Home Japanese Language 25 Greatest Japanese Films of All Time That Everybody Should Watch

25 Greatest Japanese Films of All Time That Everybody Should Watch

25 Greatest Japanese Films of All Time That Everybody Should Watch


Japanese motion pictures have gone via many phases all through historical past.

Embark on a journey of one of the best Japanese motion pictures of all time, from the Golden Age of the Nineteen Fifties, via closely war-influenced flicks and all the best way as much as anime—and past. 

Sit down and luxuriate in as we undergo a few of the most influential and essential traditional Japanese motion pictures, from the Twenties all the best way to the twenty first century.


1. “Shin Ultraman” (2022)

Style: Horror, sci-fi

Abstract: On this reboot of the well-known Sixties franchise, an alien named Ultraman joins forces with earthlings to battle in opposition to big monsters

Directed by: Shinji Higuchi

Discover it on: Not obtainable for streaming but—catch it in theaters!

Shinji Higuchi is the rising chief of kaiju—movies categorized by big monsters—and tokusatsu—movies that use heavy particular results. Higuchi is on the helm of a trilogy of retellings: “Shin Godzilla,” (2016), “Shin Ultraman” (2022) and “Shin Kamen Rider” (scheduled for launch in 2023).

In “Shin Ultraman,” an alien involves Earth to assist Earthlings combat in opposition to impending doom within the type of kaiju and cosmic horrors. Along with a particular power (the SSSP), people and alien band collectively to guard the Earth and every part on it!

2. “Your Identify” (2016)

Style: Anime, fantasy

Abstract: A boy attending highschool in Tokyo and a woman residing within the countryside abruptly swap our bodies, on this poignant animated movie

Directed by: Makoto Shinkai

Discover it on: Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu

Shinkai is shortly turning into a family identify around the globe. The director’s lovely animations are identified for being poignant and touching motion pictures that discover feelings and humanity with a aspect of fantasy.

“Your Identify” launched the director to the world with the story of a boy and a woman who abruptly swap our bodies. The movie explores themes of belonging and discovering your house, in addition to the significance of significant connections.

For those who’re studying Japanese, this can be a nice film for studying pure, fashionable Japanese, because the characters are principally school-aged. Even the trailer is usually a supply of studying, particularly whenever you watch it on FluentU.

FluentU is a web site and iOS and Android app that takes lots of of genuine Japanese movies—like trailers, clips, commercials, music movies and extra—and turns them into self-contained language classes.

Movies have subtitles obtainable in Japanese, furigana and English, all of which might be toggled on or off as wanted. As you watch the movies, you possibly can hover over any phrase to see an in-depth which means, together with instance sentences and video clips.

3. “Candy Bean” (2015)

Style: Drama

Abstract: A burned out dorayaki vendor slowly warms as much as life and his profession when he hires an older girl with deformed fingers to show him how you can make do-it-yourself candy bean paste

Directed by: Naomi Kawase

Discover it on: Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Vudu

Based mostly on the e book by Durian Sukegawa, “Candy Bean” follows the story of a person who makes dorayaki—candy buns crammed with pink bean paste. He’s struggling to search out which means in his life and work, which he doesn’t notably get pleasure from, when an previous girl seems to provide him a brand new pink bean recipe… and a brand new outlook on life.

Director Naomi Kawase had her begin in household documentaries, and that is evident in her work, which humanizes her characters in a practical manner. Word that, sadly, Kawase is the one feminine director talked about in our checklist. For a extra in-depth have a look at the ladies disrupting the principally male panorama of Japanese cinema, have a learn via this Hollywood Reporter article.

4. “Tag” (2015)

Style: Motion, horror

Abstract: “Tag” is a splatterfest of more and more absurd deaths and gore that focus on one college lady as she finds her place in an odd world

Directed by: Sion Sono

Discover it on: Vudu, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Apple TV, Tubi

Sion Sono’s works are identified for being weird and surreal with a heaping serving of violence and eroticism. His motion pictures usually concentrate on outcasts and odd characters, and normally go away you pondering “what the heck did I simply watch!?”

“Tag” isn’t any completely different. It’s a trippy, hyper-violent film that begins with a college area journey that goes terribly awry when a freak accident beheads everybody on the bus besides the primary character. It’s equal components horrendous and hilarious—and issues solely escalate from there.

