Top Ten Movies About Ordinary Rural Life

Ordinary life can be very fascinating, especially when it features a place, a time, a people that we do not know. The best of these films are both interesting and captivating, not only because of the locales, but also because of the lives that the cinema shows us. To the characters in the film, these may be their ordinary lives, but to most of us, they are exquisite.

1. Huo Jianqi – Nashan naren nagou / Postmen in the Mountains (1999)

A heartfelt trek through the Chinese countryside, with two men, their dog, and the mountains. The father is retiring, and the son must take his place. This is their last, and only, trip together. See review.

Nashan naren nagou / Postmen in the Mountains

Sling bags are for sissies; all the cool postmen use backpacks

2. Ishii Katsuhito – Cha no aji / The Taste of Tea (2004)

A crazy, trippin’ ride with a crazy, trippin’ family. Try and Google the poster. Surreal, somehow believable, and yet unbelievable at the same time. This is, hands down, the strangest movie on this list. Not sure how to describe it, but the movie feels like living inside all of their minds. Trippin’.

Cha no aji / The Taste of Tea

Possibly: Halloween party, movie extra, cosplay event, or robot-themed porn shoot

3. Shimizu Hiroshi – Arigato-san / Mr. Thank You (1936)

A guy who says “thank you” to everyone he meets; how can you not approve of his manners? A road movie with many characters and personalities, it is able to discuss the life of women during the time, the difficulties of
Depression era Japan, the “lostness” of meandering youth, the importance of appearances and face, and even some sexual conduct, and these are all inserted into the movie with such a light touch that you barely notice that so much has happened since you got on the bus.

Arigato-san / Mr Thank You

He drives a bus and says thank you a lot, what's not to like?

4. Miki Satoshi – Kame wa igai to hayaku oyogu / Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected (2005)

The most urban and most modern of all the films here, it nonetheless discusses the monotony of everyday life, and how a change in perspective can make all the difference. This film is criminally under-appreciated, and it’s hard to understand why. Insightful, delightful, and starring Ueno Juri with an afro.

Kame wa igai to hayaku oyogu / Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected

Not shown: Juri-chan spying on me, buying various juicy meats

5. Yamashita Nobuhiro – Tennen Kokekko / A Gentle Breeze in the Village (2007)

Not as interesting as many of the films in this list–probably the most ordinary of these ordinary movies. However, the great music and cinematography plus charming young characters, and maybe even a love story, are enough to make this a must see. This is a personal favorite for some reason; I couldn’t rank it higher or lower than this.

Tennen Kokkeko / A Gentle Breeze in the Village


6. Jia Zhangke – Sanxia Haoren / Still Life (2006)

Zhangke, who pretty much lives on “ordinary life” movies, scores big time with this, my favorite of his films. Slow, meditative, political, and sparse, there is a grand feeling of lost-ness, of alienation, of distance. This has the least plot of the items on the list, but if you want to get lost somewhere without leaving your home, this is it. (Ren xiao yao / Unknown Pleasures and Zhantai / Platform are similar)

Sanxia haoren / Still Life

Eventually, stuff happens. I think.

7. Hou Hsiao-hsien – Dong dong de jia qi / A Summer at Grandpa’s

Based on Chu T’ien-wen’s childhood, the film follows Tung and Ting who visit their grandpa during their vacation. Notice the ambient sounds all around–the train’s horn to end scenes, the crickets, the grass brushing against each other, the howling wind, footsteps on their wooden floor–they welcome you. To anyone who’s ever visited relatives in the country, whatever country, this movie will feel familiar and welcoming.

Dong dong de jia qi / Summer at Grandpa's

Summer + bored kids = DISASTER

8. Liu Jie – Mabei shang de fating / Courthouse on Horseback

A courthouse on frickin’ horseback! How can that not be interesting enough? Justice, tradition, cultural relativism, are just some of the topics discussed in this film. Two men, their guide, a horse, and tons of crazy squabbles. See review.

Mabei shang de fating / Courthouse on Horseback

The crazy looking dude in the middle is actually the judge

9. Naruse Mikio – Hideko no shasho-san / Hideko the Bus Conductress

Takamine Hideko in her most adorable and charming role. Hideko literally takes you around her town, even narrating its special features as you ride along with her on the eponymous bus. At only 53 minutes long, the shortest on the list, but Hideko’s magnetic character will make you want to pass through here more often.

Hideko no shasho-san / Hideko the Bus Conductress

More like Hideko the talkative bus-lady

10. Wang Quan-an – Tuya de hun shi / Tuya’s Marriage

Although somewhat frustrating, it is also striking to see Tuya’s difficult life–her love for her husband, her responsibility to herself and her family, the choice of remarriage. With her husband crippled, and a well needing to be dug, she has very few options left. She isn’t someone you will always root for, but it is hard not to hope for her best. The two characters, Bater and Sen’ge, are named after their real selves. By using these amateur actors, Wang is able to create a place that feels even more real.

Tuya's Marriage de hun shi

In Mongolia, marriage also sucks