You may not be surprised to read that this article presented problems. We're not talking about the hours of film watching and background research that went into it; the real difficulty came in narrowing our list down to a mere 20. Needless to say there were arguments. In the end, it came down to a simple set of criteria: the finalists needed to be, or have been, genuinely sexy (and we mean in an erotic sense, hence the absence of Haruka Ayase and Takuya Kimura), regularly burning up theatre screens with their raw sex appeal.
And so, in no particular order, we present you with the Time Out 20. Now, we'd appreciate if someone pointed us towards the nearest cold shower...
Red Angel (1966). ©1966 Kadokawa Pictures
After making her screen debut in 1952, Wakao was quickly recognised by directors including Kenji Mizoguchi, who cast her in A Geisha (1953) and Street of Shame (1956). She was the leading lady of choice for Yasuzo Masumura, though their relationship wasn't always easy: he later described her as 'selfish and calculating.' Charming.
Sexiest roles: Wakao's collaborations with Masumura could be fiercely erotic, whether as the femme fatale in Tattoo or the army field nurse in Red Angel (both 1966). Her performance as Mitsuko, the manipulative object of everyone's affections in Manji (1964), takes some beating.
Lady Snowblood (1973). ©1973 Toho
The greatest Japanese cult actress of all time? Probably. Meiko Kaji made a name for herself as the leader of a delinquent girl gang in the Stray Cat Rock series (1970-71), but it's her turn as Nami 'Sasori' Matsushima in the Female Prisoner Scorpion prison series that made her a legend. Quentin Tarantino was such a fan that he used her as the model for the Lucy Liu character in Kill Bill.
Sexiest roles: Few actresses make strong, vengeful killers look as gorgeous as Kaji did in Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion (1972) and Lady Snowblood (1973), while her gangster's moll in Yakuza Graveyard (1976) showed a more vulnerable side.
Sakuran (2007). ©2007 蜷川組「さくらん」フィルム・コミッティ
Tsuchiya launched her career in the peculiar 2004 hit Kamikaze Girls, playing a ne'er-do-well biker chick who strikes up a friendship with her polar opposite, and the troublemaker image worked well for her again in Sakuran (2007). Her interviews have been strewn with expletives, and her reputation as a bit of a brawler adds to an almost anti-cute image – something that she carries off with a sassiness that's often far sexier than anything her stick-insect contemporaries can ever hope for.
Sexiest role: Kiyoha, in the screen adaptation of Moyoco Anno's Sakuran manga – a vividly coloured (and thoroughly modernised) depiction of life and rivalries in the Yoshiwara red light district. Need we say more?
Revenge of the Pearl Queen (1956)
Japan's original movie pin-up, Maeda kickstarted a craze for buxom screen sirens in the 1950s following her appearance in Revenge of the Pearl Queen (1956) – which titillated local audiences with the first nude scene in a mainstream movie. But these were still far from liberated times: when she refused a director's order to hitch up her skirt for the period drama Konpira Riseiken, Maeda was blacklisted from the industry for four decades.
Sexiest roles: The infamous nude scene in Revenge of the Pearl Queen is actually pretty chaste. Suffice to say that the ensuing series of pearl diver films put more emphasis on Maeda's curvy figure than her acting ability.
Hana to Hebi (2004)
In the world of the 'pink movie', there's a fine line between art and smut. Ms Sugimoto – best known internationally for her appearance in the Hana to Hebi series – has spent much of her career straddling it precariously. When not being subjected to onscreen humiliation, she regularly takes up the baton for female sexual empowerment in Japan: her 2003 divorce was very publicly due to a lack of sex (she wasn't satisfied), she once advertised breast enlargement candy, and she was the first Japanese model to join PETA's nude anti-fur campaign. She's also a J-pop singer, but don't let that turn you off.
Sexiest role: Her performance as Shizuko Toyama in Hana to Hebi (2004) is certainly erotic, though there's nothing subtle about it. Neither is it easy viewing – films depicting ritual debasement rarely are.