Have you ever forayed into world cinema? Have you gotten into something beyond your comfort zone and started exploring movies for what they truly offer? Once you start out on that, the barriers of geography, language and format will long be forgotten, of that you can be assured. In this article, we will explore some of the best Japanese movies of all time. Without any further ado then, take your pick.Index
|| Romantic Films
|| Action Films
|| Horror Films
|| Comedy Films
|| Animation Films
Romantic Films Let's start you out with some of the best romantic films that the Japanese film industry has to offer. These range over several time periods and types of romance -- some that are warm and fuzzy, others that essentially portray a mature theme, and more of the this and that.
1. When I Close My Eyes
Original TitleSummaryTwo years after her fiancé's death, a young woman, unable to let go of his memories, mails a letter to his childhood address. She receives a reply and is convinced that it is her dead fiancé who is corresponding with her. It is later learned that the person mailing the letters is a high school classmate of her fiancé who bears the same name as him, and has a striking resemblance to her. The story traces the relationship that develops between the two females and the mystery that shrouds the relationship between the fiancé and his namesake.
: Love LetterYear of Release
: Shunji IwaiStarring
: Miho Nakayama, Etsushi Toyokawa, Bunjaku Han, Katsuyuki Shinohara, Miki Sakai, Takashi Kashiwabara and Ranran Suzuki
2. Cyborg She
Original TitleSummaryA boy is celebrating his 20th birthday all by himself at a restaurant when a girl appears before him and starts following him around. They spend the entire evening together and he is charmed by her presence. Towards the end of the eve she leaves just as abruptly. Exactly a year later, she returns on his birthday and saves his life from an attack. In the course of the evening, it is revealed that she is a cyborg who was made by the future him in order to protect the present him. The two develop a great bond and start saving lives. In the process, he falls in loves with the cyborg, but she cannot return his feelings (because she is incapable of emotions). Unable to deal with the heartbreak, he forbids her to meet him again, and yet she continues to help him without appearing before him. Soon after, a deadly earthquake destroys Tokyo and almost kills him, but the cyborg saves him from his death -- it is in that moment that she understands his love and feels the same emotions, but it is too late and she is destroyed. He spends the remainder of his life in building her again, but cannot bring her back to life. The remains of the cyborg are put on display in the museum, and in the year 2133 a girl is shocked to see the cyborg who looks like her replica. What she does with the cyborg and what she discovers, is what makes the climax of this film truly touching.
: Boku no Kanojo wa SaibōguYear of Release
: Kwak Jae-yongStarring
: Haruka Ayase and Keisuke Koide
3. Last Love, First Love
Original TitleSummaryA young man living in the memory of a lost love and friendship has given up on life, distancing and detaching himself from everything and everyone. Overcome by depression, he tries to kill himself in the hotel room he is staying at but is saved by the young clerk who works there. She helps him through his difficult time. His employer is worried to witness his asocial behavior and asks him to take up a class at the university in the hopes that he will become more social. At the university, he meets a young girl who is the complete opposite of his personality -- she is enthusiastic and full of positive energy. The girl falls for him and tries to get close to him. She calls him over to her house to meet with the family. It is here that the man meets her sister who is the same clerk who saved his life at the hotel. In the warm setting of the household, he learns to love again and falls for the elder sister. The sister is torn between accepting his love, knowing fully well that her younger sister has fallen for him, and that she herself is suffering from a fatal disease. What will she do? Whose heart will she break? The climax answers all these questions.
: Saigo no Koi, Hajimete no KoiYear of Release
: Toma HisashiStarring
: Atsuro Watabe, Xu Jinglei and Dong Jie
4. Sky of Love
Original TitleSummaryA girl meets a rather disturbing boy through chance encounters. Though she is initially scared of his demeanor, as she starts spending more time with him, she begins to fall in love and they get into a relationship. His ex-girlfriend is jealous of their relationship and hires a group of boys to rape the girl. In spite of going through this traumatic experience, they continue their relationship and the boy continues to support her through all the hardships (bullying, miscarriage) that she faces. However, the next year he suddenly begins to distance himself away and she is clueless why. They break up and start drifting apart. The girl is highly disturbed, but moves on and gets into a new relationship. She later learns that her first boyfriend is suffering from a terminal illness and that is why he had distanced himself. She rushes to his side after learning of this. When he sees her, he wants her to leave and continue living her life, but she stays by his side. He gives in to his feelings and with her support and love, starts to show signs of improvement. Will he cheat death because of her love?
