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How to Find a Movie Theater Near You

If you’re ready for a fun night out at the movies, it all starts with choosing where to go and what to see. From national chains to local movie theaters, there are tons of different choices available. Here are the best ways to find a movie theater near you.

Fandango is the leader in the movie theater ticketing business. So naturally, the website is a great place to go to figure what the current movies are in theaters right now. The theater search is very simple, just enter your city or zip code. It will then populate a list of the theaters nearest to you, including all of the movies playing and their show times.

Local Discount Theaters

If seeing the new theater movie release isn’t as important as going out without breaking the bank, check out your local discount theaters. These can be more difficult to locate, because there’s no national directory of them. However, you can simply do a Google search for them. Typically called “Discount” theaters or “Second-Run” theaters, there’s typically several in most cities. If you’re a beer lover, you may be able to locate theaters that serve restaurant food and drinks rather than the usual theater fare.

In addition to housing one of the most trusted movie ratings online, IMDB offers information on movie theaters and their showtimes. Simply set your location and see a list of available theaters and showtimes. A bonus is that you can easily see the IMDB ratings for different movies, so you can have a good idea of whether something will be to your liking or not before heading out.

IMAX Theaters

IMAX theaters offer a more immersive movie experience than traditional theaters. From bigger screens, better images and realistic audio, some of the best new movies are better viewed in IMAX. It’s the best option for movie connoisseurs that simply want the ultimate experience. To check your local theater’s 3D movie schedule, check the IMAX website and enter your address under the “Find a Theatre” tab.

3D Theaters

Major movie theater chains offer Real3D movies, which are super fun for both adults and kids. Simply wear 3D goggles and enjoy an added dimension to regular flicks. AMC, Cinemark and Regal Cinemas all offer this option, which is available for select films.

The technology is all digital and theaters are typically available in major cities. Just like local discount theaters, there’s not a single comprehensive resource for the 3D theaters. So the best way to find them is on Fandango or Google.


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Filme, Cinema, Ran - Os Senhores da Guerra (1985)

The 50 best Japanese movies of all time

Samurai spectaculars, period epics, terrifying horrors and glorious animes

Thanks to the likes of Hirokazu Kore-eda, Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Mamoru Hosoda, Japanese cinema is in rude health. It’s the home of one of the greatest filmmakers to ever stride the planet in Akira Kurosawa, but he’s not the only GOAT candidate Japan has produced – heck, there’s a whole field’s worth of them. Yasujirō Ozu, Hayao Miyazaki, Kenji Mizoguchi and the chin-stroking cineaste’s pick, Kon Ichikawa, all deserve a place in the firmament too. Between them, they’ve made a vast contribution to the movie canon and bridged the gap between east and west with classics as varied as Tokyo Story , Seven Samurai and My Neighbor Totoro . 

The country’s booming silent era gave way to a post-war golden age, which in turn spawned a punky, provocative ’60s New Wave and an explosion in anime. Masterpieces abound, many of them vastly influential in the US and Europe, and a cultural osmosis has seen ideas exchanged between like-minded creators like Kurosawa and John Ford and Studio Ghibli and Pixar. Tarantino and Scorsese are apostles of this remarkable national cinema, and Godzilla continues to roar in Hollywood blockbusters. But there’s so much to get stuck into, it’s not always easy to know where to begin. To coincide with a special Akira Kurosawa season at London’s BFI Southbank  and the theatrical release of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s new film,  Broker , we’ve taken a deep dive into the best of this god-level national cinema. Allow us to take you on a tour of the ultimate Nihon gold nuggets. RECOMMENDED :

🇰🇷  The greatest Korean films of all time 🇫🇷  The 100 best French movies ever made

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The greatest Japanese movies

Seven Samurai (1954)

1.  Seven Samurai (1954)

Director : Akira Kurosawa

If you’re looking for an entry point to Japanese cinema, or world cinema – or, shoot, just cinema in general – consider this your diving board. For experts, it probably seems a bit remedial at this point, but the most masterful of Akira Kurosawa’s many masterpieces has served as a gateway for generations of filmgoers precisely because of its simplicity. An impoverished Japanese village is besieged by bandits, so the townspeople pool their resources to hire a ragtag group of samurai to protect them. From that basic foundation, Kurosawa spins an epic that is, at turns, exhilarating, funny and emotionally resonant, not to mention highly influential – Hollywood has lifted the plot for everything from The Magnificent Seven to A Bug’s Life . Its 207 minute runtime might seem daunting, but trust us: you’ve never felt two and a half hours whizz by so quickly.— Matt Singer

Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)

2.  Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)

Director :  Kenji Mizoguchi Japanese cinema tells a great ghost story – Kwaidan , Onibaba , The Ring et al – and there are few better than Kenji Mizoguchi’s spooky jidaigeki film. Ugetsu (‘Monogatari’ means story) was a breakthrough hit at European festivals, a gateway drug for western cinephiles beginning to discover the power and craft of Japan moviemaking. And it has both in spades, as its long sweeping camera moves follow a humble potter as he swipes right on a mysterious temptress (dude, she’s a ghost!), while his wife and child suffer back home. Backdropped by civil war, its deep humanity and sympathy for women in violent times still hit hard 70 years on.— Phil de Semlyen

Tokyo Story (1953)

3.  Tokyo Story (1953)

Director : Yasujiro Ozu Ozu made movies that drive a stake through your heart so softly and slowly you don’t even know how deeply they’ve pierced you until it’s too late. With this family drama, the director achieved the apogee of his unique quiet brand of devastation. On the surface, it’s the simple story of two grandparents visiting their adult children in Tokyo – not exactly riveting stuff. But what transpires is a rather brutal examination of ageing, parenting and flawed humanity in modern Japan. It’ll leave anyone with a parent in a state of contemplative silence afterward – or racing to the phone to give them a call.— Matt Singer

Rashomon (1949)

4.  Rashomon (1949)

Director :  Akira Kurosawa One of the most influential films in all of cinema, the legacy of Rashomon ’s multi-perspective storytelling can be felt in everything from The Usual Suspects to Gone Girl . And there’s not too many Japanese movies that get namechecked on The Simpsons (‘Come on, Homer, Japan will be fun! You liked Rashomon.’ ‘That’s not how I remember it’). Kurosawa shows us the same incident – the murder of a samurai in the Kyoto countryside – from four perspectives (one from beyond the grave) and leads us down a rabbit warren of conflicting tales and shaky evidence. What really happened? Well, don’t trust our version.— Phil de Semlyen

Late Spring (1949)

5.  Late Spring (1949)

Director : Yasujiro Ozu Like a cinematic Tardis, Yasujiro Ozu’s melancholy dad-and-daughter drama looks small from the outside while containing multitudes within. A widowed professor (Chishu Ryu) wants to see his 27-year-old daughter (Setsuko Hara) married, even at the cost of his own happiness. She’s appalled by the idea, happily continuing to tend to him, so he decides to feigns a remarriage of his own. Nothing in Ozu’s famously quiet, still films is accidental and here he finds a myriad of ways to chart that place where noble and murky intentions bleed into one another. It’s one of the greatest weepies of world cinema – even Ryu’s wistful sighs are enough to break your heart.— Phil de Semlyen

Woman in the Dunes (1964) 

6.  Woman in the Dunes (1964) 

Director : Hiroshi Teshigahara

An amateur entomologist goes out on a beach expedition and ends up trapped in a deep dune, unable to climb back out and stuck with a nameless woman who lives there, tasked with the Sisyphean task of shovelling sand in buckets sent off to the villagers. Trapped, they live in a little hut at the bottom of the dune. Woman in the Dunes is a spellbinding and surreal film on the everyday malaise of domesticity that draws you into a dream-like state.— Anna Bogutskaya

Spirited Away (2001) 

7.  Spirited Away (2001) 

Director : Hayao Miyazaki 

The spellbinding world depicted in Spirited Away i s a place that only exists in the brilliant imagination of Hayao Miyazaki, but fans still travel far and wide to hunt down real-life locations that either resemble or inspired the film’s peculiar bathhouse. Rich in symbolism and full of captivating characters, including a spirit with a voracious appetite and a six-legged boilerman, this stunning Oscar-winner is a testament to the value of hand-drawing anime in an increasingly digitised world (even if it’s at a rate of one minute of animation per month). — Emma Steen 

Akira (1988)

8.  Akira (1988)

Director : Katsuhiro Otomo

Based on director Katsuhiro Otomo’s own sci-fi manga epic, Akira ’s vision of the future (now in our past, being set in 2019) is vastly influential. You can see traces of it in everything that calls itself ‘cyberpunk’ – not to mention its iconic bike slide sequence that’s been homaged in animations ever since. Its visuals are staggering, with gaudy capitalist wastelands depicted in eye-popping colours, and the animation, which injects some gross body horror into the mix, is endlessly inventive. It all elevates a rather simple emotional story of disaffected youth, as biker gang leader Kaneda’s rivalry with childhood friend Tetsuo explodes outward to a level of cosmic consequence.— Kambole Campbell

Harakiri (1962)

9.  Harakiri (1962)

Director : Masaki Kobayashi Culminating in an orgy of against-the-odds violence that makes Kill Bill look like Bambi , Masaki Kobayashi’s masterpiece bows to absolutely nothing in the field of chambara (‘ sword fighting’) movies – not even Seven Samurai . Its genius is structural: it opens with a ronin requesting permission to commit seppuku – ritual suicide – on the estate of a powerful clan, before flashing back to the agonising, humiliating fate of another ronin who made the same request. Are the two connected? And will there be hell to pay? Youbetcha.— Phil de Semlyen  

Cure (1997) 

10.  Cure (1997) 

Director : Kiyoshi Kurosawa 

A series of murders baffles police detectives. The victims are found with an ‘X’ carved on their bodies, the murderers nearby and happy to confess, but completely unaware of how or why they committed their crimes. Kiyoshi Kurosawa loved American horror movies, and conceived Cure as a homage to them. Although somewhat shadowed by supernatural fare like Ringu or The Grudge , Cure is a powerful precursor to the J-horror mania that would sweep the world in the late ’90s.— Anna Bogutskaya

Ran (1985)

11.  Ran (1985)

Raging against the dying of the light in the spirit of its protagonist, an ageing Kurosawa translated King Lear into a sprawling, muscular epic set in feudal Japan. Ran has the 75-year-old at the absolute peak of his powers. It’s missing his old muse Mifune – the pair had fallen out by this point – but Tatsuya Nakadai makes a fearsome but increasingly demented warlord, whose empire crumbles after he divides it between his sons. With its vast landscapes, brutal wide-angle battles and magnificent blaze of primary colours, Shakespeare has rarely been rendered with so much grandiosity and splendour.— Ed Cunningham

Perfect Blue (1997)

12.  Perfect Blue (1997)

Director : Satoshi Kon

The idea of the internet as a dream space is something that Satoshi Kon would explore through to his final feature Paprika , but his debut feature offers the most terrifying realisation of that theme. Its subjective imagery makes the audience experience idol-turned-actress Mima’s loosening grip on reality as she’s stalked by an obsessive fan, with Kon’s tight editing and concise storytelling making every image untrustworthy. Perfect Blue is both disturbing and eerily prophetic in its depiction of online harassment, and the dark side of digital interconnectivity.— Kambole Campbell

Ringu (1997)

13.  Ringu (1997)

Director : Hideo Nakata

After multiple remakes, sequels, parodies and crossovers, you’ll know the drill: if you receive a cursed videotape and play it, you’ll be dead in seven days via the hand of long-haired ghost girl Sadako. The original film was a smash hit at festivals and sparked a worldwide obsession with Japanese horror. The original remains terrifying in its simple details: the pale whites of Sadako’s eye, her torn off fingernails and clipped movements.— Anna Bogutskaya

Tokyo Olympiad (1965)

14.  Tokyo Olympiad (1965)

Director : Kon Ichikawa The official documentary of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics isn’t just a celebration of godlike athleticism. Instead, Kon Ichikawa ( The Burmese Harp ) presents the sporting event through a humanist lens, searching for the accumulative effort and personal struggle. Even when shot with a striking, impressionistic style these acts are never isolated from their context or apolitical. As African nations making their Olympic debuts, the anti-colonialist struggle is never far from Ichikawa’s mind. The result is a beautiful, hypnotic work that raises the bar for sports documentaries.— Kambole Campbell

Ikiru (1952)

15.  Ikiru (1952)

Director : Akira Kurosawa Akira Kurosawa’s quietest film is also his most emotionally devastating. After being diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, a low-level bureaucrat (Takashi Shimura) quits his job to spend the last year of life searching for meaning – first in the bars and dancehalls of Tokyo, then in a more lasting final project. Few films cut so directly to the core of human existence and what it truly means to leave a legacy. A fine English remake starring Bill Nighy came out in 2022, but the original has a dreamily soulful quality that can’t fully be replicated.— Matt Singer

Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

16.  Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

Director : Kenji Mizoguchi Kenji Mizoguchi’s period piece is set in the 11th century and has you praying for the sweet embrace of the 12th century, which surely couldn’t have been as bad as this morass of corruption, oppression and general bastardry. Filmed by his regular cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa, with gliding pans and long takes, its central treatise – ‘a man is not a human being without mercy’ – underpins the epic arc of its central character, the orphaned son of a righteous governor who learns goodness only after getting pretty deep into villainy. A lot of shit goes down along the way, though, and as Mizoguchi is at pains to point out, much of it happens to women.— Phil de Semlyen

Floating Weeds (1959)

17.  Floating Weeds (1959)

Director : Yasujirō Ozu

Legendary US critic Roger Ebert once described Yasujirō Ozu as a director who ‘places composition above everything else’. And when the master filmmaker moved to colour filmmaking in the late ’50s, his meticulous visual style arguably reached perfection. The third of his six colour films, Floating Weeds tells the story of a sleepy seaside town that is visited by a travelling kabuki theatre troupe. It’s full of fleeting passions and quotidian encounters, backdropped by azure skies, colourful banners, red popsicles and green trees. That vibrant canvas only enriches the irresistible atmosphere of Ozu’s gentle, contemplative storytelling.— James Balmont

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

18.  My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Though the Ghibli universe is teeming with plucky heroines and fantastical creatures, none quite possess the same degree of celebrity as My Neighbor Totoro ’s eponymous forest spirit, otherwise known as the face of the anime studio’s official logo. In this charming story set in post-war Japan, two sisters move into a new house in a rural town, where they encounter a friendly clan of mystic beings in the nearby forest. There aren’t any dastardly witches or epic battles between good and evil here, as there are in some of Ghibli’s more recent films inspired by western fairy tales, but there’s enough of Miyazaki’s magic in this beloved classic to last several lifetimes. — Emma Steen

Yojimbo (1961)

19.  Yojimbo (1961)

In the mid-’60s, Sergio Leone popularised the spaghetti western with a film about a cunning gunslinger who rolls into town and plays two outlaw gangs off against each other for little more than his own profit and amusement. A Fistful of Dollars made Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name into a timeless antihero. What few western fans realised was that Dollars was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s propulsive samurai classic, Yojimbo . Swap six-shooters for swords and the old west for the late Edo period in Japan, and you have one of the best samurai flicks of Japan’s golden age. And Toshiro Mifune is so iconic as its samurai hero, they brought him back for a sequel, Sanjuro , a year later.— James Balmont

Hana-bi (1997)

20.  Hana-bi (1997)

Director : Takeshi Kitano

Hana-bi – or Fireworks – tells the story of a cop (played by director Takeshi Kitano) with a wife suffering from leukaemia and a partner who gets paralysed in the line of duty.  As the mostly-silent Kitano tangles himself up in yakuza dealings and his ex-partner tries his hand at art, the most serene, contemplative and outright gorgeous gangster film ever made emerges. And all from the mind of the same guy that headed up legendarily bonkers game show Takeshi’s Castle. Which is some flex. — Ed Cunningham

Audition (1999) 

21.  Audition (1999) 

Director : Takashi Miike

Released on the heels of the massive international success of Ringu , Audition is the slowburn, psychologically distressing and elegantly gory sister to the spooky blockbuster. A widower decides to hold auditions for the role of his new wife (as one did, in those pre-Tinder days), and becomes enthralled with the mysterious Asami, played by model Eihi Shiina. Only a few dates later, Asami has him tied up – and not in a good way. Anyone with a fear of needles best stay away from this one.— Anna Bogutskaya 

High and Low (1963) 

22.  High and Low (1963) 

Director : Akira Kurosawa A supercharged Kurosawa tackles true crime with this kidnap movie-cum-police procedural. It’s adapted from Ed McBain’s novel ‘King’s Ransom’ and was partially inspired by a spate of abductions taking place across Japan at the time. You can watch it as a riveting cop thriller as a recently humbled business executive tries to track down the sinister kidnapper of his chauffeur’s son, or as a sharp-clawed slice of social commentary about the venality of capitalism and the angry grievances of a booming Japan’s left-behind. To that list, add an assembly of all-star actors, including Toshiro Mifune, Tokyo Story ’s Kyōko Kagawa and Harakiri star Tatsuya Nakadai. It’s a must-see for fans of Parasite , too.— Phil de Semlyen