5. “Millennium Actress” (2001)

Style: Anime, fantasy

Abstract: A lovely anime primarily based on the previous, current and way forward for a retired actress—intertwining actuality with fiction

Directed by: Satoshi Kon

Discover it on: Apple TV, Google Play Films, Tubi

When a film studio shuts down, two documentary makers got down to make a movie concerning the studio’s most well-known actress. After years of retirement each from appearing and the general public eye, the actress agrees to an interview to inform her life story. What follows is a visit via the previous, seen via the completely different roles and genres the actress has starred in since her debut simply after WWII.

“Millenium Actress” options director and mangaka Satoshi Kon’s signature mixing of actuality with fiction and desires till you’re unsure the place one ends and the opposite begins.

6. “Spirited Away” (2001)

Style: Anime, youngsters’s fantasy

Abstract: This critically-acclaimed movie is an adventurous, animated movie crammed with bravery, mythology and lore that fulfills your creativeness

Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

Discover it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play Films

“Spirited Away” follows a younger lady whose dad and mom are inexplicably changed into pigs in slightly deserted village on the best way to a brand new home. To get them again, she begins working in a bathhouse that serves monsters and spirits, taking over highly effective witches and forming an unlikely bond with a dragon. And, within the course of, she may simply discover herself, too.

Studio Ghibli movies are sometimes primarily based on books, however “Spirited Away” is a very unique creation. The film attracts inspiration from Japanese mythology and lore, in addition to Hayao Miyazaki’s personal childhood experiences. 

7. “Battle Royale” (2000)

Style: Drama, horror

Abstract: A cult traditional and extremely celebrated Japanese horror movie, “Battle Royale” depicts a particularly violent and controversial battle between high-school college students that doesn’t bode nicely

Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku

Discover it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play Films, Tubi

On this gorefest of a movie, 42 high-school college students are dropped at an island, armed with weapons and informed that solely certainly one of them can survive. If anybody breaks a rule, their particular collar explodes, taking their head with it. Allegiances are cast and damaged as the teenagers deal with the predicament in their very own methods, and it’s not lengthy earlier than blood begins spilling.

At its most simple stage, “Battle Royale” is an extremely enjoyable film to observe. Analyzing it nearer reveals the theme of a stark generational divide, a problem that Japan has struggled with over time. 

It may be value noting that though this kids-against-kids storyline may sound acquainted, Suzanne Collins insists that it isn’t an affect for “The Starvation Video games.”

8. “Ringu/Ring” (1998)

Style: Horror, psychological thriller

Abstract: “Ringu” is a horrifying psychological thriller that may creep beneath your pores and skin and into the recesses of your thoughts—leaving you shaken and stirred indefinitely

Directed by: Hideo Nakata

Discover it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play Films, Tubi

Based mostly on a e book by Koji Suzuki, “Ringu” (Ring) popularized Japanese horror around the globe and led to numerous remakes and spinoffs. The film fuses horror with know-how—you’re most likely accustomed to its well-known scene of a creepy lady crawling out of a TV set.

Within the film, a reporter investigates some mysterious deaths and finds an odd VHS recording related to the deaths. After watching the tape, a telephone name informs her that she has seven days to interrupt the curse, or she’ll die, too.

9. “Akira” (1988)

Style: Anime, cyberpunk

Abstract: A younger boy develops dangerous and highly effective telekinetic powers after being a part of a secret authorities undertaking

Directed by: Katsuhiro Otomo

Discover it on: Hulu, Tubi (observe that each these choices are dubbed, not subbed)

When a member of a biker gang in post-apocalyptic Tokyo is injured in a crash, he’s whisked away by the federal government to be studied. It seems, this biker now has telekinetic powers, and he doesn’t plan to make use of them for good. Now it’s as much as a bunch of teenagers to cease him. Absolutely, nothing can go mistaken.

The film sparked a sci-fi and cyberpunk revolution, influencing not simply different motion pictures within the genres, but additionally completely infiltrating the Western world and opening the door for subsequent anime like “Pokémon” and “Dragon Ball Z” to turn out to be childhood classics exterior of Japan.

10. “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988)

Style: Anime, youngsters’s movie

Abstract: “Grave of the Fireflies” tells the heartbreaking story of two younger siblings in World Battle II-era Japan

Directed by: Isao Takahata

Discover it on: Amazon DVD/Blu-ray, Apple TV

“Grave of the Fireflies” is directed by the co-founder of Studio Ghibli and primarily based on a semi-autobiographical brief story by Akiyuki Nosaka.