: KoizoraYear of Release
: Natsuki ImaiStarring
: Yui Aragaki, Haruma Miura and Keisuke Koide
5. I Give My First Love to You
Original TitleSummaryA boy of 8 suffers from a serious heart condition for which he is taking treatment with a cardiologist. On one of his visits to the hospital, he meets the doctor's daughter and they become friends. Their friendship continues into their teens and turns into love. They promise to marry each other when they are 20. They later learn that the boy won't live till 20 and he starts to distance himself from her because he does not want to see her hurt. They get into different relationships and live through the pain. In a weird twist of fate, her new boyfriend dies and his heart can be used for the transplant, which can give new life to the boy. Upon hearing the origin of the heart, he refuses to accept it. Does he live through it? What happens to the young couple? Is their first love successful?
: Boku no Hatsukoi wo Kimi ni SasaguYear of Release
: Takehiko ShinjoStarring
: Keiko Horiuchi, Mao Inoue, Masaki Okada, Natsuki Harada, Toru Nakamura
Others on the List ...1. From Me to You (Kimi ni Todoke)2. Heavenly Forest (Tada, Kimi wo Aishiteru)3. A Scene at the Sea (Ano natsu, ichiban shizukana umi)4. April Story (Shigatsu monogatari)5. Across a Gold Prairie (Kinpatsu no sougen)6. Dolls (Dōruzu)7. Sugar and Spice (Fumi Zekka)8. First Love (Hatsukoi)9. Lovers' Kiss (Ravuuzu Kisu)10. Signal (Shigunaru: Getsuyobi no Ruka)
Action FilmsSamurai and honor fighting -- you've got to love the theme of action. This genre offers some of the most capturing stories, some of the most deftly choreographed fight sequences and some of the most engaging climactic themes. Many action sequences and story lines of these films have been adapted and used in several film industries the world over. That's got to say something, right?
1. Seven Samurai
Original TitleSummaryA village is under attack by a band of nefarious and dangerous bandits. The villagers hire a samurai to defend the village against them. He soon gathers followers and 6 samurai join him in the mission. Together, they teach the villagers to unite and form a militia. The story stages to a final epic battle between the bandits and the samurai. What happens in this battle -- what is lost and what is won, is what forms the climax of the film. This is considered Kurosawa's masterpiece and has been adapted and remade in several languages and films.
: Shichinin No SamuraiYear of Release
: Akira KurosawaStarring
: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Keiko Tsushima
Original TitleSummaryA samurai comes to a Japanese village and finds himself in the middle of two gangs, always at war with each other. The all-powerful from both gangs want to hire him as a bodyguard for themselves -- one of whom eventually succeeds in doing so. The samurai realizes that neither gang is honorable, and devises a plan to wipe each of them out by pitting them against each other. Can he pull this feat off and will he be discovered?
: Yôjinbô Year of Release
: Akira KurosawaStarring
: Toshirô Mifune, Eijirô Tôno and Tatsuya Nakadai
Original TitleSummaryThe story is based on Shakespeare's King Lear. A king decides to renounce his crown and leave the kingdom to his three sons. The eldest two, however, care not much for their father, his principles, nor the people, and want only the power that the crown offers for their selfish gains. It is only the third son who truly respects his father and cares for the kingdom. What becomes of the clan and the kingdom in the care of the three sons? And what is the fate of them all?