Godzilla (1954)

23.  Godzilla (1954)

Director :  Ishiro Honda What makes Godzilla so enduring? Is it its baked-in nuclear anxieties – still all too relatable – or the pioneering miniature sets, mostly ransacked as Gojira emerges from the Pacific and sets about squashing large portions of the Japanese mainland beneath its scaly bulk? A bit of both, but the fact that its disaster movie mechanics are so believable, even when you know full well there’s a man inside that heavy monster suit (shout out to Katsumi Tezuka) is down to the stony-faced sincerity with which Ishiro Honda conducts his opera of destruction. He knew that, sometimes, humans need to be reminded of their place – a message that most great monster movies have run with ever since.— Phil de Semlyen

Kwaidan (1964) 

24.  Kwaidan (1964) 

Director : Masaki Kobayashi An anthology horror based on Japanese folk tales that’s more interested in the uncanny than outright terror, Kwaidan ’s four yarns deal with vengeful ghosts, snow spirits, possessed hair and deceitful men. While the stories are labelled as horror, they are heavy in atmosphere and light on scares. The film’s dreamlike cinematography, from the all-seeing eye apparition in the sky to the man with his body covered in incantations, offers some of the most beautiful images committed to film.— Anna Bogutskaya

Maborosi (1995)

25.  Maborosi (1995)

Director : Hirokazu Kore-eda

Hirokazu Kore-eda announced himself with a drama that journeys through the grief of a widow whose husband has seemingly committed suicide. Sure, it doesn’t sound like one of the most uplifting things you’ll ever see – and, make no mistake, this thing is tundra-bleak. But the After Life and Shoplifters director’s fiction debut is also gorgeous and therapeutic. Without wallowing in its own melancholy, Maborosi is solemn and patient, giving as much time to its lonely widow as it does to dwelling on the contrasts between Osaka’s cold, still streets and the dramatic, weathered Noto Peninsula.— Ed Cunningham

The Burmese Harp (1956)

26.  The Burmese Harp (1956)

Director : Kon Ichikawa A consummate technical filmmaker, Kon Ichikawa gained recognition in the West with a pair of powerful anti-war films in the late ’50s. Fires on the Plain offers a shocking examination of the horrors of World War II. The Oscar-nominated The Burmese Harp , on the other hand, offers a more sentimental skew on life in uniform. It’s a pensive, philosophical drama that follows a sympathetic, musically-minded soldier (Shōji Yasui), struggling to convince a group of Japanese soldiers to surrender to the British. In the aftermath, Mizushima disappears, leaving his former battalion to ponder what happened to him.— James Balmont

Onibaba (1964)

27.  Onibaba (1964)

Director : Kaneto Shindo

Japanese cinema has a rich history of folktales and ghost stories – and Kaneto Shindo’s erotic horror Onibaba is a sublime example of both. Nobuko Otowa and Jitsuko Yoshimura star as a woman and her daughter-in-law who, while their men are off at war, survive by killing samurai lost in a marsh. It’s a tale of lust, jealousy, desperation and revenge – with the hellish marsh itself an indelible character in its own right. Shot in chilling monochrome and with marvellously whistling, blustery sound design, there’s so much texture, suspense and beauty in Onibaba ’s impenetrable reeds.— Ed Cunningham

Battle Royale (2000)

28.  Battle Royale (2000)

Director : Kinji Fukasaku

For a certain generation, this dystopian thriller served as a gateway into Japanese cinema – and what an intro. Set in a near-future Japan beset by recession, unemployment and rampant juvenile delinquency, Kinji Fukasaku’s film depicts a government-sanctioned population culling event in which a group of teenagers are made to compete in a war game where only one is allowed to escape alive. It’s an obvious touchpoint for The Hunger Games , but Battle Royale doesn’t dilute its violence for YA consumption – nor its satirical bite. Even in a post- Squid Game world, its authoritarian critique still hits hard.— Matt Singer

Lady Snowblood (1973)

29.  Lady Snowblood (1973)

Director : Toshiya Fujita As TV sets became increasingly ubiquitous in the late ‘60s, cinema audiences began to dwindle in Japan. In a bid to win them back, the big film studios turned to the throwaway thrills of violent exploitation flicks – the kind that would make a star of actress Meiko Kaji. Her most famous role came in this cult classic, a bloody vengeance thriller about a 19th-century assassin bent on justice for the crimes committed against her parents. The film, which makes memorable use of Kaji’s penetrative glare, is a major influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1 – just compare and contrast their snowy courtyard sets.— James Balmont

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

30.  Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Director : Isao Takahata

The life of Japan’s civilian population during the war has never been as hauntingly conveyed as Studio Ghibli’s story of two malnourished children who lose their mother during a bombing raid and take refuge in a firefly-illuminated bomb shelter. Director Isao Takahata may not be as well known as his Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki (who released My Neighbour Totoro on the same day in 1988), but he was arguably the first of the pair to strike a profound emotional chord with Japanese audiences. In this beautifully-animated classic, which also boasts a moving score by Michio Mamiya, childhood whimsy is hauntingly juxtaposed with harrowing destruction. The climax is devastating.— James Balmont

House (1977)

31.  House (1977)

Director : Nobuhiko Obayashi

Derided when it came out in the ash end of the ’70s only to develop into a cult classic, House is perhaps the best-known work of Hiroshima-born experimental filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi. Its quirky, idiosyncratic horror comedy revels in a sense of artificiality, the deliberately hokey and childlike special effects. The collage-like imagery only bolsters its unhinged pleasures, as its spooky narrative follows six schoolgirls into a house that literally starts eating them (one particularly memorable instance involves a carnivorous piano).— Kambole Campbell 

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) 

32.  In the Realm of the Senses (1976) 

Director : Nagisa Ōshima

One of the most controversial and erotic psychosexual art films out there ( and number 5 on our list of cinema’s greatest sex scenes ), Nagisa Ōshima’s opus is based on the sensational real-life case of Sada Abe, a former prostitute who murdered her lover, cutting off his penis and carrying it around with her for days. Several films have been made about her, but it’s the Japanese New Wave filmmaker who delivers the most memorable version of the story, in this explicit study of mutual obsession, desire and jealousy.— Anna Bogutskaya   

Nobody Knows (2004)

33.  Nobody Knows (2004)

Director : Hirokazu Kore-eda 

In this drama highlighting social issues in modern Japanese society, 12-year old Akira is left to fend for himself and his three younger siblings when their mother (Keiko Fukushima) abandons them for a new lover. With a dwindling food supply, a near-empty coin purse and no adult to care for the children, the circumstances here are dire, but Kore-eda has a unique way of capturing all the nuanced pain and bitter sorrows of everyday life while maintaining an enduring sense of hope and warmth. That’s just one of many reasons why the auteur is referred to as the heir of Yasujiro Ozu’s humanistic storytelling. — Emma Steen 

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

34.  Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

Director : Toshio Matsumoto

This vital queer text of the Japanese New Wave showcases a radical fusion of documentary and narrative fiction. Loosely based on ‘Oedipus Rex’, it also offers a vivid exploration of Tokyo’s newly-thriving gay scene, following a transgender ‘queen’ named Eddie (portrayed by androgynous icon Peter, who later appeared in Kurosawa’s Ran ). who gallivants around nocturnal and neon-lit Shinjuku – a playground of psychedelic rock music, marijuana and orgasms. There are countless nods to western upsetters like Warhol and Godard in the film’s eclectic style, with talking head interviews, pop-inspired editing, and giddy handheld camerawork galore.— James Balmont

Love Exposure (2008)

35.  Love Exposure (2008)

Director : Sion Sono

You’ll likely come out of Love Exposure with your head in a spin; your brain having been smacked around by all kinds of absurdity to the point of exhaustion for four straight hours. And that’s all part of the charm. Sion Sono’s masterpiece is a provocative, exciting and deeply, deeply strange work that touches on everything from teenage horniness to cultish religions. From its upskirting subplot and sweeping religious metaphors, to its hyperlink flashiness, it remains bizarre, philosophical and incendiary. There’s nothing else even remotely like it.— Ed Cunningham

Girls of the Night (1961) 

36.  Girls of the Night (1961) 

Director : Kinuyo Tanaka A deeply patriarchical society, Japan still hasn’t produced more than a clutch of female filmmakers. It took a 1930s starlet, Kinuyo Tanaka, to make the leap to auteur status. She only made six films, combatting sexist accusations of having been westernised and the resistence of her old collaborator Kenji Mizoguchi to her directorial ambitions along the way, and this sensitive social drama is the pick of the bunch. Decades ahead of its time as a compassionate story of young sex workers – how many of those are there? – it’s set in a reformatory in the wake of the Prostitution Prevention Law and follows one woman’s attempts to start a new life. Beautifully acted and strikingly framed, it’s an underseen treasure.— Phil de Semlyen

Tampopo (1985)

37.  Tampopo (1985)

Director : Juzo Itami

This so-called ‘ramen western’ from Juzo Itami spins together food and sex into a digressive comedy that remains both sweetly endearing and utterly bonkers decades later. Arranged as a series of intertwined vignettes, it’s something akin to Robert Altman’s Short Cuts , with the main narrative involving a Japanese noodle shop and the lives that intersect there. Itami infuses the proceedings with a gonzo sense of humour, goofing on American film tropes throughout, while also playing around sexual taboos – most famously highlighting the erotic uses of a raw egg. It’s a singular joy in the canon of world cinema.— Matt Singer

A Fugitive From the Past (1965)

38.  A Fugitive From the Past (1965)

Director : Tomu Uchida This sprawling crime drama (also known as ‘Straits of Hunger’) follows a trio of robbers whose disappearance coincides with a terrible storm and the capsizing of a passenger ship. A policeman becomes obsessed with the case – and spends a full decade ruminating on the whereabouts of the missing criminal mastermind. Frustratingly under-seen in the West, where it finally got a release in 2022, it marries epic, golden age with the formal experimentation of the Japanese new wave. In Japan, its status is much more secure: the country’s answer to ‘Sight and Sound’, ‘Kinema Junpo’ ranked it third in a poll of the greatest Japanese films in 1999.— James Balmont

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)

39.  When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)

Director : Mikio Naruse

Less celebrated outside Japan than contemporaries such as Kurosawa and Ozu, Mikio Naruse’s social melodramas deserve equal attention – and this is masterpiece. The movie follows a young widow named Keiko (Hideko Takamine) and her struggle to find happiness for herself while also honouring her husband’s memory after his death. As was his signature, Naruse handles the surface story with a graceful touch, allowing the ultimately bleak conclusion to sneak in a gut-punch you don’t see coming.— Matt Singer

Sonatine (1993)

40.  Sonatine (1993)

Director : Takeshi Kitano The mercurial talent that is comedian-actor-director Takeshi Kitano – aka ‘Beat Takeshi’ – was once christened the heir to Akira Kurosawa. If that seems hyperbolic in retrospect, he’s made a bruising mark on Japanese cinema with his unsmiling but still often oddly LOL-worthy visions of the criminal underworld. In this, his most ruminative, bleakly funny Yakuza flick, Kitano decamps to the seaside of Okinawa and creates an offbeam spiritual limbo for a cadre of can-kicking gangsters. Needless to say, he then fills it with violent mayhem – much of its originating with the jaded the gangster he himself plays. It’s Samuel Beckett with bullets— Phil de Semlyen

Drive My Car (2021)

41.  Drive My Car (2021)

Director : Ryusuke Hamaguchi

The rising star of Japanese cinema, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s inspired but understated fusion of Chekhov and Haruki Murakami became the country’s first ever Best Picture nominee – and made Saabs cool again in the process. A widowed theatre director (Yusuke Kafuku) arrives in Hiroshima to oversee a production of ‘Uncle Vanya’ and for arcane insurance reasons, has a young driver (Misaki Watari) foisted on him. The bond that follows would be saccharine and predictable in the wrong (ie Hollywood) hands, but such is Hamaguchi’s ear for human complexity and our contradictory need for solitude and connection, that it swells into a deeply moving story of art, grief and healing.— Phil de Semlyen

Fires on the Plain (1959)

42.  Fires on the Plain (1959)

Director : Kon Ichikawa Japan’s answer to Come and See and Apocalyse Now , Kon Ichikawa’s anti-war movie is spectacularly bleak – even before you get to the cannibalism. It’s a film you limp away from, much in the spirit of its broken-down infantryman (Eiji Funakoshi). He hobbles, hungry and in rags, across a scorched Leyte landscape: a symbol of a defeated army as well as the moral degradation of war. Ichikawa’s rep has always been a notch or two below the likes of Kurosawa and Ozu, but this pitiless yet philosophical adaptation of Shōhei Ōoka’s novel is yet more evidence that he deserves to stand in their company. The studio that greenlit it probably wouldn’t agree: they were expecting an action movie.— Phil de Semlyen

The Ballad of Narayama (1983)

43.  The Ballad of Narayama (1983)

Director : Shôhei Imamura Long before Dignitas, there was ubasute , a ritual that sees the elderly take themselves to the top of a mountaintop once they reach 70 and wait for death to claim them. Social care may have come a long way, but filmmaking rarely slaps as hard as this story of an elderly woman facing up to her mortality, the second of two masterpieces based on the 1958 novel (Keisuke Kinoshita’s sombre, kabuki-inspired version is worth searching out too). It beat Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, Bresson’s L’Argent and Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence to win the Palme d’Or, a mark of its haunting, philosophical payload.— Phil de Semlyen

Tokyo Drifter (1966)

44.  Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Director : S eijun Suzuki A man who made movies like he was joyriding them, Seijun Suzuki’s punk energy jolts through a film that plays like someone took Le Samourai out and got it massively drunk on jägerbombs. It’s a Yakuza flick turned up to 11 that opens, seemingly for no reason, in black and white before toggling through literally all the colours across an array of vibrantly visual, Austin Powers -y nightclubs and crime dens in a blizzard of stupidly cool set pieces. The plot – again, not important – involves an enforcer retiring from gangland, only to be discover that gangland isn’t quite done with him. Filmed in a few weeks with no rehearsals, its scrappy spontaneity makes it what it is: a violent blast of cinematic disorder.— Phil de Semlyen  

Gate of Hell (1953)

45.  Gate of Hell (1953)

Director : Teinosuke Kinugasa Adapted from a 13th-century picture scroll, Gate of Hell is the story of a virtuous warrior who, in the aftermath of a violent attempted coup, becomes obsessed with the woman he was sworn to protect. As the film creeps towards a suspenseful and tragic climax, it fuses Shakespearean drama with rich colour cinematography, lavish costumes and intricate sets – formally anticipating the great Kurosawa masterpiece Ran some 30-odd years later. Veteran director Teinosuke Kinugasa, whose 1926 silent horror film A Page of Madness remains one of the great surviving works of early Japanese cinema, won two Academy Awards for his troubles.— James Balmont

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

46.  Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Director : Shinya Tsukamoto A grizzly, low budget sci-fi horror, Tetsuo is an unholy, psychosexual union of flesh and metal that represents Japanese cyberpunk at its most brutal. An unnamed salaryman is infected by metal that gradually takes over his body, a disturbing transformation that Shinya Tsukamoto captures in stark, high-contrast 16mm black-and-white film. Its sequels never quite lived up to the promise, but the first remains as a jagged landmark of underground creativity.— Kambole Campbell

Crazy Thunder Road (1980)

47.  Crazy Thunder Road (1980)

Director : Sogo Ishii Considering its influence on both Japan’s underground filmmaking scene and the dystopian cyberpunk genre (see Akira and Tetsuo: The Iron Man ), it’s incredible to think that Sogo Ishii’s indie biker gang flick never received proper international distribution until 2022. Filmed for peanuts using equipment borrowed from his uni, and utilising real-life biker gang members among its cast, it’s a kinetic, chaotic Japanese answer to Mad Max . Snapped up by Toei Studios and blown up for a big-screen release in 1980, its unlikely success inspired a whole generation of guerilla filmmakers.— James Balmont


48.  Departures

Director : Yojiro Takita  The premise of Departures – an Oscar winner for  Best International Feature Film  – begins the same way a B-grade horror movie might, with a failed cellist (Masahiro Motoki) reluctantly returning to his quiet hometown to start a new job as an undertaker. Rather than ghoulish corpses and vengeful ghosts, however, the film highlights the profoundly intimate nature of traditional Japanese funeral rituals, like hand-washing bodies for cremation. A thought-provoking and disarmingly moving piece about life, death and intricate familial bonds, it’s hard to come away from this one without tear-stained cheeks.— Emma Steen

Suzaku (1997)

49.  Suzaku (1997)

Director : Naomi Kawase Naomi Kawase has come under fire in recent months, with allegations of on-set bullying and violent conduct hanging over her. But she also remains a singular, inspirational force, and an all-too-rare female filmmaker in an overwhelmingly male-driven film culture. Her breakthrough film is set in a logging village in Nara and brings documentary techniques to bear in its observations of a family’s deterioration in the wake of an aborted industrial development. It made her the youngest ever recipient of Cannes’s Camera d’Or gong for first-time directors.— James Balmont

One Cut of the Dead (2018)

50.  One Cut of the Dead (2018)

Director : Shin'ichirō Ueda Shin'ichirō Ueda’s meta zom-com is a bit like a Japanese Blair Witch Project , a leftfield phenomenon that stands as a monument to low-budget ingenuity. A film crew is assigned to shoot a cheap horror movie for television when, wouldn’t you know it, an actual zombie plague breaks out on set. That makes it sound like a fun novelty rather than a must-see classic, but the movie positively explodes with energy and smart, winking humour on par with Shaun of the Dead . Made for an utterly paltry $25,000, it’s grossed $31 million worldwide – a testament to how far brains, blood and exhilarating creativity can take a movie.— Matt Singer

BFI Southbank’s Kurosawa season  runs until Feb 28, with special BFI IMAX screenings of  Ran  and Throne of Blood, plus 22 titles available online via BFI Player in the UK.