The film follows a younger boy and his little sister caught in the midst of World Battle II. Their father is deployed within the conflict, their mom is useless from a bombing and their aunt doesn’t need them. Alone in an deserted bomb shelter, the lady turns into sick from malnutrition.

The opening scenes make it clear that this film doesn’t have a contented ending, but it’s nonetheless heart-wrenching to observe.

11. “Tampopo” (1985)

Style: Comedy, western

Abstract: “Tampopo” throws American Westerns and ramen noodles right into a blender and spits out a snarky, hilarious celebration of meals

Directed by: Juzo Itami

Discover it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Criterion, Google Play Films, YouTube

In “Tampopo,” two truck drivers train a ramen restaurant proprietor how you can truly make good ramen. It’s absurd, ridiculous and completely great. It’s truly subtitled A Ramen Western—a foolish nod to the “spaghetti western” style. 

The comedy performs with stereotypes, riffing on each American and Japanese customs and traditions. Beneath a humorous exterior, “Tampopo” takes a have a look at the affect that western tradition has had on Japan, and the way it’s usually met with reluctance. 

12. “Battles With out Honor and Humanity” (1973)

Style: Crime, drama

Abstract: A former Japanese soldier falls into a lifetime of crime and leads to jail, the place he befriends an inmate

Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku

Discover it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play Films, Tubi

Yakuza movies function motion, honor and bloody deaths, and “Battles With out Honor and Humanity” was one of many first. The film has been in comparison with “The Godfather,” which got here out a 12 months earlier and equally influenced the popular culture of the time. 

In “Battles With out Honor and Humanity,” an ex-soldier is positioned in the midst of shifting powers and evolving conflicts, taking a really difficult path to the highest of energy. The movie—primarily based partly on actual folks—takes place over the course of over 10 years following World Battle II. 

13. “Dying by Hanging” (1968)

Style: Crime, drama

Abstract: A younger Korean man is sentenced to “Dying by Hanging” after committing the violent rape and homicide of two women

Directed by: Nagisa Oshima

Discover it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Criterion, Google Play Films

In “Dying by Hanging,” a Korean man is sentenced to, you guessed it, dying by hanging. However—shock!—the hanging doesn’t go as anticipated and the person doesn’t truly die. As an alternative, he solely loses his reminiscence. This poses an enormous drawback for his would-be executioners. In any case, you possibly can’t kill a person for his crime if he has no reminiscence of committing the crime, are you able to? 

In a satirical mockumentary model of presentation, the officers charged together with his execution proceed to strive alternative ways to get the Korean to recollect his crimes, together with a reenactment that will get only a bit too actual.

14. “Kimba, the White Lion” (1966)

Style: Animation, household

Abstract: “Kimba, the White Lion” depicts the age-old battle between people and the animals whose territory they encroach on 

Directed by: Eiichi Yamamoto

Discover it on: Funimation, Pluto TV

This film is about an orphaned white lion cub who survives in opposition to all odds with the assistance of different animals. He’s taken in by some people, who handle him and train him about human tradition.

However, in contrast to many different movies on the subject which take the stance that “man dangerous, animal good,” Kimba realizes that people aren’t all evil, and comes to grasp that the one strategy to obtain peace is to advertise cooperation between people and animals.

Past the environmental themes and Disney parallels, this film is essential due to its unique collection creator, the one and solely “father of anime” and “Disney of Japan,” Osamu Tezuka.

15. “Lady within the Dunes” (1964)

Style: Drama, suspense

Abstract: This erotic nightmare portrays a shocking and unnerving connection between an novice entomologist and a younger widow

Directed by: Hiroshi Teshigahara

Discover it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Criterion

A bug-loving man visits the center of a desert to check a brand new form of beetle, however he misses the bus residence. He agrees to spend the evening with a lady who lives on the backside of an enormous sand pit, offering sand to the villagers above (as a result of, clearly, they don’t have sufficient of it).

The person climbs down a ladder to affix her… and the following day, wakes as much as discover the ladder gone. This marks the start of his new life, finishing the each day Sisyphean activity of shoveling sand with the lady of their sandy pit of despair.

Based mostly on the novel by Kobo Abe (and utilizing a script additionally written by the writer), “Lady  within the Dunes” has sturdy psychological and erotic threads operating all through it. 

