Motegi - Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso kept his fading MotoGP title hopes alive on Saturday by snatching pole for the Japanese Grand Prix in a frantic late dash.
The Italian, who realistically needs to emulate his 2017 victory in Japan to delay Marc Marquez's coronation, clocked a fastest lap of one minute, 44.590 seconds, with his Spanish rival sixth quickest.
Marquez, Dovizioso or Jorge Lorenzo have topped qualifying at the last nine races.
That streak was almost brought to a halt as Jack Miller roared to the top of the timesheets late on, but after the Australian subsequently skidded off, Dovizioso and Yamaha's Johann Zarco produced some sudden-death fireworks to demote him to third.
"We did what we expected to do," said Dovizioso. "We were able to improve this afternoon and make a really good lap time.
"But Marc has a really good pace for the race and he's well placed too, so it will be a hard battle."
Cal Crutchlow (Honda), Andrea Iannone (Suzuki) and Marquez (Honda) will start Sunday's race from the second row of the grid, with Maverick Vinales (Yamaha), Alex Rins (Suzuki) and Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) behind them.
Marquez, who leads Dovizioso by 77 points with a maximum 100 points available from the final four races this season, can capture his third straight world crown if he finishes ahead of the Italian.
The runaway championship leader limbered up for qualifying with a quickest lap in the final free practice, despite a late spill.
But although he starts from sixth, Marquez will fancy his chances of wrapping up a third-straight title - his fifth overall - in motorcycling's premier class, which would equal Australian legend Mick Doohan.
"If I want to claim the title, I'll have to go for the victory," said Marquez, who will be chasing an eighth win of the year on Sunday.
"Obviously we're not in the best position but we don't have to take too many risks - I already fell off once today. I have four races to do it so I'm still confident."
The 25-year-old would trail only Italians Rossi, who won the last of his seven championships in 2009, and Giacomo Agostini, whose record eighth came in 1975.