Broker is in UK cinemas Feb 24.

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movie film japanese

The greatest Japanese movies curated and ranked from the best to the not so best.

- No bullshit Seven Samurai or Godzilla movies.

- No animations (we all know that MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is the greatest film of them all anyway).

- For people who care about artistic vision instead of circle jerking around the common canonized cinema your unqualified college professor teaches.

- First 50 entries are arranged to my taste but realistically they’re interchangeable!

PS: If you enjoy French cinema then you can look elsewhere cause this list isn’t for teenagers.

movie film japanese

Top 100 Japanese Movies (IMDB Ratings)

1. Spirited Away (2001)

PG | 125 min | Animation, Adventure, Family

During her family's move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Daveigh Chase , Suzanne Pleshette , Miyu Irino , Rumi Hiiragi

Votes: 776,373 | Gross: $10.06M

Spirited Away (Vùng Đất Linh Hồn)

2. Princess Mononoke (1997)

PG-13 | 134 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami's curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and Tatara, a mining colony. In this quest he also meets San, the Mononoke Hime.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Yôji Matsuda , Yuriko Ishida , Yûko Tanaka , Billy Crudup

Votes: 400,972 | Gross: $2.38M

Princess Mononoke (Công Chúa Sói Mononoke)

3. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

PG | 119 min | Animation, Adventure, Family

When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking castle.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Chieko Baisho , Takuya Kimura , Tatsuya Gashûin , Akihiro Miwa

Votes: 403,788 | Gross: $4.71M

Howl's Moving Castle (Lâu Đài Di Động Của Howl)

4. Seven Samurai (1954)

Not Rated | 207 min | Action, Drama

Farmers from a village exploited by bandits hire a veteran samurai for protection, who gathers six other samurai to join him.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Toshirô Mifune , Takashi Shimura , Keiko Tsushima , Yukiko Shimazaki

Votes: 349,554 | Gross: $0.27M

Seven Samurai (7 Võ Sĩ Đạo)

5. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

G | 86 min | Animation, Comedy, Family

When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wondrous forest spirits who live nearby.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Hitoshi Takagi , Noriko Hidaka , Chika Sakamoto , Shigesato Itoi

Votes: 346,609 | Gross: $1.11M

My Neighbor Totoro (Hàng Xóm Của Tôi Là Totoro)

6. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Not Rated | 89 min | Animation, Drama, War

A young boy and his little sister struggle to survive in Japan during World War II.

Director: Isao Takahata | Stars: Tsutomu Tatsumi , Ayano Shiraishi , Akemi Yamaguchi , Yoshiko Shinohara

Votes: 282,549

Grave of the Fireflies (Mộ Đom Đóm)

7. Your Name. (2016)

PG | 106 min | Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Two strangers find themselves linked in a bizarre way. When a connection forms, will distance be the only thing to keep them apart?

Director: Makoto Shinkai | Stars: Ryunosuke Kamiki , Mone Kamishiraishi , Ryo Narita , Aoi Yûki

Votes: 277,034 | Gross: $5.02M

Your Name (Tên Cậu Là Gì?)

8. Battle Royale (2000)

Not Rated | 114 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary "Battle Royale" act.

Director: Kinji Fukasaku | Stars: Tatsuya Fujiwara , Aki Maeda , Tarô Yamamoto , Chiaki Kuriyama

Votes: 186,517

Battle Royale (Trò Chơi Sinh Tử)

9. Akira (1988)

R | 124 min | Animation, Action, Drama

A secret military project endangers Neo-Tokyo when it turns a biker gang member into a rampaging psychic psychopath who can only be stopped by a teenager, his gang of biker friends and a group of psychics.

Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo | Stars: Mitsuo Iwata , Nozomu Sasaki , Mami Koyama , Tesshô Genda

Votes: 190,775 | Gross: $0.55M

Akira (Chúa Tể Akira)

10. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

PG | 117 min | Animation, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Warrior and pacifist Princess Nausicaä desperately struggles to prevent two warring nations from destroying themselves and their dying planet.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Sumi Shimamoto , Mahito Tsujimura , Hisako Kyôda , Gorô Naya

Votes: 172,174 | Gross: $0.50M

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Công Chúa Của Thung Lũng Gió)

11. Rashomon (1950)

Not Rated | 88 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

The rape of a bride and the murder of her samurai husband are recalled from the perspectives of a bandit, the bride, the samurai's ghost and a woodcutter.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Toshirô Mifune , Machiko Kyô , Masayuki Mori , Takashi Shimura

Votes: 170,984 | Gross: $0.10M

Rashomon (Lã Sanh Môn)

12. Castle in the Sky (1986)

A young boy and a girl with a magic crystal must race against pirates and foreign agents in a search for a legendary floating castle.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Mayumi Tanaka , Keiko Yokozawa , Kotoe Hatsui , Minori Terada

Votes: 169,828

Castle in the Sky (Lâu Đài Trên Không)

13. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

TV-MA | 83 min | Animation, Action, Crime

A cyborg policewoman and her partner hunt a mysterious and powerful hacker called the Puppet Master.

Director: Mamoru Oshii | Stars: Atsuko Tanaka , Iemasa Kayumi , Akio Ôtsuka , Kôichi Yamadera

Votes: 146,431 | Gross: $0.52M

Ghost in the Shell (Vỏ Bọc Ma)

14. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

G | 103 min | Animation, Family, Fantasy

A young witch, on her mandatory year of independent life, finds fitting into a new community difficult while she supports herself by running an air courier service.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Kirsten Dunst , Minami Takayama , Rei Sakuma , Kappei Yamaguchi

Votes: 149,007

Kiki's Delivery Service (Cô Phù Thủy Nhỏ Kiki)

15. Ponyo (2008)

G | 101 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

A five-year-old boy develops a relationship with Ponyo, a young goldfish princess who longs to become a human after falling in love with him.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Cate Blanchett , Matt Damon , Liam Neeson , Tomoko Yamaguchi

Votes: 148,135 | Gross: $15.09M

Ponyo (Cô Bé Người Cá Ponyo)

16. Ran (1985)

R | 162 min | Action, Drama, War

In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other...and him.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Tatsuya Nakadai , Akira Terao , Jinpachi Nezu , Daisuke Ryû

Votes: 127,594 | Gross: $4.14M

Ran (Lãnh Chúa Hidetora)

17. Yojimbo (1961)

Not Rated | 110 min | Action, Drama, Thriller

A crafty ronin comes to a town divided by two criminal gangs and decides to play them against each other to free the town.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Toshirô Mifune , Eijirô Tôno , Tatsuya Nakadai , Yôko Tsukasa

Votes: 124,598

Yojimbo (Vệ Sĩ)

18. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

G | 94 min | Animation, Adventure, Drama

The Clock family are four-inch-tall people who live anonymously in another family's residence, borrowing simple items to make their home. Life changes for the Clocks when their teenage daughter, Arrietty, is discovered.

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi | Stars: Amy Poehler , Will Arnett , Mirai Shida , Ryunosuke Kamiki

Votes: 95,292 | Gross: $19.20M

The Secret World of Arrietty (Thế Giới Bí Ẩn Của Arrietty)

19. Porco Rosso (1992)

PG | 94 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

In 1930s Italy, a veteran World War I pilot is cursed to look like an anthropomorphic pig.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Shûichirô Moriyama , Tokiko Katô , Bunshi Katsura Vi , Tsunehiko Kamijô

Votes: 92,543

Porco Rosso (Chú Heo Màu Đỏ)

20. The Wind Rises (2013)

PG-13 | 126 min | Animation, Biography, Drama

A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Hideaki Anno , Hidetoshi Nishijima , Miori Takimoto , Masahiko Nishimura

Votes: 88,783 | Gross: $5.21M

21. Audition (1999)

R | 115 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery

A widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies is not who she appears to be after all.

Director: Takashi Miike | Stars: Ryo Ishibashi , Eihi Shiina , Tetsu Sawaki , Jun Kunimura

Votes: 83,594

Audition (Buổi Thử Vai)

22. Paprika (2006)

R | 90 min | Animation, Drama, Fantasy

When a machine that allows therapists to enter their patients' dreams is stolen, all hell breaks loose. Only a young female therapist, Paprika, can stop it.

Director: Satoshi Kon | Stars: Megumi Hayashibara , Tôru Emori , Katsunosuke Hori , Tôru Furuya

Votes: 86,121 | Gross: $0.88M

23. Ikiru (1952)

Not Rated | 143 min | Drama

A bureaucrat tries to find meaning in his life after he discovers he has terminal cancer.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Takashi Shimura , Nobuo Kaneko , Shin'ichi Himori , Haruo Tanaka

Votes: 80,393 | Gross: $0.06M

24. Shoplifters (2018)

R | 121 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

A family of small-time crooks take in a child they find outside in the cold.

Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu | Stars: Lily Franky , Sakura Ando , Kirin Kiki , Mayu Matsuoka

Votes: 79,339 | Gross: $3.31M

25. Perfect Blue (1997)

R | 81 min | Animation, Crime, Drama

A pop singer gives up her career to become an actress, but she slowly goes insane when she starts being stalked by an obsessed fan and what seems to be a ghost of her past.

Director: Satoshi Kon | Stars: Junko Iwao , Rica Matsumoto , Shinpachi Tsuji , Masaaki Ôkura

Votes: 80,906 | Gross: $0.78M

26. Ringu (1998)

Not Rated | 96 min | Horror, Mystery

A reporter and her ex-husband investigate a cursed video tape that is rumored to kill the viewer seven days after watching it.

Director: Hideo Nakata | Stars: Nanako Matsushima , Miki Nakatani , Yûko Takeuchi , Hitomi Satô

Votes: 72,441

27. A Silent Voice: The Movie (2016)

Not Rated | 130 min | Animation, Drama

A young man is ostracized by his classmates after he bullies a deaf girl to the point where she moves away. Years later, he sets off on a path for redemption.

Director: Naoko Yamada | Stars: Miyu Irino , Saori Hayami , Aoi Yûki , Kenshô Ono

Votes: 86,234

28. 13 Assassins (2010)

R | 141 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

A group of assassins come together for a suicide mission to kill an evil lord.

Director: Takashi Miike | Stars: Kôji Yakusho , Takayuki Yamada , Yûsuke Iseya , Ikki Sawamura

Votes: 66,525 | Gross: $0.80M

29. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

TV-PG | 98 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

A high-school girl named Makoto acquires the power to travel back in time, and decides to use it for her own personal benefits. Little does she know that she is affecting the lives of others just as much as she is her own.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda | Stars: Riisa Naka , Takuya Ishida , Mitsutaka Itakura , Ayami Kakiuchi

Votes: 67,718

30. Tokyo Story (1953)

Not Rated | 136 min | Drama

An old couple visit their children and grandchildren in the city, but receive little attention.

Director: Yasujirô Ozu | Stars: Chishû Ryû , Chieko Higashiyama , Sô Yamamura , Setsuko Hara

Votes: 63,225

31. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

G | 111 min | Animation, Drama, Family

A love story between a girl who loves reading books, and a boy who has previously checked out all of the library books she chooses.

Director: Yoshifumi Kondô | Stars: Yoko Honna , Issey Takahashi , Takashi Tachibana , Shigeru Muroi

Votes: 65,195

32. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)

PG-13 | 101 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

An ex-mercenary is forced out of isolation when three mysterious men kidnap and brainwash the city's children afflicted with the Geostigma disease.

Directors: Tetsuya Nomura , Takeshi Nozue | Stars: Takahiro Sakurai , Ayumi Ito , Shôtarô Morikubo , Maaya Sakamoto

Votes: 57,029

33. 5 Centimeters per Second (2007)

TV-PG | 63 min | Animation, Drama, Family

Told in three interconnected segments, we follow a young man named Takaki through his life as cruel winters, cold technology, and finally, adult obligations and responsibility converge to test the delicate petals of love.

Director: Makoto Shinkai | Stars: Kenji Mizuhashi , Yoshimi Kondou , Satomi Hanamura , Ayaka Onoue

Votes: 59,624

34. Ichi the Killer (2001)

R | 129 min | Action, Crime, Drama

As sadomasochistic yakuza enforcer Kakihara searches for his missing boss he comes across Ichi, a repressed and psychotic killer who may be able to inflict levels of pain that Kakihara has only dreamed of achieving.

Director: Takashi Miike | Stars: Tadanobu Asano , Nao Ômori , Shin'ya Tsukamoto , Paulyn Sun

Votes: 57,494 | Gross: $0.02M

35. The Cat Returns (2002)

G | 75 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

After helping a cat, a seventeen-year-old girl finds herself involuntarily engaged to a cat Prince in a magical world where her only hope of freedom lies with a dapper cat statuette come to life.

Director: Hiroyuki Morita | Stars: Chizuru Ikewaki , Yoshihiko Hakamada , Aki Maeda , Takayuki Yamada

Votes: 58,800

36. Departures (2008)

PG-13 | 130 min | Drama

A newly unemployed cellist takes a job preparing the dead for funerals.

Director: Yôjirô Takita | Stars: Masahiro Motoki , Ryôko Hirosue , Tsutomu Yamazaki , Kazuko Yoshiyuki

Votes: 52,968 | Gross: $1.50M

37. Harakiri (1962)

Not Rated | 133 min | Action, Drama, Mystery

When a ronin requesting seppuku at a feudal lord's palace is told of the brutal suicide of another ronin who previously visited, he reveals how their pasts are intertwined - and in doing so challenges the clan's integrity.

Director: Masaki Kobayashi | Stars: Tatsuya Nakadai , Akira Ishihama , Shima Iwashita , Tetsurô Tanba

Votes: 59,357

38. Throne of Blood (1957)

Not Rated | 110 min | Drama, History

A war-hardened general, egged on by his ambitious wife, works to fulfill a prophecy that he would become lord of Spider's Web Castle.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Toshirô Mifune , Minoru Chiaki , Isuzu Yamada , Takashi Shimura

Votes: 53,330

39. The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)

R | 116 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

The blind masseur/swordsman comes to a town in control of warring gangs, and while bunking with a farming family, he meets two women with their own agenda.

Director: Takeshi Kitano | Stars: Takeshi Kitano , Tadanobu Asano , Yui Natsukawa , Michiyo Yasuda

Votes: 50,223 | Gross: $0.85M

40. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997)

TV-MA | 87 min | Animation, Action, Drama

Concurrent theatrical ending of the TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995).

Directors: Hideaki Anno , Kazuya Tsurumaki | Stars: Megumi Ogata , Megumi Hayashibara , Yûko Miyamura , Kotono Mitsuishi

Votes: 57,283

41. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)

TV-14 | 115 min | Animation, Action, Crime

A terrorist explosion releases a deadly virus on the masses, and it's up to the bounty-hunting Bebop crew to catch the cold-blooded culprit.

Directors: Shin'ichirô Watanabe , Tensai Okamura , Hiroyuki Okiura , Yoshiyuki Takei | Stars: Beau Billingslea , Melissa Fahn , Nicholas Guest , Kôichi Yamadera

Votes: 50,119 | Gross: $1.00M

42. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013)

PG | 137 min | Animation, Drama, Family

Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife, a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady. The mysterious young princess enthralls all who encounter her, but ultimately she must confront her fate, the punishment for her crime.

Director: Isao Takahata | Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz , James Caan , Mary Steenburgen , James Marsden

Votes: 48,671 | Gross: $1.51M

43. Wolf Children (2012)

PG | 117 min | Animation, Drama, Family

After her werewolf lover unexpectedly dies in an accident while hunting for food for their children, a young woman must find ways to raise the werewolf son and daughter that she had with him while keeping their trait hidden from society.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda | Stars: Aoi Miyazaki , Takao Osawa , Haru Kuroki , Yukito Nishii

Votes: 46,246

44. Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train (2020)

R | 117 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

After his family was brutally murdered and his sister turned into a demon, Tanjiro Kamado's journey as a demon slayer began. Tanjiro and his comrades embark on a new mission aboard the Mugen Train, on track to despair.