16. “An Actor’s Revenge” (1963)

Style: Drama

Abstract: “An Actor’s Revenge” follows the story of a Kabuki actor’s willpower to avenge the deaths of his beloved dad and mom

Directed by: Kon Ichikawa

Discover it on: Amazon DVD/Blu-ray, Amazon Prime, Criterion

In “An Actor’s Revenge,” a Kabuki actor with a specialty in portraying girls encounters the three individuals who induced his dad and mom’ dying. Naturally, he begins to plot his revenge.

Whereas the film principally follows a conventional model of filmmaking, it has hints of the extra experimental and avant-garde nature of the New Wave cinema that was beginning to emerge within the 60s. It makes some unconventional selections, chief amongst them being using colours in a daring, new manner that makes actors and sure background parts pop.

17. “13 Assassins” (1963)

Style: Motion, drama 

Abstract: A traditional chanbara (Samurai sword-fighting) film about corruption and honor, and the place the 2 diverge

Directed by: Eiichi Kudo

Discover it on: Amazon DVD/Blu-ray

“13 Assassins” begins, fittingly, with a dying. When a lord of excessive standing commits a horrible crime, it’s instantly hushed as much as defend his good identify. A plot to assassinate the lord is hatched, and the battle begins in earnest.

On one aspect, an excellent man is appointed to guard the lord—regardless of hating him. On the opposite aspect, a talented murderer is tasked with the suicidal mission of killing the lord—after which himself. The murderer recruits 12 others to assist him and collectively, the “13 assassins” go up in opposition to the lord’s small military utilizing solely their wits, abilities and a few strategically laid traps.

The film makes use of samurai as an allegory for the cultural turmoil of the 60s, when Japanese folks began to query the ideas of blindly following custom and cultural norms.

18. “Harakiri” (1962)

Style: Motion, drama

Abstract: “Harakiri” shines a light-weight on how an emblem of honor and bravado might be twisted by corrupt authority figures

Directed by: Masaki Kobayashi

Discover it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Criterion

“Harakiri”—touted as the most effective samurai movies of all time—follows a ronin (wandering samurai with no grasp) within the seventeenth century, after preventing has ceased. The ronin travels to a feudal lord to request the one honorable strategy to finish his profession as a samurai, with the ceremony of harakiri, often known as seppuku—disemboweling himself earlier than different samurai, then having his lifeless physique beheaded.

Nonetheless, the ronin learns that, shortly earlier than he arrived, his son-in-law had been compelled to take his personal life by way of harakiri with a boring bamboo sword. This, understandably, upsets the ronin and as a substitute of ending his life, he turns his sword in opposition to opponents as soon as once more.

19. “The Hidden Fortress” (1958)

Style: Journey, drama

Abstract: “The Hidden Fortress” is an action-filled, adventurous movie that includes one of many strongest feminine characters of its time

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

Discover it on: Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Criterion

The film begins with two companions touring via a desert, consistently bickering. The 2 are captured and cut up up, then ultimately reunited and positioned answerable for the primary plot level: Escort a princess and her older male companion again to her residence. Alongside the best way, they encounter many perils, together with a ruthless slave dealer. On the finish of their journey, the group faces off in opposition to a villain with a scarred face. 

Sound acquainted? If it feels like I’m describing the primary “Star Wars” movie, you’re not too far off: George Lucas has cited “The Hidden Fortress” as an inspiration for the sci-fi film, particularly in the best way each tales are informed from the standpoint of the bottom folks within the social ladder.

20. “Godzilla” (1954)

Style: Horror, sci-fi

Abstract: Nuclear weapons testing awakens a radio-active, big, dinosaur-like monster from his slumber within the sea, wreaking havoc on Japan

Directed by: Ishiro Honda

Discover it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Criterion

Publish-WWII Japanese media is closely influenced by the devastating dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And some of the well-known examples of this affect might be present in a title that’s turn out to be identified the world over: “Godzilla.”

Because the Japanese army and navy strive to determine how you can kill Godzilla, one man desires to check it, to keep away from the identical form of mistake sooner or later. Will science or violence win? Let’s face it, you most likely already know the reply.