: RanYear of Release
: Akira KurosawaStarring
: Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada and Yoshiko Miyazaki
4. The Twilight Samurai
Original TitleSummaryThe twilight Samurai tells the story of a poor samurai who is a widower, has two small daughters and an ailing mother, and is living in rather desolate conditions. He is a skilled swordsmen and it becomes clear to everyone when he saves the life of his friend's sister when she is attacked by her divorced husband. The friend asks him to marry her and care for her, but he refuses because of his rank in society, even though he loves her. He is then asked to fight a skilled samurai in a duel, from which he may never return. He is promised a promotion in ranking and money if he succeeds. Will he cheat death and come home to his family? Will he be able to marry the love of his life?
: Tasogare SeibeiYear of Release
: Yôji YamadaStarring
: Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa and Nenji Kobayashi
5. The Sword of Doom
Original TitleSummaryThis story traces the rise and fall of a highly skilled samurai. A master swordsmen, in rising to power he carries out several amoral acts and is convinced that he is invincible. But certain incidents force him to question his confidence. In the end, on the brink of madness, he is forced to face the ghosts of his past. The film leaves us at an open-ended climax and leaves the audience guessing.
: Dai-bosatsu TōgeYear of Release
: Kihachi OkamotoStarring
: Tatsuya Nakadai, Yuzo Kayama, Michiyo Aratama, Toshiro Mifune
Others on the List ...1. Crows Zero (Kurōzu Zero)2. Tokyo Drifter (Tôkyô nagaremono)3. Dead or Alive (Deddo oa araibu: Hanzaisha)4. The Street Fighter (Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken)5. Judo Saga (Sugata Sanshirô)6. Demons (Shura)7. Taboo (Gohatto)8. Hunter in the Dark (Yami no karyudo)9. Three Outlaw Samurai (Sanbiki no Samurai)10. Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (Zatôichi to Yôjinbô)
Horror FilmsThe genre of horror has always been a huge hit in Japan and has given us some prolific films. Popularly known as J-Horror, this genre has inspired several horror films of the West. What sets these films apart is that these are more psychological in nature than anything else -- they focus more on tension-building and anticipation rather than being the in-your-face kind of themes.
1. The Ring
Original TitleSummaryAn investigator is asked to solve the case of a mystery video that kills people within 7 days of viewing it. The story revolves around how the investigator solves the case of the troubled girl from the tape and uncovers a gruesome secret about the tape and its origin -- but not before she and her family become a part of the violence and horror. What is the mystery and does she survive it?
: RinguYear of Release
: Hideo NakataStarring
: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Ōtaka and Yoichi Numata
2. Ju-on: The Grudge
Original TitleSummaryA social worker visits a home and is overcome with the feeling that there is something terribly wrong with the house. The house is haunted by a woman and her son who were brutally murdered there. It now bears a curse and whoever comes in contact with the house suffers a similar fate. There is a spirit there and the plot reveals what has happened with the several tenants that have lived in it through the years. Will the woman survive this trauma?
: Ju-onYear of Release
: Takashi ShimizuStarring
: Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito, Misa Uehara, Takashi Matsuyama, Yuya Ozeki and Takako Fuji
3. Dark Water
Original TitleSummaryA woman moves into a new apartment with her young daughter. Soon after, she starts noticing strange happenings around the house -- water spots appear on the ceiling and other walls, a red duffel bag is spotted in different places of the apartment, the vision of a young girl about her daughter's age is seen making way. What is the mystery behind these happenings? Will the woman be able to solve the mystery and make it out of the apartment safe?
: Honogurai Mizu No Soko KaraYear of Release
: Hideo NakataStarring
: Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Mirei Oguchi, Fumiyo Kohinata
4. One Missed Call
Original TitleSummaryPeople start receiving voice messages from their future selves, giving them the exact time, date and manner in which they will meet their violent death. One by one, four people from a group meet their gruesome death, which then propels the others in the group to start investigating the mystery behind these calls and deaths. In the race against time and cheating their deaths, what do they uncover? Are they successful in what they've started out to do?