Director: Haruo Sotozaki | Stars: Natsuki Hanae , Akari Kitô , Yoshitsugu Matsuoka , Hiro Shimono

Votes: 61,502 | Gross: $47.70M

45. High and Low (1963)

Not Rated | 143 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

An executive of a Yokohama shoe company becomes a victim of extortion when his chauffeur's son is kidnapped by mistake and held for ransom.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Toshirô Mifune , Yutaka Sada , Tatsuya Nakadai , Kyôko Kagawa

Votes: 46,730

46. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

PG | 91 min | Animation, Comedy, Drama

A group of Yokohama teens look to save their school's clubhouse from the wrecking ball in preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Director: Gorô Miyazaki | Stars: Sarah Bolger , Chris Noth , Anton Yelchin , Christina Hendricks

Votes: 46,197 | Gross: $1.00M

47. The Garden of Words (2013)

TV-14 | 46 min | Animation, Drama, Romance

A 15-year-old boy and 27-year-old woman find an unlikely friendship one rainy day in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.

Director: Makoto Shinkai | Stars: Miyu Irino , Kana Hanazawa , Fumi Hirano , Gou Maeda

Votes: 46,484

48. Confessions (2010)

Not Rated | 106 min | Drama, Thriller

A psychological thriller of a grieving mother turned cold-blooded avenger with a twisty master plan to pay back those who were responsible for her daughter's death.

Director: Tetsuya Nakashima | Stars: Takako Matsu , Yoshino Kimura , Masaki Okada , Yukito Nishii

Votes: 40,179

49. The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Not Rated | 126 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

Lured by gold, two greedy peasants unknowingly escort a princess and her general across enemy lines.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Toshirô Mifune , Misa Uehara , Minoru Chiaki , Kamatari Fujiwara

Votes: 40,034

50. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

PG-13 | 100 min | Animation, Drama, Mystery

In the year 2032, Batô, a cyborg detective for the anti-terrorist unit Public Security Section 9, investigates the case of a female robot--one created solely for sexual pleasure--who slaughtered her owner.

Director: Mamoru Oshii | Stars: Akio Ôtsuka , Atsuko Tanaka , Tamio Ôki , Kôichi Yamadera

Votes: 39,073 | Gross: $1.04M

51. Ninja Scroll (1993)

Not Rated | 94 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

A vagabond swordsman is aided by a kunoichi and a spy in battling a demonic clan of killers - led by a ghost from his past - who are bent on overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri | Stars: Kôichi Yamadera , Emi Shinohara , Takeshi Aono , Osamu Saka

Votes: 38,366

52. Kagemusha (1980)

PG | 162 min | Drama, History, War

A petty thief with an utter resemblance to a samurai warlord is hired as the lord's double. When the warlord later dies the thief is forced to take up arms in his place.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Tatsuya Nakadai , Tsutomu Yamazaki , Ken'ichi Hagiwara , Jinpachi Nezu

Votes: 36,459

53. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

R | 103 min | Animation, Action, Drama

When a girl is abducted by a vampire, a legendary bounty hunter is hired to bring her back.

Directors: Jack Fletcher , Yoshiaki Kawajiri | Stars: Andrew Philpot , John Rafter Lee , Pamela Adlon , Wendee Lee

Votes: 33,059 | Gross: $0.15M

54. Death Note (2006)

Not Rated | 126 min | Crime, Drama, Fantasy

A battle between the world's two greatest minds begins when Light Yagami finds the Death Note, a notebook with the power to kill, and decides to rid the world of criminals.

Director: Shûsuke Kaneko | Stars: Tatsuya Fujiwara , Ken'ichi Matsuyama , Asaka Seto , Yû Kashii

Votes: 30,958

55. Fireworks (1997)

103 min | Crime, Drama, Romance

Nishi leaves the police in the face of harrowing personal and professional difficulties. Spiraling into depression, he makes questionable decisions.

Director: Takeshi Kitano | Stars: Takeshi Kitano , Kayoko Kishimoto , Ren Ôsugi , Susumu Terajima

Votes: 31,446 | Gross: $0.23M

56. Sanjuro (1962)

Not Rated | 96 min | Action, Drama, Thriller

A crafty samurai helps a young man and his fellow clansmen trying to save his uncle, who has been framed and imprisoned by a corrupt superintendent.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Toshirô Mifune , Tatsuya Nakadai , Keiju Kobayashi , Yûnosuke Itô

Votes: 39,067

57. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

PG-13 | 92 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

On Christmas Eve, three homeless people living on the streets of Tokyo discover a newborn baby among the trash and set out to find its parents.

Director: Satoshi Kon | Stars: Tôru Emori , Yoshiaki Umegaki , Aya Okamoto , Shôzô Îzuka

Votes: 42,493 | Gross: $0.13M

58. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (2013)

TV-PG | 85 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

The Z-Fighters must contend with Lord Beerus, the God of Destruction, but only a God can fight a God, and none of them are Gods. However with the creation of the Super Saiyan God, will the Z-Fighters be able to defeat Lord Beerus?

Director: Masahiro Hosoda | Stars: Masako Nozawa , Hiromi Tsuru , Ryô Horikawa , Masaharu Satô

Votes: 28,673 | Gross: $2.55M

59. Godzilla (1954)

Not Rated | 96 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

American nuclear-weapons testing results in the creation of a seemingly unstoppable, dinosaur-like beast.

Director: Ishirô Honda | Stars: Takashi Shimura , Akihiko Hirata , Akira Takarada , Momoko Kôchi

Votes: 35,121 | Gross: $2.42M

60. Dreams (1990)

PG | 119 min | Drama, Fantasy

A collection of tales based upon eight of director Akira Kurosawa's recurring dreams.

Directors: Akira Kurosawa , Ishirô Honda | Stars: Akira Terao , Mitsuko Baishô , Toshie Negishi , Mieko Harada

Votes: 27,266 | Gross: $1.96M

61. The Twilight Samurai (2002)

129 min | Drama, Romance

As the feudal Japan era draws to a close, a widower samurai experiences difficulty balancing clan loyalties, 2 young daughters, an aged mother, and the sudden reappearance of his childhood sweetheart.

Director: Yôji Yamada | Stars: Hiroyuki Sanada , Rie Miyazawa , Nenji Kobayashi , Ren Ôsugi

Votes: 24,402

62. Summer Wars (2009)

PG | 114 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

A student tries to fix a problem he accidentally caused in OZ, a digital world, while pretending to be the fiancé of his friend at her grandmother's 90th birthday.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda | Stars: Ryunosuke Kamiki , Nanami Sakuraba , Mitsuki Tanimura , Takahiro Yokokawa

Votes: 30,339 | Gross: $0.08M

63. Nobody Knows (2004)

PG-13 | 141 min | Drama

In a small Tokyo apartment, twelve-year-old Akira must care for his younger siblings after their mother leaves them and shows no sign of returning.

Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu | Stars: Yûya Yagira , Ayu Kitaura , Hiei Kimura , Momoko Shimizu

Votes: 29,004 | Gross: $0.68M

64. Metropolis (2001)

PG-13 | 108 min | Animation, Adventure, Drama

Kenichi and his uncle Shunsaku Ban must find the mystery behind robot girl Tima.

Director: Rintarô | Stars: Toshio Furukawa , Scott Weinger , Yuka Imoto , Kei Kobayashi

Votes: 21,831 | Gross: $0.64M

65. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

102 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

A dashing thief, his gang of desperadoes and an intrepid cop struggle to free a princess from an evil count, and learn the secret of a treasure that she holds part of the key to.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Stars: Yasuo Yamada , Eiko Masuyama , Kiyoshi Kobayashi , Makio Inoue

Votes: 31,490

66. When Marnie Was There (2014)

PG | 103 min | Animation, Drama, Family

Due to 12 y.o. Anna's asthma, she's sent to stay with relatives of her guardian in the Japanese countryside. She likes to be alone, sketching. She befriends Marnie. Who is the mysterious, blonde Marnie.

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi | Stars: Sara Takatsuki , Kasumi Arimura , Nanako Matsushima , Susumu Terajima

Votes: 42,555 | Gross: $0.77M

67. Appleseed (2004)

R | 101 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

In a utopian society created at the end of the third world war, a female warrior who has been plucked from the badlands begins to see cracks in this new facade. And what does this community have planned for the rest of humankind?

Director: Shinji Aramaki | Stars: Ai Kobayashi , Jûrôta Kosugi , Yuki Matsuoka , Mami Koyama

Votes: 18,257 | Gross: $0.13M

68. Millennium Actress (2001)

PG | 87 min | Animation, Drama, Fantasy

A TV interviewer and his cameraman meet a former actress and travel through her memories and career.

Director: Satoshi Kon | Stars: Miyoko Shôji , Shôzô Îzuka , Mami Koyama , Fumiko Orikasa

Votes: 29,213 | Gross: $0.19M

69. Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins (2012)

TV-MA | 134 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

A former assassin who has resolved to never kill again has his vow sorely tested.

Director: Keishi Otomo | Stars: Takeru Satoh , Emi Takei , Yû Aoi , Munetaka Aoki

Votes: 27,244

70. Pom Poko (1994)

PG | 119 min | Animation, Comedy, Drama

A community of magical shape-shifting raccoon dogs struggle to prevent their forest home from being destroyed by urban development.

Director: Isao Takahata | Stars: Shinchô Kokontei , Makoto Nonomura , Yuriko Ishida , Norihei Miki

Votes: 31,266

71. Ugetsu (1953)

Not Rated | 96 min | Drama, Fantasy, War

A tale of ambition, family, love, and war set in the midst of the Japanese Civil Wars of the sixteenth century.

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi | Stars: Masayuki Mori , Machiko Kyô , Kinuyo Tanaka , Mitsuko Mito

Votes: 24,261 | Gross: $0.01M

72. Kikujiro (1999)

PG-13 | 122 min | Drama, Comedy

A young, naive boy sets out alone on the road to find his wayward mother. Soon he finds an unlikely protector in a crotchety man and the two have a series of unexpected adventures along the way.

Director: Takeshi Kitano | Stars: Takeshi Kitano , Yusuke Sekiguchi , Kayoko Kishimoto , The Great Gidayû

Votes: 21,160 | Gross: $0.20M

73. Only Yesterday (1991)

PG | 119 min | Animation, Drama, Romance

A twenty-seven-year-old office worker travels to the countryside while reminiscing about her childhood in Tokyo.

Director: Isao Takahata | Stars: Miki Imai , Toshirô Yanagiba , Yoko Honna , Mayumi Izuka

Votes: 33,724 | Gross: $0.45M

74. Dragon Ball Super (2015–2018)

TV-PG | 24 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

Six months after the defeat of Majin Buu, The mighty Saiyan Son Goku continues his quest on becoming stronger.

Stars: Masako Nozawa , Naoki Tatsuta , Ryô Horikawa , Sean Schemmel

Votes: 31,565

75. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Not Rated | 67 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

A businessman accidentally kills The Metal Fetishist, who gets his revenge by slowly turning the man into a grotesque hybrid of flesh and rusty metal.

Director: Shin'ya Tsukamoto | Stars: Tomorô Taguchi , Kei Fujiwara , Nobu Kanaoka , Shin'ya Tsukamoto

Votes: 23,858

76. Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection "F" (2015)

Not Rated | 93 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

One peaceful day on Earth, two remnants of Freeza's army named Sorube and Tagoma arrive searching for the Dragon Balls with the aim of reviving Freeza. They succeed, and Freeza subsequently seeks revenge on the Saiya-jin.

Director: Tadayoshi Yamamuro | Stars: Masako Nozawa , Ryô Horikawa , Hiromi Tsuru , Masaharu Satô

Votes: 22,852 | Gross: $8.01M

77. Sonatine (1993)

R | 94 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

Several yakuza from Tokyo are sent to Okinawa to help end a gang war. The war then escalates and the Tokyo drifters decide to lay low at the beach.

Director: Takeshi Kitano | Stars: Takeshi Kitano , Aya Kokumai , Tetsu Watanabe , Masanobu Katsumura

Votes: 21,996

78. Dolls (2002)

114 min | Drama, Romance

Three stories of never-ending love.

Director: Takeshi Kitano | Stars: Miho Kanno , Hidetoshi Nishijima , Tatsuya Mihashi , Kyôko Fukada

Votes: 16,902 | Gross: $0.00M

79. Like Father, Like Son (2013)

Not Rated | 121 min | Drama

Ryota is a successful workaholic businessman. When he learns that his biological son was switched with another boy after birth, he faces the difficult decision to choose his true son or the boy he and his wife have raised as their own.

Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu | Stars: Masaharu Fukuyama , Machiko Ono , Yôko Maki , Lily Franky

Votes: 25,981 | Gross: $0.28M

80. Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (2007)

PG-13 | 98 min | Animation, Action, Drama

The fate of the world is threatened by seemingly monstrous entities known as Angels. NERV is an organisation set up to counter this threat and it is up to young pilots to protect Earth but exactly what are the real motives behind NERV?

Directors: Masayuki , Kazuya Tsurumaki , Hideaki Anno | Stars: Megumi Ogata , Megumi Hayashibara , Kotono Mitsuishi , Yuriko Yamaguchi

Votes: 25,225 | Gross: $0.11M

81. Death Note: The Last Name (2006)

Not Rated | 141 min | Adventure, Crime, Drama

Picking up where the first one leaves off, Light joins the task force searching for Kira in an effort to avert suspicion from himself---and get rid of L.

Director: Shûsuke Kaneko | Stars: Tatsuya Fujiwara , Ken'ichi Matsuyama , Erika Toda , Nana Katase

Votes: 17,031

82. House (1977)

Not Rated | 88 min | Comedy, Horror

A schoolgirl and six of her classmates travel to her aunt's country home, which turns out to be haunted.

Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi | Stars: Kimiko Ikegami , Miki Jinbo , Kumiko Ôba , Ai Matsubara

Votes: 29,530

83. Woman in the Dunes (1964)

Not Rated | 147 min | Drama, Thriller

An entomologist on vacation is trapped by local villagers into living with a woman whose life task is shoveling sand for them.

Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara | Stars: Eiji Okada , Kyôko Kishida , Hiroko Itô , Kôji Mitsui

Votes: 20,873

84. Memories (1995)

PG-13 | 113 min | Animation, Sci-Fi, Thriller

An animated science fiction anthology from the visionary anime director, Katsuhiro Otomo.

Directors: Kôji Morimoto , Tensai Okamura , Katsuhiro Ôtomo | Stars: Marc Swint , Robbie Daymond , Frank Todaro , Laura Post

Votes: 19,215

85. Red Beard (1965)

Not Rated | 185 min | Drama

In 19th-century Japan, a rough-tempered yet charitable town doctor trains a young intern.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Toshirô Mifune , Yûzô Kayama , Tsutomu Yamazaki , Reiko Dan

Votes: 19,808

86. Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009)

112 min | Animation, Action, Drama

Under constant attack by Angels, NERV introduces two new pilots: the mysterious Makinami Mari Illustrous and the intense Asuka Langley Shikinami. Parallel to the incursion, Gendo Ikari and ... See full summary  »

Directors: Masayuki , Kazuya Tsurumaki , Hideaki Anno , Joe Fria | Stars: Kotono Mitsuishi , Megumi Ogata , Megumi Hayashibara , Yûko Miyamura

Votes: 22,710 | Gross: $0.13M

87. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999)

R | 102 min | Animation, Action, Drama

A traumatized member of an elite para-military police force falls for the sister of a female terrorist courier who died in front of him on duty.

Director: Hiroyuki Okiura | Stars: Michael Dobson , Yoshikazu Fujiki , Sumi Mutoh , Moneca Stori

Votes: 17,439 | Gross: $0.09M

88. Stray Dog (1949)

Not Rated | 122 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

During a sweltering summer, a rookie homicide detective tries to track down his stolen Colt pistol.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Toshirô Mifune , Takashi Shimura , Keiko Awaji , Eiko Miyoshi

Votes: 17,723

89. Onibaba (1964)

Not Rated | 103 min | Drama, Horror, Thriller

Two women kill samurai and sell their belongings for a living. While one of them is having an affair with their neighbor, the other woman meets a mysterious samurai wearing a bizarre mask.

Director: Kaneto Shindô | Stars: Nobuko Otowa , Jitsuko Yoshimura , Kei Satô , Jûkichi Uno

Votes: 19,842

90. Kwaidan (1964)

Not Rated | 183 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

A collection of four Japanese folk tales with supernatural themes.

Director: Masaki Kobayashi | Stars: Rentarô Mikuni , Michiyo Aratama , Misako Watanabe , Kenjirô Ishiyama

Votes: 18,492

91. Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

Not Rated | 124 min | Drama

In medieval Japan, a compassionate governor is sent into exile. His wife and children try to join him, but are separated, and the children grow up amid suffering and oppression.

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi | Stars: Kinuyo Tanaka , Yoshiaki Hanayagi , Kyôko Kagawa , Eitarô Shindô

Votes: 17,083

92. Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008)

TV-14 | 83 min | Animation, Action, Crime

A hacker known as the Puppet Master is hunted by a female cyborg cop and her partner. This film is a revised version of Ghost in the Shell (1995).