21. “Tokyo Story” (1953)

Style: Drama

Abstract: “Tokyo Story” follows an getting old couple’s journey to go to their grown youngsters in postwar Tokyo

Directed by: Yasujiro Ozu

Discover it on: Apple TV, Criterion, Google Play Films

“Tokyo Story” introduces two aged dad and mom who resolve to pay their grownup youngsters a go to. As they journey from offspring to offspring, they’re met with reluctance, as a substitute of the love and deference they anticipated. Their hosts—except for one daughter—are simply too busy to entertain these geezers who abruptly appeared of their lives! 

It’s solely after the aged couple head residence that their youngsters notice how essential it’s to spend extra time with your loved ones. However at that time, it could simply be too little, too late.

“Tokyo Story” will remind you that, regardless of how swamped with work and life you may be, you must by no means be too busy for your loved ones.

22. “Rashomon” (1950)

Style: Drama, psychological thriller

Abstract: “Rashomon” is a riveting psychological thriller that investigates the character of fact and the which means of justice

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

Discover it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Criterion

“Rashomon” loosely attracts inspiration (and its identify) from two brief tales by Ryunosuke Akutagawa and is the film that put Akira Kurosawa on the map as a director. It additionally launched the West to Japanese movies in earnest, turning into the primary Japanese film to be picked up by a serious studio for launch in North America

The film opens with a criminal offense in a forest: A feminine noble is assaulted and her samurai husband is murdered. From there, we see the occasions of the crime as they occurred from the standpoint of the violated girl, a woodcutter, a bandit and even the ghost of the samurai. But, though all 4 characters witnessed the crime, none of their tales match up—and every claims duty for the crimes.

23. “Late Spring” (1949)

Style: Drama

Abstract: “Late Spring” shines a highlight on girls and their place in Japanese society as caretakers and wives

Directed by: Yasujiro Ozu

Discover it on: Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Criterion, Tubi

“Late Spring” tells the story of the 27-year-old daughter of an aged man, torn between her familial duties to handle her father, and his (and society’s) stress for her to marry. It’s a melancholy story of affection, household and trying to find a stability between private need and society’s expectations.

The legendary Yasujiro Ozu was certainly one of Japan’s most beloved administrators, and his works lifted motion pictures from the realm of realism and sculpted them easily right into a type of artwork. The film fully omits essential moments, leaving the viewer to fill within the gaps, whereas inserting an enormous significance on seemingly insignificant occasions, giving it a dreamy high quality.

24. “The Story of the Final Chrysanthemums” (1939)

Style: Drama, romance

Abstract: It is a movie about forbidden love that takes a crucial have a look at the best way girls in Japanese society had been anticipated to sacrifice their very own lives and ambitions for males

Directed by: Kenji Mizoguchi

Discover it on: Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Criterion, Google Play Films, YouTube

On this movie, we watch the adopted son of a well-known Kabuki actor attempt to make a reputation for himself. As he struggles together with his appearing and residential life, the actor turns to his brother’s nurse for consolation.

The film closely contains a theme that was essential for the director, Kenji Mizoguchi: the position of girls in society. When Mizoguchi was a toddler, his teenage sister was compelled to turn out to be a geisha, an expertise that influenced a lot of his works.

The “Story of the Final Chrysanthemums,” marks the start of his rise to mastery, and fantastically represents motion pictures of that point interval. 

25. “A Web page of Insanity” (1926) 

Style: Drama, suspense

Abstract: The low-budget silent movie “A Web page of Insanity,” takes an uncomfortably shut have a look at insanity

Directed by: Teinosuke Kinugasa

Discover it on: Amazon DVD/Blu-ray, Amazon Prime

When his spouse is imprisoned in a psychological establishment, a person takes a job as a janitor at her asylum with the hopes of breaking her out. However his each try and “free” her from her confinement is thwarted, ultimately main him down his personal path to madness. 

This surreal, experimental movie marks the true begin of the age of flicks in Japan. Japanese movies actually took off within the Twenties and “A Web page of Insanity,” is a superb instance of this experimental stage in Japanese movie historical past.

The result’s unsettling and haunting, exploring the tremendous line between insanity and sanity.


Thus ends our journey via the years with traditional Japanese motion pictures. These 25 picks will function an important introduction into the historical past of Japanese cinema and the trail it’s taken to get to the place it’s immediately.

Whether or not you’re into experimental surrealism, excessive realism, social commentary, taboo breaking, emotional poignancy, beautiful animation and even hyper-violence, you’re certain to search out your new favourite amongst these!