: Chakushin AriYear of Release
: Takashi MiikeStarring
: Kou Shibasaki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi, Anna Nagata, Renji Ishibashi, Atsushi Ida and Mariko Tsutsui
Original TitleSummaryA widower is quite lonely after his wife's death and his friend arranges for a fake audition so that he can choose a wife for himself. He is taken up by a young woman at the audition and soon starts to pursue her. The girl, however, is not what she appears to be. And soon enough, weird happenings start taking place. What is the mystery behind it all and what is the woman hiding?
: ÔdishonYear of Release
: Takashi MiikeStarring
: Ryo Ishibashi, Tetsu Sawaki and Eihi Shiina
Others on the List ...1. Rampo Noir (Ranpo Jigoku)2. House (Hausu)3. Unique One (Marebito)4. Infection (Kansen)5. Pulse (Kairo)6. Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya Ichi)7. Suicide Club (Jisatsu Sākuru)8. Naked Blood: Megyaku (Nekeddo burâddo: Megyaku)9. The Curse (Noroi)10. Demon Hag (Onibaba)
Comedy FilmsComedy as a genre is always a welcome relief to help de-stress and bring in some laughter. Have you ever tried watching some from a different country -- the pulse being so different, it's bound to make you get up and take notice.
Original TitleSummaryIn this delightful comedy that involves several plots that have all to do with food, the story of Tampopo takes the central position. It follows a group of young men who come together to help a woman running a failing noodle shop in turning it into a success. The film follows their adventures and whether they are finally successful in doing so.
: TampopoYear of Release
: Juzo ItamiStarring
: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Koji Yakusho and Ken Watanabe
2. It's Tough Being a Man
Original TitleSummaryThis is the first in the film series that ran from the years 1969-1995 and featured the director-actor duo -- Yoji Yamada-Kiyoshi Atsumi. The film is based on the misadventures of a good-natured man who wears his heart on his sleeve but is never lucky in finding his true love. This film follows the protagonist as he returns to his village after a long absence and traces the adventures that ensue due to his presence there.
: Otoko wa Tsurai yoYear of Release
: Yoji YamadaStarring
: Kiyoshi Atsumi, Kuruma Torajirō, Chieko Baisho, Sachiko Mitsumoto and Gin Maeda
3. Train Brain Express
Original TitleSummaryThe paths of two young men who belong to different strata of society cross and they learn that they are both avid fans of trains and everything that has to do with railroads. But besides that, they are not really confident about anything else -- may it be talking to girls or taking important decisions in life. Will they ever be able to rise from their comfort zones and face the world outside?
: Bokutachi Kyuko A-Ressha de IkouYear of Release
: Yoshimitsu MoritaStarring
: Kenichi Matsuyama, Eita, Shihori Kanjiya, Pierre Taki, Eri Murakawam, Yukari Ito, Masato Ibu, Tomoko Hoshino, Takashi Sasano, Tokuma Nishioka and Keiko Matsuzaka
4. It's Only a Little Light in My Life
Original TitleSummaryThe film traces the story of a young, independent, city girl who lives like so many other young women her age -- quite the accomplished career lady, but a slob at home. Preferring to stay at home instead of dating, life seems to just move from one mundane day to another. Then everything changes when her boss's son enters her life and the two get into a relationship. What ensues is a laugh riot following the misadventures of what is probably a mismatched pair.
: Hotaru no HikariYear of Release
: Hiroshi YoshinoStarring
: Haruka Ayase, Naohito Fujiki and Yuka Itaya
5. Kamome Diner
Original TitleSummaryA Japanese woman opens a restaurant in Finland but finds that there are no customers coming in. Then something wonderful happens -- as the days go by, people start streaming in and working for her, no questions asked. Slowly a bond develops between all of them. Will they be able to turn the restaurant into a thriving business and will we finally know why she is in Finland?