Director: Mamoru Oshii | Stars: Atsuko Tanaka , Akio Ôtsuka , Kôichi Yamadera , Tesshô Genda

Votes: 14,794

93. Late Spring (1949)

Not Rated | 108 min | Drama

Several people try to talk 27-year-old Noriko into marrying, but all she wants is to keep on caring for her widowed father.

Director: Yasujirô Ozu | Stars: Chishû Ryû , Setsuko Hara , Yumeji Tsukioka , Haruko Sugimura

Votes: 17,718

94. Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

TV-14 | 116 min | Animation, Adventure, Drama

A coming of age story involving young love and a mysterious music, coming from a crystal radio left as a memento by an absent father, that leads a young heroine deep into a hidden world.

Director: Makoto Shinkai | Stars: Hisako Kanemoto , Miyu Irino , Kazuhiko Inoue , Junko Takeuchi

Votes: 15,837

95. Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Not Rated | 80 min | Animation, Action, Fantasy

When Doris Lang is chosen as the next bride for the vampire Count Magnus Lee, she will hire a mysterious vampire hunter known only as D in an attempt to escape her ill-gotten fate.

Director: Toyoo Ashida | Stars: Kaneto Shiozawa , Michie Tomizawa , Seizô Katô , Satoko Kifuji

Votes: 16,329

96. Still Walking (2008)

Not Rated | 115 min | Drama

A family gathers together for a commemorative ritual whose nature only gradually becomes clear.

Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu | Stars: Hiroshi Abe , Yui Natsukawa , You , Kazuya Takahashi

Votes: 17,133 | Gross: $0.16M

97. The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)

TV-PG | 90 min | Animation, Drama, Romance

In an alternate postwar timeline, Japan is divided into the Union-controlled North and the US-controlled South.

Directors: Makoto Shinkai , Yoshio Suzuki | Stars: Hidetaka Yoshioka , Masato Hagiwara , Yuka Nanri , Unshô Ishizuka

Votes: 14,368

98. One Cut of the Dead (2017)

Not Rated | 96 min | Comedy, Drama, Horror

Things go badly for a hack director and film crew shooting a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, when they are attacked by real zombies.

Director: Shin'ichirô Ueda | Stars: Takayuki Hamatsu , Yuzuki Akiyama , Harumi Shuhama , Kazuaki Nagaya

Votes: 26,233

99. Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

R | 111 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

2 boys defend Treasure Town. Yakuza try to take over and clear it for new development.

Director: Michael Arias | Stars: Kazunari Ninomiya , Yû Aoi , Yûsuke Iseya , Kankurô Kudô

Votes: 13,944

100. To the Forest of Firefly Lights (2011)

45 min | Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Hotaru is rescued by a spirit when she gets lost in a forest as a child. The two become friends, despite the spirit revealing that he will disappear if he is ever touched by a human.

Director: Takahiro Ômori | Stars: Koki Uchiyama , Ayane Sakura , Shinpachi Tsuji , Izumi Sawada

Votes: 19,346

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30 Best Japanese Movies of All Time

The Land of the Rising Sun's movies just keep rising and rising in quality.

Gabriel Ricard

No list of the best Japanese movies ever made can accurately cover the history of Japanese cinema. Japan has been making and releasing movies since approximately 1897. Like any other country that produces and distributes its own movies, a look through the history of Japanese film reveals some of the most influential films of all time. Every country contributes to global cinema. Japan has cultivated its own artists and creations, while simultaneously embracing characters and stories from other parts of the world. There is no question that western filmmaking alone has impacted the way Japan tells and even markets their stories.

At the same time, Japanese filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa , Hayao Miyazaki , and Takeshi Kitano have crafted films whose importance to audiences went far beyond native shores. Kurosawa alone, who will certainly loom large over this list, was a director of note to such icons as George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg. Writer and director Yasujirō Ozu is another name whose regard goes far beyond what they achieved in Japan. There is no question that when we look to the best Japanese movies, we have at least several hundred choices to consider. This is the country that gave us Ugetsu, Battle Royale, and Gojira. These are all hallmark examples of Japan’s film industry, which have also found popularity throughout other parts of the world.

Yet any list of the best Japanese films can’t simply focus on movies that were also popular here. Regardless of how audiences outside of Japan respond to these stories, you can’t forget that Japanese writers, directors, actors, and others are telling Japanese stories for Japanese audiences. A look through Japan’s film history can also give you plenty of insight into the history and culture of the country itself.

We can’t include every stellar example from that history. What we can do is come up with twenty Japanese movies, presented in chronological order , that stand among the finest examples.

In other words, if you are new to Japanese movies, this list can get you started on a film festival of heavyweights.

The Best Japanese Movies

1. late spring (1949).

Late Spring

Director: Yasujirō Ozu

There is a slew of beautiful, moving films about families coming to terms with Japan after World War II. Late Spring, featuring one of legendary actress Setsuko Hara’s finest performances, is one of the best examples.

Late Spring is the story of a young woman (Hara), eventually put in a position of being compelled to choose between remaining unmarried, living with her father (Chishû Ryû, another giant of Japanese cinema), or getting married, and moving on to a new phase in her life. You don’t really need a background in Japanese familial relations and relationships to appreciate the themes explored here.

Among other things, Late Spring is a story of tradition trying to find a place amidst rapidly changing times. This is also one of the most minimalist films you’ve ever seen. It is riveting simply for its story, dialog, and performances.

Watch if: You want to see one of the best family dramas to ever come out of Japan. Avoid if: You have a hard time sitting still for dialog-heavy movies.

Late Spring (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

2. Ikiru (1952)


Director: Akira Kurosawa

Two years removed from the groundbreaking 1950 film Rashomon, Kurosawa was officially on a creative roll by this point. Ikiru is quite possibly his most emotionally ambitious film to date, featuring quite possibly Takashi Shimura’s finest performance. Considering he appeared in 21 of Kurosawa’s 30 films, that is saying something.

The basic premise of Ikiru is simple. Again, while the film has plenty of post-WW2 commentary, the core story concerns an aging bureaucrat, who undergoes a dramatic personal journey in the wake of terminal medical news.

There is a coldness that sometimes comes across in Kurosawa’s extraordinary body of work. You see that coldness in the world around Shimura’s meek, sorrowful pencil-pusher.

Then something changes. The world around him changes. It is one of film’s most satisfying, heartbreaking, and essential emotional journeys.

Watch if: You’re in the mood for a good cry. Avoid if: You’re not.

Ikiru (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

3. Ugetsu (1953)

Ugetsu (1953)

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

The consequences of ambition, which can include love, shows up in a lot of the best Japanese movies.

That theme isn’t exclusive to the country, but filmmakers like Kenji Mizoguchi have nonetheless directed films that explores the subject in decidedly singular ways. Ugetsu is perhaps Mizoguchi’s most dramatic, poetic exploration of what happens to those who move carelessly through an uncertain world.

One way in which Ugetsu still stands out, and still influences, is in its depiction of the supernatural. It is as natural as the war raging on around this story. As you can imagine, the subject of loss comes into contact with the supernatural in a big way.

Watch if: You want to say you’ve seen one of the most haunting endings in movie history. Avoid if: Morally ambiguous romantic ghost stories aren’t your thing.

Ugetsu (1953) [The Criterion Collection] [Blu-ray]

4. Seven Samurai (1954)

Seven Samurai (1954)

Six samurai, and then one lunatic with something to prove. These are the men who must defend a small village from a gang of bandits, who promise to destroy the village if the village doesn’t produce a certain amount of food for them.

Director Akira Kurosawa arguably changed film forever with Seven Samurai. Still widely regarded as the best samurai movie ever made , it is also a story that has been remade and retold numerous times . Its regard has only grown. Yet it is every bit as thrilling, engaging, and entertaining as anything being made today.

Seven Samurai truly has it all. There is a grand story of heroism set against a very bleak, human backdrop. There are flawless performances from Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, Shinpei Takagi, and Yukiko Shimazaki. There are sorrowful scenes of humanity. There are some moments that are genuinely hilarious.

Seven Samurai deserves its reputation. It is absolutely everything you should demand from a movie, particularly an epic.

Watch if: You want to see one the best movies of all time. Avoid if: You already saw The Magnificent Seven, a remake of Seven Samurai, so you fail to see the point of going backwards.

Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

5. Godzilla (1954)

Godzilla (1954)

Director: Ishirō Honda

To hear some critics and scholars, you’d swear there was never another good Godzilla outing after the 1954 original. That’s dumb . Godzilla is one of the longest-running film franchises in history, with more than thirty entries (primarily from Toho). There are a number of exceptional films in the series, as well as other contenders in the genre of Japanese kaiju movies.

Yet the original Godzilla, released in 1954 as Gojira, remains something special. It is still one of the scariest Godzilla movies ever made. The visuals can strike you as a little rough by 2010s standards. Yet they work beautifully well against the movie’s dark backdrop of a world being brought to face the consequences of nuclear activity.

The original Godzilla was not the start of a franchise, it was a brutal horror movie that wanted to leave the earth in ruins. Arguably, it succeeded.

Watch if: You’re in the mood for an enthralling, depressing monster movie. Avoid if: Your overall impression of Godzilla as a character is pretty positive right now. You’d rather not change that.

Godzilla, Japón Bajo El Terror Del Monstruo (Bd-R) (Blu-ray)

6. An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

In his own inimitable way, the films of Yasujirō Ozu affix the most uncompromising-yet-kindest light possible on what it is to be a human being. It isn’t spectacular, but life belongs to us in a fashion that is unique, beautiful, sad, quiet, but also explosive in the most minute details. No one screams in An Autumn Afternoon, slams the door, or even raises their voice. Everything is very centered, organic, and sometimes elusive in what Ozu’s movies refuse to show us.

It is the story of an aging father (Chishū Ryū) who must decide whether to value his own loneliness above the future of his daughter (Shima Iwashita) in post war-Japan. Regardless of how you may feel about certain traditions upheld by some in Japan, particularly in that period, it is impossible not to emphasize with and relate to all these people. There are no distinctive marks of good and evil here, but rather simple, painfully believable people trying to do what they can while they can. Most of us want to be happy. Most of us at least aspire to do our best.

An Autumn Afternoon presents the qualities above in a light which at least *feels* optimistic. At the very least, and in the most gently dynamic fashion possible, Ozu’s films, particularly this somber final film in a long career, make me glad to be alive.

Watch if: You want to watch a slow-burn, low-key family drama. Avoid if: Slow movies put you to sleep in a hurry.

An Autumn Afternoon (English Subtitled)

7. Woman in the Dunes (1964)

Woman In The Dunes

Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara

One of the most disturbing entries on this list, this 1964 adaptation of Kōbō Abe’s novel (he also wrote the screenplay) has the ability to make you feel at least as crazy as the combined talents of its story, characters, and atmosphere.

Woman in the Dunes is the story of a man who is sucked into absolute insanity, when the inhabitants of a small village essentially trick him into becoming part of a widow’s ongoing life, spent living in a small hut at the bottom of a deep sand dune. If they don’t dig, not only do the rations disappear, but the dune itself eventually buries alive anyone who happens to live inside it.

What follows from there is nothing short of a wonder. It is a dark story of survival and love, and how those things can be shaped by anything. No matter how deranged things get, you will find a way to deal with it.

Watch if: You’re up for one of the most unconventional stories of personal growth you’re ever likely to come across. Avoid if: You don’t like your human dramas to get too weird.

Woman in the Dunes (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

8. Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Director:  Seijun Suzuki

An MPV from a recently shut down Yakuza gang (Tetsuya Watari) is forced to adopt a wanderer lifestyle. What happens from there is nothing short of exhausting in the best way possible.

Tokyo Drifter might be the most exciting movie Seijun Suzuki ever made. That comes from an impressive list of crime thrillers and other low-budget films that showed Japan in an entirely different light from that of Kurosawa or Ozu.

Tokyo Drifter is one of the most exciting noir films ever made. Its solitary figure against a mass of murderous intent is a story concept that still seems to appeal to people. Tokyo Drifter is still one of the best versions of that plot, with a sense of bombast and effortless cool that few can touch.

Watch if: You want to see one of the most exciting movies in Japanese film history. Avoid if: You’re not really into movies where criminals go up against other criminals.

Tokyo Drifter (1966) [The Criterion Collection] [Blu-ray] [2018]

9. Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

Director: Toshio Matsumoto

At some point recently, did you say to yourself “I wish there was a Japanese version of Oedipus Rex, but with a gay son killing his mother to get at dad”? You’re in luck.

Funeral Parade of Roses is the kind of movie that tells you what’s going to happen pretty much from the beginning. As the movie starts, we can almost sense that everything is just on the cusp of getting much, much worse. It does.

Funeral Parade of Roses isn’t just of historical value to the history of Japanese film. It is also one of the wildest, darkest family dramas ever made. Funeral Parade of Roses will stun you again and again.

Watch if: You want to see a masterful approach to the art of narrative escalation. Avoid if: You’ve gone your whole happy life without dealing with any version of Oedipus Rex that you’re aware of. Why start now?

10. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)

Lone Wolf and Cub Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)

Director: Kenji Misumi

Based on a manga by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx is the 2nd film in a 6-movie series. Do you absolutely need to see the first movie in order to understand this one? Not especially. While the films do tell a riveting larger story in the journey of an assassin (Tomisaburo Wakayama) who wanders the landscape with his infant son (Akihiro Tomikawa) in search of work, each Lone Wolf and Cub entry can work just fine on its own.

Why? Because Baby Cart at the River Styx combines satisfying action with some of the best Japanese film characters of the period. Baby Cart features a complex-but-straightforward narrative in which factions war with one another across a stunning, sometimes haunting landscape. The characters and their relationships share the stage with some of the most thrilling fight sequences of not only this series, but arguably of all time.

Baby Cart at the River Styx is a ruthless, harrowing adventure story with deeper themes at play.

Watch if: You want to see a complex human drama with some absolutely badass action sequences. Avoid if: You don’t like seeing children in peril.

Lone Wolf and Cub (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

11. The Executioner (1974)


Director: Teruo Ishii

The Executioner is one of the best introductions to the late and singularly great Sonny Chiba, who passed away in 2021 .

Some of the toughest badasses in the world are brought together to take down a Tokyo drug empire. The movie offers a frenzied pace, deliberately weird narrative choices, and characters who seem quite comfortable in an extreme, oddly cartoonish, and excessively dangerous world. None of this comes through without a clear and well-expressed sense of humor about how ridiculous this story really is.

The Executioner was allegedly made under duress by director Teruo Ishii, who was simply trying to finish his contract with Toei. The result, which features a physical, charismatic, and unforgettable antihero performance by Chiba, certainly seems to suggest a filmmaker going for broke. There’s also a ton of style behind the dynamic cinematography of Yoshikazu Yamazawa and music by Hajime Kaburagi.

The Executioner is as ludicrous as it is exciting, a comedic pulp classic and one of the best Japanese movies of the 1970s. The sequel is almost as good .

Watch if : You want to enjoy a legendary action star in one of his best performances. Avoid if: You don’t like action movies that get too silly.

12. The Castle of Sand (1974)

The Castle of Sand (1974)

Director: Yoshitarō Nomura

Another example on this list of a slow-burn with a devastating emotional payoff, The Castle of Sand consists mostly of an oddly satisfying, routine-driven police procedural. There is a singular tranquility to the pace with which our detectives (Tetsuro Tamba and Kensaku Morita) pursue the bludgeoning death of an old man. Everything moves at a pace which seems to challenge the idea of how a detective story should unfold.

To put it another way, there’s no discernable tension in this film from director Yoshitarō Nomura. We don’t relish the pursuit of good against evil. Like the detectives themselves, we become engrossed in this quietly brilliant humdrum, and simply want to see how it all works out.

This approach to The Castle of Sand pays off in the final act. At the same time, while you will get some answers, you may not like them — this film chooses to shatter our expectations dramatically and almost violently, when the mystery is brought to a head. You’re going to be riveted, but you may also be in a pretty weird place, emotionally speaking, when the movie is over.

Watch if: You like police dramas with the potential to be something very different from the norm. Avoid if: You don’t like it when movies abruptly change gears.

13. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

Director: Nagisa Oshima

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence uses its World War 2 Japanese POW camp setting to create one of the most multifaceted dramas of the 1980s. You may approach this movie for the chance to see David Bowie give a performance that set him a good deal apart from other rockstars moonlighting as actors. That’s fine. You’re going to stay for the disconcerting blend of eroticism, fear, and warring cultures.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a steady exploration of men trying to make the best of things. Even the most reprehensible characters in the film show the destructive potential of confusion, combined with exhaustion. The film features one of the most gripping scores ever composed for a film, by musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, who also delivers one of the movie’s best performances.

Look for Takeshi Kitano in an early standout role. By the end of the decade, Kitano would be directing films of his own.

Watch if: You want to see a WW2 POW drama that will be almost impossible to shake afterwards. Avoid if: As far as dramas go, the slower the burn, the harder it is for you to sit still.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence [Blu-ray]

14. Ran (1985)

Ran (1985)

The last epic directed by Akira Kurosawa, Ran takes the King Lear story to the Sengoku period (1467-1615), plunges its characters and themes into one of the most chaotic periods in Japanese history, and leave us devasted by the multifaceted results.

