Creator: Diego Ramírez Schrempp, Mauricio Leiva-Cock and Jenny Ceballos

Cast: Juana del Río, Nelson Camayo, Ángela Cano, Miguel Dionisio Ramos.

Lush, moody, and atmospheric, Green Frontier is a mystery series that keeps its mystery close to the chest. The Colombian limited series is perhaps one of the most beautifully shot of Netflix’s international titles, painting its rich Amazon setting with a haunting, almost spectral brush. The series follows a female detective as she is sent deep into the Amazon to investigate a series of bizarre murders that may have been committed by an un-contacted tribe. But as she navigates the thorny relationships between locals and indigenous tribes and peels back the layers of the strange deaths of four missionaries, it slowly becomes apparent that something supernatural is at play. Green Frontier is Twin Peaks meets True Detective in the Amazon — a slow-burning mystery wrapped in an engima, wrapped in jaw-dropping visual grandeur. Juana del Río impresses as the troubled Agent Povedo, whose hardboiled temperament masks a deeper connection to the jungle than she anticipated.

Watch This If You LikeTrue Detective, Twin Peaks, Sharp Objects, Lost City of Z, a beautiful slow-burner.

Gintama: Complete Season 1 – Hulu

Country: Japan

Genre: Sci-fi comedy anime series

Director: Shinji Takamatsu

Cast: Tomokazu Sugita, Rie Kugimiya, Kenichi Suzumura.

There are a lot of weird anime out there, but Gintama may outshine them all. That’s its nature as a satire of all the oddest, kookiest parts of shonen (ie action) anime that still seeks to tell a straightforward story for several seasons. (And still going!) Set in an alternate version of Japan where samurai still roam and aliens have taken over the Earth, Gintama follows the airheaded samurai Gintoki Sakata who teams up with a teenager and an alien girl to work odd jobs and occasionally save the universe. There isn’t much of a plot that can be described in the first season of Gintama — it’s mostly a vehicle for the series to directly parody the popular anime of the day. Everything from Dragon Ball, to Once Piece, to Bleach gets skewered in a dumb, lighthearted fashion that makes Gintama an endearing, if not an entirely clever, anime satire.

Watch This If You LikeSpaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Life of Brian, jokes!

Carole & Tuesday — Netflix

Country: Japan

Genre: Musical sci-fi anime series

Director: Shinichiro Watanabe

Cast: Miyuri Shimabukuro, Kana Ichinose.

Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo creator Shinichiro Watanabe’s newest anime is his most beautifully animated, and it’s perhaps his loveliest. Carole & Tuesday eschews Watanabe’s darker, more action-packed storytelling for a sincere story about two young women living in a partially terraformed Mars in the distant future whose chance meeting leads to the dream musical partnership. Tuesday Simmons is a sheltered runaway and aspiring guitarist who stumbles into the equally talented Carole Stanley, an orphan and keyboardist. The two become fast friends and form a singer-songwriter duo that eventually earns them the notice of a manager, and soon, the world. The sweet, but rather standard, musical story is buoyed by gorgeous, inventive designs of the futuristic world and undeniably catchy songs. Ever the visual storyteller, Watanabe didn’t have to go this hard with the elegant, fluid animation and the rich, gleaming designs of his sci-fi world, but Carole & Tuesday is all the better for it.

Watch This If You Like: Nana, Once, Sing Street, La La Land, a good, heartwarming anime that you can bop to.

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