: Kamome ShokudoYear of Release
: Naoko OgigamiStarring
: Hairi Katagiri, Satomi Kobayashi, Tarja Markus, Masako Motai, Jarkko Niemi and Markku Peltola
Others on the List ...1. A Honeymoon in Hell: Mr. and Mrs. Oki's Fabulous Trip (Ohkike no Tanoshii Ryoko)2. Adrift in Tokyo (Tenten)3. Adrenaline Drive (Adorenarin doraibu)4. Achilles and the Tortoise (Akiresu to kame)5. Wrestling with a Memory (Gachi bôi)6. Happy Flight (Happī Furaito)7. The Haunted Samurai (Tsukigami)8. Cast Me If You Can (Wakiyaku monogatari)9. Chasing My Girl (Ôarai ni mo hoshi wa furu nari)10. Family Secrets (Kazoku no Hiketsu)
Animation FilmsOne of the most popular genres in Japan and something that is loved the world over, manga and anime have almost become synonymous with Japanese cinema. Given its medium, one would be tempted to conclude that manga is meant merely for children, but that is not the case. The medium is deftly used for all age groups.
1. Grave of the Fireflies
Original TitleSummaryThe story is based in the year 1945 in the ruins of Kobe city after World War II and traces the lives of a brother-sister duo. Their mother is killed in the bombings and destruction of the city, and they are forced to live with a distant aunt who is resentful of having to share the rationed food with them. Sick of the treatment meted by their aunt, they run away to live on their own. Initially, while they are taken up by the new-found freedom, they soon realize that it's not as easy as it seems. The conditions are so bad that the brother has to steal food, but it is never enough and he is unable to save his sister who dies of malnutrition. Shortly after, he learns of his father's death and can see his own impending death in the near future. The film is rich with symbolism and is a heart-wrenching story that touches a chord every time one views it.
: Hotaru no hakaYear of Release
: Isao TakahataVoices
: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara and Akemi Yamaguchi
Original TitleSummaryThe story is based in the post-apocalyptic community of Neo-Tokyo where a child (Takashi) from a secret government project breaks free from custody and has an accident with Tetsuo Shima from a motorcycle gang. When Tetsuo is taken to the hospital, it is discovered that he has the same psychic powers as that of the esper Akira, who was responsible for the destruction of the city 33 years back. In the course of the movie Tetsuo gets into a psychotic rage and he sets about destroying everything in his path. Will the city police, the motorcycle gang and the government be able to stop him from destroying what is left of Tokyo? It's a highly twisted and convoluted script, but is one of the reasons that makes this one a cult film that is revered in both, the East and the West.
: AkiraYear of Release
: Katsuhiro OtomoVoices
: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama and Taro Ishida
3. Castle in the Sky
Original TitleSummaryA young girl with a mysterious locket falls from the sky and is caught by a young man. Soon after, a gang of air pirates and the military begin chasing the duo. They are in search of a floating castle called Laputa and they are convinced that the young girl is somehow connected with it. The film traces the adventures of the duo as they try to escape from the gangs and solve the mystery of the castle.
: Tenkû no shiro RapyutaYear of Release
: Hayao MiyazakiVoices
: Keiko Yokozawa, Mayumi Tanaka, Kotoe Hatsui and Minori Terada
Original TitleSummaryA goldfish princess comes in contact with a 5 year old boy and wants to turn into a human being to explore the world outside the ocean world. Using magic, she transforms into a human being and comes to live with the boy's family. But the balance of the world goes all topsy-turvy because of the magic used and it results in a Tsunami. Will balance ever be restored in the world? Will Ponyo be able to live on land or will she have to go back to the sea?
: Gake no ue no PonyoYear of Release
: Hayao MiyazakiVoices
: Tomoko Yamaguchi, Kazushige Nagashima, Yūki Amami, George Tokoro, Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Rumi Hiiragi, Akiko Yano, Kazuko Yoshiyuki and Tomoko Naraoka
5. Spirited Away
Original TitleSummaryDuring the move to a new place, a young girl wanders into an abandoned amusement park along with her parents and is surprised to find what seems like the smell of freshly cooked food. Her parents turn into pigs upon tasting the food and the girl runs away from the place. Soon after, she befriends a young boy and he helps her understand the ways of that place. With his help, she must now save her parents and escape from the park. Will she succeed?
: Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushiYear of Release
: Hayao MiyazakiVoices
: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takashi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Takehiko Ono and Bunta Sugawara
Others on the List ...1. The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti)2. My Neighbors the Yamadas (Hōhokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun)3. Ocean Waves (Umi ga Kikoeru)4. From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka Kara)5. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Kaguya-hime no Monogatari)6. Kiki's Delivery Service (Majo no takkyûbin)7. My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro)8. 5 Centimeters Per Second (Byôsoku 5 senchimêtoru)9. Whisper of the Heart (Mimi wo sumaseba)10. Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime)
ClassicsThe classics that portray the life of the common man. There are no pretenses and there are no larger-than-life scenarios, and that is where they succeed in capturing our hearts -- we can identify with them. The stark reality of life is placed before us and no excuses are made.
1. Late Spring
Original TitleSummaryA widower lives with his young daughter, and though she is of a marriageable age, she refuses to marry because she does not want to leave her father alone. The man realizes that she is adamant and decides to go in for a second marriage so that she is forced to leave the house. Will he actually go through with it and succeed in getting his daughter married? A touching story that plays mainly on human emotions, and simple characters.
: BanshunYear of Release
: Yasujirô OzuStarring
: Chishû Ryû, Setsuko Hara and Yumeji Tsukioka
2. Tokyo Story
Original TitleSummaryThe story revolves around an old couple who decide to visit their children in Tokyo. They go there with great excitement, but are sorely disappointed when they discover that their children have no time for them. They are so busy in their own lives that the parents seem to cause an obstacle in the household. The only solace they find is in their widowed daughter-in-law who seems to go out of her way to make them feel comfortable and at home. It is later learned that she is as alone as they are. The story revolves around the degeneration of human behavior and emotions and is a sincere portrayal of modern-day Japan.
: Tôkyô MonogatariYear of Release
: Yasujirô OzuStarring
: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama and Setsuko Hara
Original TitleSummaryThe story centers around two over-ambitious individuals who dream of things that are beyond their capacity. In order to gain these, they are willing to go to any lengths while ignoring their duties and families. Will this result in bringing doom and despair upon their families and themselves?
: Ugetsu MonogatariYear of Release
: Kenji MizoguchiStarring
: Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyō and Kinuyo Tanaka
4. Sansho the Bailiff
Original TitleSummaryAfter a compassionate governor is sent into exile, his children and wife are separated and forced into prostitution and slavery. The children grow up amidst great oppression, but always harbor the want to find their parents again. At one juncture, the brother and sister duo escape the estate of the evil master and set out on their journey to find their parents. Will they succeed in doing so?
: Sanshô DayûYear of Release
: Kenji MizoguchiStarring
: Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Kyōko Kagawa and Eitarō Shindō
5. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums
Original TitleSummaryThe story revolves around the struggle of a young actor who tries to rid himself of his father's name and create a name for himself in the field of acting. Everyone praises him only due to his family name, but criticize him behind his back. The only person who is honest with him and encourages him to pursue his dream is a servant girl. He falls in love with her and leaves home to be with her and make a name for himself. Will he ever make it big and what will he have to sacrifice to get there?
: Zangiku MonogatariYear of Release
: Kenji MizoguchiStarring
: Shôtarô Hanayagi, Kôkichi Takada and Gonjurô Kawarazaki
Others on the List ...1. Rashomon (Rashômon)2. Harakiri (Seppuku)3. Hachikō (Hachikô monogatari)4. The Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna)5. Gate of Hell (Jigokumon)6. Floating Weeds (Ukikusa)7. Double Suicide (Shinjû: Ten no amijima)8. Fires on the Plain (Nobi)9. The Burmese Harp (Biruma no tategoto)10. Floating Clouds (Ukigumo)
What's more left to be said? Not much else, no. Simply pick out a list of your choice and start viewing them. You'll enjoy them thoroughly, you'll see.Please Note:
- These lists are given in a general order and there is no particular ranking system of the same.
- All the films listed in this article are the author's personal choice.