Ran was a true last hurrah for Japan’s most famous and influential director. Kurosawa would direct a few films after that, but none of them have the scope and tragic awe that sweeps over you in this story of a foolish, aging lord. If you know the King Lear story already, you know how that goes. Tatsuya Nakadai is one of the finest actors to ever play the King Lear figure. At age 87, he is still very active in film and television.

Ran does not simply transport Shakespeare’s drama about family and the ghosts of poor decisions into feudal Japan. Kurosawa uses the vital pieces of that story’s DNA to create something that adds yet another shade to the seemingly endless potential of one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies. Ran is one of the greatest epics ever committed to film.

Watch if: You want to see one of the best Shakespeare film adaptations of all time. Avoid if: You’re a Shakespeare purist.

Ran (StudioCanal Collection) [Blu-ray]

15. Tampopo (1985)


Director: Juzo Itami

Tampopo, which might be one of the most delightful movies ever made, is best described as a series of comedic events. Although the story focuses on two men (Ken Watanabe and Tsutomu Yamazaki), and their efforts in the world of making ramen, Tampopo takes a leisurely approach to things.

The smaller stories feed the larger narrative, and we meet more colorful, hilarious characters along the way. This is a wonderful cinematic world to get lost. Director Juzo Itami made many classic films along those lines.

Tampopo is an endlessly appealing, slightly off-center comedy about family, determination, and loyalty. It expresses these sentiments so gently, so perfectly, it’s difficult to imagine a single cynic left standing.

Watch if: You’re always up for an eccentric family comedy. Avoid if: Movies that take their time strike you as meandering, to the point of distraction.

Tampopo (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

16. Castle in the Sky (1986)

Castle in the Sky

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Two orphans named Sheeta and Pazu throw in together in their bid to find the floating city of Laputa.

Like many of Hayao Miyazaki’s best films, Castle in the Sky focuses on a purity and boundless ambition of children set against a world of indifferent, self-absorbed, or sometimes deeply misguided adults. The talent of Miyazaki to create extremely engaging drama and even tension with stakes comparatively (some would argue deceptively) lower than other adventure movies is beautifully on display here.

Castle in the Sky benefits from two strong characters whose shared dream is just as compelling as the stories of everyone around them. Studio Ghibli films in a broad sense reward those who crave visual creativity, colorful characters with surprising depth, and a story with room to peek vibrantly beyond the motivations of our protagonists.

Everything works about Castle in the Sky, which is a sumptuous, animated classic for any age or taste. It is pure pleasure in both English and Japanese language tracks, and it hasn’t lost a step in 35 years.

Watch if: You want to see one of the best animated movies of all time. Avoid if: You prefer adventure stories that promise heavier doses of action.

Castle in the Sky (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

17. Akira (1988)


Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Akira was an evolutionary leap forward for anime as a medium. It was also a leap forward for how people not only perceived anime, outside of its fans, but how they perceived animation in general.

Adapted by Katsuhiro Otomo from his own 1982 manga, Akira is one of the finest marriages of apocalyptic delirium and cyberpunk dystopia ever brought to screen. It also introduces us to some of the most iconic visuals in Anime history.

The film also offers a surprisingly positive portrayal of humanity. Barring that, you can certainly call it relatable.

Watch if: You want to see one of the most spectacular animated films ever made. Avoid if: You have a low threshold for stylized cartoon violence.

Akira [Region B] [Blu-ray]

18. Dreams (1990)

Dreams (1990)

Dreams was not Akira Kurosawa’s last film, but this loose association of his most reccurring dreams cannot help but feel like a farewell from a creative giant.

The 90s in Japanese cinema saw many young and emerging talents create exceptional pieces of work in a turbulent industry. Yet iconic figures like Kurosawa were still putting forth work that could stand with their best. Dreams was a reminder that age had not diminished a visionary’s capacity to not only, no pun intended, dream, but to realize those dreams in a way that could still connect with audiences.

Despite Dreams being one of his most personal films, a seemingly simple series of vignettes (including one with Martin Scorsese as Van Gogh, leading Kurosawa’s dreamer on a chase through his most famous paintings), this film has a wondrous accessibility to its episodic structure. You don’t have to have these dreams yourself to understand what Kurosawa was saying in the twilight of his life and career. Nor to appreciate what a stunning, multifaceted work of art Dreams reveals itself to be.

Watch if: You’re looking for a dose of movie magical realism from one of Japan’s great artists. Avoid if: You prefer movies with a more traditional narrative structure.

Akira Kurosawas Dreams (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

19. Sonatine (1993)

Sonatine (1993)

Director: Takeshi Kitano

Between Sonatine, Fireworks, and 1999’s Kikujiro, the exhilarating run of movies Takeshi Kitano had in the 90s in particular is one of the hallmarks of contemporary Japanese cinema. Sonatine was not Kitano’s first film as a director, but it’s arguably the movie that solidified his reputation as one of the country’s most distinctive filmmaking voices from that point forward.

Sonatine involves a group of Yakuza making their way to Okinawa. What starts as a legitimate effort to end gangland warfare between two clans soon escalates into the kind of screen violence that Kitano as a director would become famous for. However, when the Yakuza flee the situation, including weary enforcer Murakawa (Kitano), hiding out at the seaside for a spell, Kitano’s other strengths come to the forefront.

Sonatine is a story about coming to terms with one’s choices, and about where our assumptions can take us in life. Sonatine is a masterwork of balance between the shocking and the somber.

Watch if: You want a truly unique film in the Yakuza or just gangster movie genre. Avoid if: You prefer those types of movies to come with more action.

20. Fireworks (1997)

Fireworks (1997)

Few Japanese filmmakers have done as much with revenge and violence as Takeshi Kitano. One of the country’s most famous comedic actors, among other gigs, Takeshi Kitano has proven repeatedly that there are still fascinating stories to be told about desperate or angry men. He’s still telling them in the 2010s.

While Fireworks (released in Japan as Hana-bi) is not quite as famous as 1993’s Sonatine, which put him on the map, it is quite possibly Kitano’s best film nonetheless. The idea of an embittered police detective striking back at the system has been explored before. Few have delved as fearlessly into the mindset of a man who will do anything to clear his debts and gain what he desires.

Kitano plays this character without an ounce of romanticism. Everything goes into making us believe in what his character wants. The film itself is one of the most intense cop dramas you’re ever going to see.

Watch if: You want to see a cop go to war with the mob in a truly unique way. Avoid if: You like to have a clear idea of who you should root for.

Fireworks ( 1997 ) ( Hana-bi ) ( Havai Fisekler (Fire works) ) [ NON-USA...

21. Dead or Alive (1999)

Dead or Alive (1999)

Director: Takaski Miike

No one ups the ante quite like Takashi Miike. The director of some 100 films and TV shows, Miike is particularly known for some of the weirdest and most violent movies in the history of Japanese cinema. That’s not fair. He also ranks high on filmmakers who like to work with fluids.

There are a lot of fluids in Dead or Alive, the story of a detective and a gangster who begin a mutually-beneficial working relationship. There are characters who behave horribly. There are moments of cartoon surrealism with moments of violence that can move even the most jaded gore hound. We start the movie off with these things. It gets worse from there. Everything does. Or better. It depends on your perspective.

Regardless, Dead or Alive is one of the most creative, unforgettable movies to ever come out of Japan.

Watch if : You want to be able to say you’ve seen one of the most disturbing movies ever made. Avoid if: You have a weak stomach for violence. Or on-screen human waste of any kind.

Dead or Alive

22. Uzumaki (2000)


Director: Higuchinsky

Based on a manga by Junji Ito, the creator of Tomie and many other distinctive horror works, Uzumaki might just be the most mentally exhausting Japanese horror movie of all time. The story of a small village that becomes consumed by a madness related to spirals, depicted in a variety of different forms, is an exercise for the audience, an opportunity to submit wholesale to one of the bleakest and strangest entries on this list.

Japanese horror in broad strokes is known for its strangeness, and for creating a situation in which the odds of survival, even for the best and brightest, are slim. The wave of a transformative force that is never fully known or even vaguely understood consumes everything. We are as helpless to watch it unfold as these characters are to do anything but try to press forward.

Even the simplest words and gestures in Uzumaki, which is grounded by a strong performance by Eriko Hatsune, can lead to something horrifying. Nothing can be trusted, except that nothing will ever be the same again.

Uzumaki is a startling adaptation of one of the best modern horror stories of all time.

Watch if: You want to see an utterly suffocating horror film. Avoid if: You prefer movies that don’t leave you feeling as though you just had a small breakdown.


23. Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale 2000

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

The final feature film completed by Japanese New Wave figure Kinji Fukasaku proved to be a critical and commercial triumph for the director , who passed away in 2003 at the age of 72.

Perhaps more significant than that is the fact that Battle Royale created an entire genre unto itself. That would be the concept of taking a group of people, sticking them in an unfamiliar place, throwing some weapons at them, and leaving the situation to work itself out. Battle Royale is perhaps one of the most influential Japanese films of all time, in addition to being one of the best.

Beyond any of these thoughts remains a movie that is brutally violent, darkly funny, and nearly overwhelmed with performances by a cast that connects seamlessly to the movie’s impressively aggressive, inventive approach to what seems like an overly sophisticated grindhouse film.

The high school students who suddenly find themselves fighting for survival on a mysterious island are not disposable for the most part. This is one of the movie’s secrets of success, beyond the absolute creativity of the violence. Another was casting Takeshi Kitano as a teacher who has just had it with the stresses of life and the job.

Watch if: You want to see one of the most important movies of the past 20 years. Avoid if: You don’t have a strong tolerance for the ultra-violence.

Battle Royale [Blu-ray]

24. Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki has directed some of the best animated films of all time . Spirited Away is his best for simply being the best combination of the many themes he has worked with over a long career.

An unhappy young girl, moving to a new town with her parents, is taken from these circumstances to a bathhouse for the spirits. These things can happen, when you stop at an abandoned amusement park.

Whether you watch it in its original Japanese, or choose your native language, the warmth of these characters will resonate. The same goes for the surprises found in the storytelling, and in how that story unfolds.

Spirited Away is also notable for the touching attention to the details found in human courage. It is a benchmark for humor and emotional depth in an animated film that we have rarely seen since.

Watch if: You love stories in which young girls are as brave and heroic as anyone could ever be. Avoid if: You prefer stories with a more traditional antagonist.

Spirited Away (Bluray/DVD Combo) [Blu-ray]

25. Survive Style 5+ (2004)

Survive Style 5+ (2004)

Director: Gen Sekiguchi

A stunning mix of fantasy, surrealism, and a far-reaching ensemble whose stories connect in he most remarkable ways, Survive Style 5+ is surprisingly broad in its appeal. Survive Style 5+ asks you to accept a lot of odd stuff early on. It does this with such likable enthusiasm and creativity that it is impossible to say no.

A family whose father is trapped in a hypnosis which makes him believe he’s a bird. An advertising executive who dreams of murder and bizarre TV commercials. A hypnotist who doesn’t know his days might be numbered. An English hitman (Vinnie Jones, who steals every scene he appears in) and his Japanese translator. A man who can’t seem to successfully murder his wife, who eventually becomes a zombie with superpowers. A group of bank robbers with aimless dreams and romantic fantasies about each other.

That sounds like a lot. It is. Somehow, everything clicks. In its own wild way, everything about Survive Style 5+ is perfectly reasonable.

Watch if: You’re up for a freewheeling comedy with a huge cast. Avoid if: You’re a profound believer in the idea that movies have to be logical.

26. Paprika (2006)

Paprika (2006)

Director: Satoshi Kon

If you’re like me, celebrating the life and work of Satoshi Kon means two things. It means knowing without question that movies like Paprika are among the best anime feature films of all time. It also means mourning the life of a dark visionary who nonetheless seemed to weigh that darkness against at least some concept of optimism.

When a device with the ability to explore the dreams of others in real-time is stolen, it sets in motion a chain of events which feature dream detectives, monumental greed, love, our connections that keep us at least aware of the real world around us, and more. It also features moments that could very easily descend into a type of horror I don’t think most of us could handle.

There is of course the famous argument that Christopher Nolan’s Inception stole concepts and even scenes from this film . What matters to me more than your opinion on that is that you see this movie at all. If you do, and you do decide to compare the two, I hope you’ll come to decide the same thing I did.

Paprika is a much, much better movie about the redemption in a dreamscape.

Watch if: You’re ready for an animated science fiction classic with visual flair and likable characters. Avoid if: You live in constant fear of the idea that movies about dreams will influence your own.

Paprika [Blu-ray]

27. Departures (2008)


Director: Yōjirō Takita

The story of a musician whose life takes a dramatic turn, Departures almost feels like a piece of music in its own right.

Departures has a melodic pace. We are often left to character surrounded by a quietly stunning atmosphere. Even if there wasn’t a gorgeous score by Joe Hisaishi, we could very easily create our own music to accompany a young man who finally finds his calling. Departures has moments of soft-spoken drama that spring from this calling, that of a traditional ritual mortician, but the movie has a much keener focus on reminding us of death.

Obviously, there are a lot of different ways to make your audience think of death. Director Yōjirō Takita goes for a direct approach. Departures is a contemporary film in many ways. It also uses things like tradition and ritual. For some, and in some situations, there is something meaningful we can find in experiencing it through another culture.

Watch if: You want to see one of the kindest movies about death in recent years. Avoid if: You can only stand so much circumstance.


28. One Cut of the Dead (2017)

One Cut of the Dead

Director: Shinichirou Ueda

Four years after its release, the temptation with talking about the unbelievably good zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead is to avoid spoilers. Some people still haven’t heard of the film, let alone see it.

As anyone who has seen One Cut of the Dead will tell you, one of the joys of this film is the element of surprise. All you really need to know is that this is simultaneously one of the best Japanese comedies in recent memory, one of the best zombie movies to be found anywhere on the planet, and one of the best movies about the hells and joys of filmmaking itself that you are ever going to see.

Yes, that’s a very tall list for a movie that runs just 97 minutes, but not a second of that running time is wasted. Not a single line of dialog or performance does anything less than delight, and contribute to an almost supernatural cinematic achievement.

One Cut of the Dead proves that film as a medium is still wide open to truly and uniquely surprise you. That might sound like a lot of hype for what is ostensibly a horror comedy, but if anything, it is an understatement.

Watch if: You want to experience one of the most entertaining plot twists in modern film history. Avoid if: You’re not generally someone who can combine zombies with humor.

One Cut of the Dead

29. Shoplifters (2018)


Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Family stories are becoming increasingly complex in film and television. Shoplifters is a stirring example of that notion. At the same time, it might just be the best film yet from Hirokazu Kore-eda, who also directed the renowned Nobody Knows in 2004.

It is certainly also a good indication that Japan is still producing unique, engaging films on their own soil. As entities like Hollywood aspire to make the world smaller through oversaturation, films like Shoplifters still speak to the notion of a global cinematic community.

If you don’t care about that part, it’s okay. You are still left with the story of a non-biological family that turns to stealing and sharing among one another to survive. Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, and Kairi Jō are among the standouts in a film filled with believable, likable characters.

Shoplifters is also a story a survival on a number of levels. As far as we’re concerned, this film may remind you that such survival often relies on trusting others. Many of us are currently redefining our respective criteria.

Watch if: You want a touching, engaging ensemble drama, with touches of light humor. Avoid if: You’re sick of movies that are optimistic about people.


30. Drive My Car (2021)

Drive My Car (2021)

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

With a running time of 2 hours and 59 minutes, the last thing you want to do with Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s international success Drive My Car is be intimidated by this time commitment and its leisurely pace.

You’ve probably heard this about the story of a grieving widower (Hidetoshi Nishijima) developing a unique and spiritually fulfilling relationship with his young chauffer (Toko Miura), if you’ve heard anything at all. Drive My Car reveals its wonderful characters, not just our two primary protagonists, and their lives slowly, yes. That’s fine because you’ll almost certainly get into these people and where they’re each going.

A cinematic slow burn would be a good way to describe Drive My Car in a nutshell. We’re moving at a gradual pace, yet each moment and interaction, beautifully filmed and edited, is exciting. Not only because it builds on Drive My Car’s decidedly cinematic story, but also because the writing and willingness to tell its own story in its own way shine through every single time.

Watch if: You want a moving deep dive into characters and their respective and shared stories. Avoid if: You really don’t have approximately 3 hours to spare.

Drive My Car (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

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10 Best Japanese Movies of All Time, According to IMDb

Believe it or not, they're not all from Studio Ghibli.

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The list of the best Japanese movies of all time on IMDb's Top 250 rarely changes, and for a good reason. While the scores may slightly shift every now and then, there's no denying that there are some beloved Japanese movies that have become classics and are irreplaceable on the platform.

When it comes to media, Japan is one of the greatest exporters of creative content. Whether it's Japanese films, video games, anime, or novels, the country consistently delivers quality storytelling combined with its own unique sense of style.

RELATED: Studio Ghibli Movies Ranked from Worst to Best

In the realm of film, Japan has an abundance of great movies. Whether it's animated films that commentate on the triumphs and failures of humanity, or sweeping epics set in feudal times, the country is host to a legion of talented filmmakers. While there are more fantastic Japanese films than one list can cover, here are the top ten Japanese movies on IMDb.

Updated on January 6th, 2023, by Hannah Saab:

10 'ran' (1985) – 8.2, available to rent on apple itunes, amazon video and google play movies..

Released towards the end of his career, Akira Kurosawa 's Ran holds a place as one of his finest films, as well as standing amongst the greatest movies ever made. Influenced by Shakespeare 's King Lear , the story follows an aging warlord who attempts to pass his kingdom to his three sons.

The final epic of his career, Ran is a culmination of all the themes and techniques Kurosawa expressed throughout his filmography. The film earned him his only nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director.

9 'Howl's Moving Castle' (2004) – 8.2

Available to stream on hbo max..

Another classic from Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki , Howl's Moving Castle is set in a fictional kingdom where magic exists. When a young girl is transformed into an old woman by a witch, she finds herself befriending a wizard named Howl and travels with him aboard his titular moving castle in an effort to break the spell.

Miyazaki has claimed that Howl's is his favorite creation, and he made it as a way to express his disdain for America's invasion of Iraq. Howl's Moving Castle also touches on feminism and ageism, offering thoughtful messages beyond its stunning visuals.

8 'Ikiru' (1952) – 8.3

Available to stream on hbo max and the criterion channel..

Akira Kurosawa's 13th film, Ikiru provides one of his most understated stories. When an aged man nearing retirement discovers he is terminally ill, he attempts to make the most of his final days. Despite a strained relationship with his son, he vows to make a mark on the world through the happiness he can leave with others.

Commentating on the purpose of life and the acceptance of death, Ikiru explores themes that everyone will find relatable. The film is also Kurosawa's examination of what he considered to be a period where Japanese family life was falling apart.

7 'High and Low' (1963) – 8.4

Wealthy Gondo ( Toshiro Mifune ) is a company executive, who is secretly attempting to stage a company buyout. However, when he receives a call claiming his son has been kidnaped, and he needs to pay a ransom to see him again, Gondo finds himself in a precarious situation.

What begins as a tense drama soon turns into a police procedural, as detectives become involved in the search for the perpetrator. High and Low mostly serves as an examination of Gondo's character, as he is forced to balance his desire to achieve success with that of being a good person.

6 'Princess Mononoke' (1997) – 8.4

The fourth creature-filled film from Studio Ghibli , Princess Mononoke helped establish both of their names internationally. The film follows a young prince who finds himself in a war between the spirits of a forest and the humans harvesting it for resources.

A portrayal of humanity's negative effect on the environment, the film refuses to paint a clear villain. Both the gods of the forest and the humans have understandable reasons for their side of the conflict, and Princess Mononoke presents the ideal solution as a middle ground between mankind and nature.

5 'Your Name' (2016) – 8.4

Worthy of a spot among the top Japanese movies, Your Name is a romantic body swap anime film that tells the story of two teenagers living in modern Japan. The pair begin to swap bodies and are forced to live each other's lives for periods of time. In an effort to solve their dilemma, the teens decide to meet for the first time.

The film was a major success at release and was praised by critics, both within Japan and overseas. Your Name is beautifully animated, while the story does a fine job of portraying the earnestness of young love and the awkwardness of trying to navigate your teenage years.

4 'Grave of the Fireflies' (1988) – 8.5

Available to rent on apple itunes..

Easily the most depressing film on this list, Grave of the Fireflies tells the story of a teenage boy and his younger sister. Set during the final months of World War II, the film follows the sibling's desperate attempt to survive as the war finds its way to their home.

Animated by Studio Ghibli, the film is as beautiful as it is haunting. Grave of the Fireflies does not shy away from the harsh realities of war and its impact on civilians. The movie is one of the greatest war films of all time , and a milestone in Japanese animation.

3 'Harakiri' (1962) – 8.6

Available to stream on the criterion channel..

One of the best samurai films of all time, if not the best, Harakiri begins with an elder samurai arriving at the estate of a feudal lord. The samurai asks the lord if he may commit seppuku within his manor, causing the samurai to explain the events that led him here.

An anti-samurai film, Harakiri criticizes the failings the samurai code held for its followers. When wars had been won and peace enveloped the land, samurai often found themselves without purpose, choosing to take their own lives by performing "harakiri," resulting in a tragic waste of life.

2 'Seven Samurai' (1954) – 8.6

Directed by legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai tells the tale of seven samurai who band together to protect a village from the bandits who threaten it. Each of the samurai comes from a different background, but they all find meaning in protecting those that cannot protect themselves.

Often cited among the most influential and best Japanese films of all time, Seven Samurai was adapted in America and released as The Magnificent Seven , placing it in a Western setting. The movie's storyline and concept of "getting a team together" can be felt in media everywhere, with the film's influence being felt in The Dirty Dozen , Saving Private Ryan , and even Avengers: Endgame .

1 'Spirited Away' (2001) – 8.6

Animation house Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki possess a filmography that rivals anyone, but Spirited Away stands as their masterpiece (and continues to be one of the most famous Japanese movies). When ten-year-old Chihiro witnesses her parents being turned into pigs by a witch, she must work in the witch's bathhouse to earn her parents' freedom.

What follows is an amazing display of animation and imagination as Chihiro finds herself in a wondrous world parallel to our own, full of quirky characters and bizarre creations. Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature , making it the first, and only, non-English language film to do so.

NEXT: The Best Anime Films That Aren't From Studio Ghibli

movie film japanese

Best Japanese Movies: The Top 60 of All Time

By  david mcelhinney & jes kalled | art.

movie film japanese

The vast world of Japanese films is incredibly hard to narrow down. Where does one begin? Here are 60 Japanese films from various genres, directors and historical backgrounds . A diverse list to jumpstart your introduction or further your indulgence into contemporary Japanese movies, post war classics, feminist shorts and even silent movies. We know you’ve seen Totoro already, so here is an array of other delights!

Many of these Japanese movies are available to buy online, so where possible we have provided a link. If you do buy through these links we may receive a commission at no cost to you.

1. Rashomon / 羅生門 - Akira Kurosawa (1950)

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Arguably Akira Kurosawa’s best ever film , and certainly his most influential, Rashomon left a cultural legacy in its wake that transcended the entertainment industry. The story of a samurai murdered in a bamboo grove – adapted from two of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short stories, In a Grove and Rashomon – it’s told from three conflicting perspectives: the accused bandit, Tajomaru; the samurai’s wife and principal witness, Masago; and the deceased samurai, Takehiko, speaking through a medium. The story delivers not a single conclusion but requires viewers to draw their own by questioning the nature of subjective truth – which of the protagonists are we to believe? The term Rashomon effect was subsequently coined to describe an unreliable narrator and is used in a variety of disciplines today, from storytelling to criminal court proceedings.

Rashomon – Available at Amazon

2. Drive My Car /ドライブ・マイ・カー - Ryusuke Hamaguchi (2021)

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Academy Award winner for Best International Film in 2022, Drive My Car helped reestablish Japan as a cinematic force on the world map . It’s the poignant story of Ryusuke Kafuku, who two years after his wife’s death, is invited to direct a play at a Hiroshima theater festival. There he meets Misaki, his assigned chauffeur, with whom he develops a strong rapport allowing him to confront the skeletons in his closet. Shades of Haruki Murakami, from whose stories Drive My Car is adapted, are worn heavily on the narrative which explores how one can find purpose after their life has fallen to pieces.  

Drive My Car – Available at Amazon

3. Ringu / リング - Hideo Nakata (1998)

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Japanese cinema has mastered the horror genre, and few scary movies have had the cultural impact of Ringu (subsequently adapted for the Hollywood screen in 2002 as The Ring .) Based on the Japanese folktale Bancho Sarayashiki , which centers around an onryo (vengeful spirit) who met her fate in a well, Ringu modernized the theme by focusing on a fuzzy video tape circulating on the Izu Peninsula which causes the death of any viewers seven days after they’ve watched it. Protagonist and journalist Reiko sets out to find the source of the tape’s curse, leading her on a wild and horrifying ghost chase that spirals towards the shadowy past of a deceased girl who’s spirit resides within a well.

Ringu – Available at Amazon

4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind / 風の谷のナウシカ - Hayao Miyazaki (1984)

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Ghibli auteur Hayao Miyazaki’s first movie, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind , established its creator as a true visionary in the anime meta-genre. Telling a prophetic tale which bears much resemblance to its better-known spiritual successor, Princess Mononoke , the post-apocalyptic film focuses on the titular princess who sets out to save her small, self-sufficient kingdom and the natural world from warring empires and giant killer insects. The themes of heroism, environmentalism and spirituality present in the film have defined Miyazaki’s work for the past four decades.    

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – Available at Amazon

5. Battle Royale / バトル・ロワイアル - Kinji Fukasaku (2000)

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Battle Royale was a controversial movie upon its release, inspired by equally controversial source material: Koushun Takami’s 1999 novel of the same name. A fusion of coming-of-age high school drama tropes with a slasher thriller, Battle Royale pits an unlucky group of students in a fight-to-the-death, every-man-for-themselves scenario as punishment for the transgressions of youth in a fascistic version of modern Japan. Starring Takeshi Kitano as the cold-hearted game master, this blood-soaked tale is as much about love and self-sacrifice as it is about the fatal actions of teenagers in the clutches of desperation.

Battle Royale – Available at Amazon

6. Fireworks / はなび - Takeshi Kitano (1997)

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Takeshi Kitano is one of the most revered names in Japanese cinema, and Fireworks was the moment the nation began to stand up and take notice. Takano wrote, directed and starred in this film about a sensitive Tokyo cop, Nishi, who’s faced with the recent death of his daughter and his wife’s terminal illness, causing him to spiral out of control and into the depths of the criminal underworld. Fireworks balances the delicate interpersonal struggles of Nishi’s family life with elements of a hard-nosed action flick so skillfully that it was awarded a Golden Lion at the 54th Venice International Film Festival. 

Fireworks – Available at Amazon

7. Gojira /ゴジラ - Ishiro Honda (1954)

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The first film in the now acclaimed Godzilla franchise, Gojira centers on the Japanese authorities as they deal with the appearance of a giant reptilian monster in postwar Japan. The movie was a revelation upon its release, pioneering an early form of cinematic visual effect, known as suitmation, in which an actor wears a realistic suit or costume (in this case disguising himself as the monster) and interacts with miniature sets. Though suitmation looks dated by 21st-century standards, Gojira remains an important piece of cinema history and gave birth to what many argue is the world’s longest running movie franchise.

Gojira – Available at Amazon

8. Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train / 劇場版「鬼滅の刃」 無限列車編 - Haruo Sotozaki (2020)

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Following the acclaimed anime series Demon Slayer , which took Japan by storm in 2019, Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train continued the tale of demon hunter Tanjiro Kamado as he embarks on a new mission aboard a train presided over by an evil spirit. Selling more than 41 million tickets and generating over $500 million, it was the highest-grossing film of 2020 at the global box office and the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. This a testament both to the movie’s high level of production quality and anime’s continued metastasis throughout the international entertainment industry.  

Demon Slayer the Movie – Available at Amazon

9. Ghost in the Shell / 攻殻機動隊 - Mamoru Oshii (1995)

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For many 80s and 90s otaku kids, Ghost in the Shell will have served as their introduction to Japanese animated cinema . A cyberpunk thriller set in the year 2029, it follows Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg security agent in Tokyo, as he pursues a criminal hacker known as the Puppet Master. It was a prescient film, dealing with the consequences and moral implications of general artificial intelligence, and the erasure of the self in a futuristic techtopia. Furthering its credentials, Ghost in the Shell is beautifully drawn and scored, backed by exceptional voice acting in the Japanese original.

10. Audition / オーディション - Takashi Miike (1999)

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Based on a Ryu Murakami novel of the same name, Audition is a psychological horror about a widower who stages an audition to meet a new lover. Viewed as controversial in the West due to a brutal torture scene that punctuates the film, Audition is a compelling story that gives great insight into the twisted style of the source material’s author . It is now viewed as one of the great horror films to come out of Japan – high praise, indeed – and director Takashi Miike has since been credited as an inspiration for fellow dramatists, such as the Sosaka Sisters of Dead Hooker in a Trunk and See No Evil 2 .

Audition – Available at Amazon

11. 13 Assassins / 十三人の刺客 - Takashi Miike (2010)

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The samurai genre is one of the most firmly cemented in the Japanese cinematic canon, with most entries that roll of the tongue coming from the postwar boom era of the 1950s and 60s. 2010’s 13 Assassins, a reimaging of the 1963 classic of the same name , continues the tradition of its forebears with brooding intensity and a captivating cast of characters. Following a group of 13 samurai who set forth on a suicide mission to kill the sadistic heir to the Shogunate, Lord Naritsugu, 13 Assassins retains defining themes of the genre – such as honor, duty and death as glory – as it drives towards a final David-vs-Goliath showdown in the fortified town of Ochiai.

13 Assassins – Available at Amazon

12. Shoplifters / 万引き家族 - Hirokazu Koreeda (2018)

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A Palme d’Or-winning drama about a family of thieves who take in a child from the streets, Shoplifters is a thought-provoking film that builds towards a truly unexpected denouement. Taking aim at the hypocrisies and untold truths of modern Japan, Shoplifters also touches on themes of morality and complicated family relations . Director Hirokazu Koreeda shines and the fantastic central cast deliver excellent performances, cementing Shoplifters ’ place as one of the great modern Japanese films.

Shoplifters – Available at Amazon

13. Like Father, Like Son / そして父になる - Hirokazu Koreeda (2013)

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Also directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, Like Father, Like Son depicts a workaholic salaryman, Ryota Nonomiya, whose life is inverted when he discovers his biological son was switched with another boy at birth. This creates the central dilemma of the plot: should Nonomiya seek out his true genetic son, or develop the relationship he has largely foregone as the absentee father of another man’s child? It’s a beautiful cinematic portrait of the struggles of fatherhood and another worthy addition to the stellar resume of its star director.

14. One Cut of the Dead / カメラを止めるな! - Shinichiro Ueda (2017)

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In the documovie-style of Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project , One Cut of the Dead follows a film crew shooting a low-budget zombie flick in an abandoned Second World War facility when a real zombie horde attacks them. This novel idea delivered on a shoestring budget resulted in a horror-comedy that was a smash hit at international film festivals in 2017. Full of plot twists, inventive storytelling, meta-analysis on the craft of movie-making and a sprinkling of erratic humor, One Cut of the Dead proves that creativity can oust budget if enough of the former is applied.

One Cut of the Dead – Available at Amazon

15. Vengeance Is Mine / 復讐するは我にあり - Shohei Imamura (1979)

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Chronicling the life of Iwao Enokizu, a murderous thief on the run, Vengeance is Mine is more deeply resonant and artistic than its 80s, B-movie action title suggests. Based on the exploits of real-life serial killer Akira Nishiguchi, the movie describes in detail the cold-blooded and emotionless rationale which guided the destruction in his life. Devastatingly portrayed by Ken Ogata, under the expert direction of Shohei Imamura, Enokizu’s story makes for difficult if inherently compelling watching.

Vengeance Is Mine – Available at Amazon

16. The Castle of Sand / 砂の器 - Yoshitaro Nomura (1974)

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The Castle of Sand sounds like it could be a heartwarming tale from Studio Ghibili, but rather focuses on Tokyo detectives investigating the murder of an old man bludgeoned to death in a rail yard. What follows is a classic, time-spanning whodunnit whose web of leads carries the duo of detectives across the country in search of clues, suspects and ever-elusive answers until the final, tragic plot twist is revealed.  

17. The Ballad of Narayama / 楢山節考 - Shohei Imamura (1983)

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Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, The Ballad of Narayama focuses on the apocryphal Japanese practice of ubasute , whereby elderly people were carried to the top of a mountain and left to die. Superbly directed by Shohei Imamura, the film is highly stylized in its portrayal of rural Japanese beauty, which contrasts the harsh and brutal lives of its cast of 19th-century villagers and the poignant plot line of the condemned elder Orin’s last journey.   

The Ballad of Narayama – Available at Amazon

18. Seven Samurai / 七人の侍 - Akira Kurosawa (1954)

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And so we visit Akira Kurosawa once more, and a film that 60 years on is still required viewing for cinema buffs across the world. Seven Samurai , said to have inspired the spaghetti Western genre which consumed Hollywood in the 1960s , is set in feudal Japan in the late-1500s when the country was embroiled in over 100 years of continued bloodshed. A rag-tag group of samurai are recruited to defend a fishing village from a group of bandits, but as their individual way-of-the-warrior ideals are challenged by chance encounters and circumstance the movie develops into a web of juicy plot twists and masterful storytelling that keeps viewers enraptured for its near four-hour runtime. The “classic” tag is bandied around rather wantonly in the modern world, but few would deny that Seven Samurai fulfills the necessary criteria.

Seven Samurai – Available at Amazon

19. Our Little Sister / 海街 - Hirokazu Koreeda (2015)

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A wholesome portrait of family life – a theme Japanese storytelling often excels at – Our Little Sister was a smash hit from acclaimed director Hirokazu Koreeda upon its release. Based off the Umimachi Diary manga, it tells the story of three twenty-something sisters who live together in the old family home. Upon their estranged father’s death, they discover they have a younger half-sister who repurposes and gives new meaning to their lives. What follows is an undeniably sweet and tender cinematic journey ; perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Our Little Sister – Available at Amazon

20. Hara-kiri / 切腹 - Masaki Kobayashi (1962)

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Hara-kiri , a 17th-century period drama which takes its name from ritualistic suicide, is regarded as one of the great samurai films of the golden era of Japanese cinema . It follows the story of a ronin (masterless samurai), Hanshiro Tsugumo, who requests to commit suicide in the home of a feudal lord. While flagrantly questioning the much-vaunted bushido , or samurai code of ethics, Tsugumo recounts the tale that brought him to the act of hara-kiri with unexpected revelations that build tension exponentially until the final line is delivered. Legendary Japanese-film critic Donald Richie would go on to proclaim Hara-kiri as director Masaki Kobayashi's "single finest picture".

Hara-kiri – Available at Amazon

21. Glasses / めがね - Naoko Ogigami (2001)

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Glasses / めがね - Naoko Ogigami (2001)

Glasses or Megane is a purposefully slow-paced movie, meant to lead viewers into a sleepy state . Director Naoko Ogigami even warned the audience of this theme and side effect in its San Francisco screening. In the film, protagonist Taeko moves to an island to get away from the city. She stays at the Hamada Inn and meets an eclectic group of people there. At first, Taeko is somewhat overwhelmed by their quirks. Megane takes us through a journey with Taeko, giving her space and time to adapt to new surroundings, and introducing her to a different way of living that allows for simplicity, and appreciation.

Glasses - Available at Amazon

22. Sonatine / ソナチネ - Takeshi Kitano (1993)

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Sonatine / ソナチネ - Takeshi Kitano (1993)

Takeshi Kitano is a well known actor, writer, editor and director of several hit gangster films. Sonatine was received poorly in Japan, but rather well overseas. It was seen as a new kind of gangster genre . According to an article by Rob Mackie published in The Guardian in 1998, “'s a largely peaceful, contemplative work, punctuated by moments of extreme violence.” The plot follows a tired yakuza gangster played by Takeshi. His boss sends him to Okinawa, where he wonders if he will be ambushed. Although moments of gunfire and violence break out throughout the movie, the story also contains lulls where the men are relaxing on the beach, playing games that are tinged with suspense.

Sonatine - Available at Amazon

23. The Great Passage / 舟を編む - Yuya Ishii (2013)

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The Great Passage / 舟を編む - Yuya Ishii (2013)

A charming love story that attempts to define love, literally. This drama/comedy follows a young linguist enthusiast who is passionate about words . Recruited by a group of other editors, protagonist Majime takes on the project of writing a “living dictionary.” The project is no easy feat, and has already taken years and years of work. In addition to his labor of love, Majime has begun to fall for his landlord’s granddaughter. The exterior of this film plays on Majime’s idiosyncrasies and charming nerdy-ness. But a deeper look shows how words connect people, and the different ways we must learn to express them to the people we care about most.

The Great Passage - Available at Amazon

24. Shall We Dance? / Shall We ダンス? - Masayuki Suo (1996)

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Shall We Dance? / Shall we ダンス? - Masayuki Suo (1996)

Shall We Dance? is a romantic comedy about a successful salaryman named Shohei who has sunken into a bit of a depression despite his outward good fortune. While walking home one night, Shohei sees a woman framed in a window sill. His interest in her piquing to the point where he decides to take dance lessons at her ballroom studio in order to get closer to her. Shohei grapples with the embarrassment of taking secret dance lessons, but discovers a new kind of appreciation for self love, and movement , even if it originated from the west. Shall We Dance? is entertaining and cute, earning it additional recognition outside Japan upon its initial release in 1996.

Shall We Dance? - Available at Amazon

25. Kamome Diner / かもめ食堂 - Naoko Ogigami (2006)

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Kamome Diner / かもめ食堂 - Naoko Ogigami (2006)

Set in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, Kamome Diner, follows a Japanese woman named Midori, who has just opened a small restaurant that serves Japanese food. Midori is independent and determined to share onigiri and other Japanese soul foods to this foreign city she now calls home, but her new business is slow, and her customers are few. Similar to director Naoko Ogigami’s earlier film, Megane, the protagonist meets other quirky individuals throughout her journey. Interestingly in Kamome Diner, these characters form a bond despite their somewhat mysterious backgrounds that slowly unfold.

Kamome Diner - Available at Amazon

26. Woman in the Dunes / 砂の女 - Hiroshi Teshigahara (1964)

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Woman in the Dunes / 砂の女 - Hiroshi Teshigahara (1964)

A Japanese new wave film from 1964, Woman in the Dunes won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Shot in the Tottori Sand Dunes, the story centers around Junpei who is kidnapped by local villagers who live by the sea . Junpei eventually becomes entrapped in the sand dune with a young widow, whose job has become to dig sand, not only for employment but also to save her own life. The cabin threatens to be swallowed by sand at any moment. With nothing but a reappearing rope later that teases freedom, the two lose track of time and space in their capture. Brutal and erotic, Woman in the Dunes explores the depths of human existence. 

Woman in the Dunes - Available at Amazon

27. A Whisker Away / 泣きたい私は猫をかぶる - Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama (2020)

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A Whisker Away / 泣きたい私は猫をかぶる - Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama (2020)

Originally meant for theatrical release in early June of 2020, Whisker Away was sold to Netflix and released in mid June for an “at home” premier due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This animated film tells the fantastical love story of Miyo , who longs for the attention of her crush, Hinode. Unable to connect with him in person, instead Miyo begins bonding with Hinode in the form of a cat, of which she’s able to transform into with a magical Noh mask. Caught between her life of being a human and her life of being a cat, the magic that allows her to spend time with her crush threatens to change her life permanently. This film captures the essence of youth and summer festivals in Japan.

28. Floating Clouds / 浮雲 - Mikio Naruse (1955)

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Floating Clouds / 浮雲 - Mikio Naruse (1955)

Mikio Naruse is well known for his shomin-geki films, or in other words, films about the lives of everyday people. He is also well known for writing strong, independent female protagonists into his films, most of which lead and carry the film’s plot. Floating Clouds is based on a novel by Fumiko Hayashi that takes place in the post WWII era. The story follows Yukiko, a woman who has just returned to Japan from then French-Indochina . Upon her return to Tokyo the audience watches her take in the city’s wreckage after the war. She acts as a kind of flaneur, walking or floating through the city, experiencing loneliness also in part due to the absence of her lover, Kengo. The film shows us flashbacks of their romantic time together years before. Through Yukiko, we wonder if they will reunite in happiness once more.

Floating Clouds - Available at Amazon

29. The Chef of South Polar / 南極料理人 - Shuichi Okita (2009)

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The Chef of South Polar / 南極料理人 - Shuichi Okita (2009)

Despite the freezing cold of the South Pole, The Chef of South Polar warms your heart with its approach. Eight men have set off on a research expedition in Antarctica . The mission is both rewarding and isolating. Jun Nishimura’s job is to cook for everyone day in and day out. He takes great pleasure in making the group various delicacies, and takes pride in their enjoyment of his meals. Due to the restrictions and limitations and the very nature of their work in sub zero temperatures, meal time becomes the one place they indulge in. Based on the autobiographical essays by Jun Nishimura, this adaptation by award winning director Shuichi Okita tells a story of comradery, loneliness, and mouth watering food.

The Chef of South Polar - Available at Amazon

30. Muddy River / 泥の河 - Kohei Oguri (1981)

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Muddy River / 泥の河 - Kohei Oguri (1981)

A black and white classic about two young boys becoming friends in a post-war Osaka, Japan. The children come together and befriend one another without judgement, but soon learn of their family’s backgrounds and are introduced to the bleak reality of societal discrimination . Muddy River’s director, Kohei Oguri made only 6 films throughout his long career. Precision and restraint seem to hold this delicate tale together. Simple shots emote the undercurrent of grief and struggle that many underwent during that era.

31. Mori, The Artist’s Habitat / モリのいる場所 - Shuichi Okita (2018)

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Mori, The Artist’s Habitat / モリのいる場所 - Shuichi Okita (2018)

Based on one day in the life of the non-fictional famous painter , Morikazu Kumagai, Mori, The Artist’s Habitat sheds light on the artist’s seclusion and his genius. The last few decades of Kumagai’s life were spent in his garden. The film shows his admiration for the micro details he discovers in his backyard, which appear endless. One with the nature he emulates in his work, Kumagai is met with the challenge of protecting the atmosphere of his home from the property developers who want to build apartments that will alter what is his entire world.

32. Sandakan No.8 / サンダカン八番娼館 望郷 - Kei Kumai (1974)

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Sandakan No.8 / サンダカン八番娼館 望郷 - Kei Kumai (1974)

Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Sandakan No.8 tells the sensitive story of the Japanese girls and women who were sold as sex slaves in the early 20th century ( karayuki san ). The film, similar to the book published in 1972, follows a journalist named Keiko who meets an elderly woman (Osaki) whom she suspects was sold into brothel work abroad. Eventually, Osaki begins to share her story with Keiko, which are viewed as flashbacks into the 1920’s. Sandakan No.8 focuses on a subject that is rarely discussed, and often skimmed over even today.

Sandakan No.8 - Available at Amazon

33. Sweet Bean / あん - Naomi Kawase (2015)

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Sweet Bean / あん - Naomi Kawase (2015)

Starring real-life grandmother and granddaughter Kirin Kiki and Kyara Uchida, Sweet Bean is a heartfelt, human drama that may make you cry. The film begins with an eldery woman named Tokue approaching Sentaro, a middle aged man who owns a dorayaki shop. Tokue confesses she’s always wanted to work at a dorayaki shop. Initially worried about her age, Sentaro turns down her application, but changes his mind when he tries some of her bean paste, which is superior to his own. The film tugs on your heartstrings, and urges the audience to take delight in the wonder of a single moment , to overwhelmingly appreciate those experiences over societal pressures.

Sweet Bean - Available at Amazon

34. Tokyo Chorus / 東京の合唱 - Yasujiro Ozu (1931)

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Tokyo Chorus / 東京の合唱 - Yasujiro Ozu (1931)

Tokyo Chorus is a silent film from the beginning of the talkies era. Known as a silent comedy despite being set against the then contemporary backdrop of the depression, Ozu’s Tokyo Chorus plays in class politics and stands up against capitalistic bullies . The story begins with a young school boy, Okajima, who gets in trouble for misbehaving. The real reason for the young boy not wanting to take off his jacket, is that there is no shirt underneath. Next, the story finds Okajima as an adult man, employed but in a position to stand up for a colleague less fortunate than he, and his son asking for a bicycle. “Tokyo, city of the unemployed” reads a caption in the film. Although surely a commentary, Tokyo Chorus celebrates good, moral character, and dances through the hardship, just managing to stay afloat.

35. Departures / おくりびと - Yojiro Takita (2008)

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Departures / おくりびと - Yojiro Takita (2008)

The film, Departures, was initially stigmatized by the nature of its subject matter: death, and the people that deal with death. So much so that Japanese distributors were reluctant to release it at first. In the story, a cellist named Daigo returns to his childhood home of Yamagata after he loses his job in Tokyo. Daigo applies for the position of “departures assistant” which he assumes to be related to travel, only to find out he is meant to assist a mortician. The nature of the job is so taboo in Japan that he keeps it a secret from his wife . Profound in its composition of emotions and human aversion to death, Departures aims to move its audience with a soft touch on a hard subject.

Departures - Available at Amazon

36. Streets of Shame / 赤線地帯 - Kenji Mizoguchi (1956)

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Streets of Shame / 赤線地帯 - Kenji Mizoguchi (1956)

Mizoguchi’s last film, Streets of Shame, tells several first hand stories from women working in a brothel . Each woman has a different background and different perspectives, and aspirations to share. The stories take place amid a Diet decision on whether or not to ban prostitution. The lives that the audience see unfolding in the film are seen within the lens of a post-war Japan, very much affected by the ripples of poverty. True to Mizoguchi’s other films, Streets of Shame once again sheds light onto the oppression of women in Japan by sharing the complexity of their stories.

37. A Piece of Our Life / カケラ - Momoko Ando (2010)

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A Piece of Our Life / カケラ - Momoko Ando (2010)

Momoko Ando’s first film Kakera or A Piece of Our Life follows a young college student (Haru) and a bi-sexual prothetist (Riko) who takes interest in her. The two women embark on a relationship with one another, but not without talking about why or how throughout the film. It’s a story that is conscious of exploring what love means . Haru is in a loveless relationship with her boyfriend, but finds intimacy with Riko. “It’s not that I like girls, it’s you I like, Haru.” Says Riko. Kakera is a coming of age story and self realization that stands out in subject matter and originality, its two characters beginning as antithesis of one another. Haru: floating and unsure, almost in a dreamlike state. Riko: in a profession of making people’s bodies feel whole again.

A Piece of Our Life - Available at Amazon

38. Black Cat / 藪の中の黒猫 - Kaneto Shindo (1968)

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Black Cat / 藪の中の黒猫 - Kaneto Shindo (1968)

Black Cat is based on a folklore ghost story from Japan’s feudal times. The black and white horror film is a 35mm tale about two women who get revenge on the samurai men that raped them . It’s filled with unsettling music, and fluctuating moods that surprise and haunt the viewer. Realistic and campy effects take the stage. Pairing social commentary with magical and spiritual folklore, director Shindo embarked on a unique film that stands out in comparison with others he has written or directed such as The Naked Island (1960).

Kuroneko (Black Cat) - Available at Amazon

39. 21st Century Girl / 21世紀の女の子 - 14 Female Directors under 30 (2019)

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21st Century Girl / 21世紀の女の子 - 14 Female Directors under 30 (2019)

In a recent project spearheaded by 14 female directors under 30, 21st Century Girl attempts to grasp what it means to be female in Japan in this compilation of short films made by women for women . The theme centers around gender, and the complexity of what that means in a Japanese society context. Each film is under 8 minutes long, and highlights a body of topics largely missing from male-centric films. Some films such as Yurina Kaneko’s Projection focuses on the subtle fragility of self awareness, body image, and condemning societal beauty standards. Other films like U-ki Yamoto’s For Lonesome Blossoms is an observance of the powerful relationships between mother and daughters.

40. Love Letter / 恋文 - Kinuyo Tanaka (1953)

movie film japanese

Love Letter / 恋文 - Kinuyo Tanaka (1953)

The second ever woman to direct a movie in Japan was Kinuyo Tanaka. (The first being Tazuko Sakane, who famously wore men’s clothing and whose work was tragically lost in time). It was extremely difficult in the 1950’s for women to maintain leadership positions in the film industry due to the pressures of a patriarchally run society and economy. However, Tanaka’s romance drama titled, Love Letter premiered in the 1954 Cannes Film Festival . Love Letter takes place in a post war Japan. Its protagonist is a naval veteran named Reikichi who clings to a love letter from his former lover who informs him she is to be married to someone else against her wishes. She is now a war widow, but he hasn’t been able to find her since. Our protagonist comes into contact with an old fellow naval friend, whose new job is to draft letters from Japanese women to the foreign soldiers who left them after the war. Twists of fate ensue, but none without the societal pressures of that time.

41. Paprika / パプリカ - Satoshi Kon (2006)

movie film japanese

Paprika / パプリカ - Satoshi Kon (2006)

Based on the novel of the same name, Paprika is an Japanese animation classic, even jumping across the Pacific Ocean to gain popularity in the U.S. where it was widely released. The science-fiction psychological thriller is a dizzying daydream that catapults you into a waking nightmare in a matter of seconds. Layered, vividly bright (in both senses of the word), and mysterious, the film tells the story of Doctor Atsuko Chiba who upon entering her psychiatric patient’s dreams assumes an alter-ego detective of sorts: Paprika. The plot thickens when the devices used to enter her patients dreams are stolen, and consequently used for much more insidious means. Paprika explores the far out corners of her patients whimsical and terrifying dreams in order to prevent the citizens of Japan from completely losing their minds and sense of self.

Directed by the late Satoshi Kon, animator and skilled artist in all things dream-like, Paprika was made with the intention of blurring the lines between fact and fiction. In contrast to Disney cartoons, and other forms of animation that often lays the foundations for viewers to happily escape reality, directors like Satoshi Kon aimed for something different . There is no limit to the imagination that exudes from movies like Paprika, but perhaps its most evocative element is its connection to reality; a dysfunctional dreamworld that can still be manipulated by whoever holds the means of entering it from the real one.

Paprika - Available at Amazon

42. Tokyo Story / 東京物語 - Yasujiro Ozu (1953)

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Tokyo Story / 東京物語 - Yasujiro Ozu (1953)

The scenes that unfold in Tokyo Story are static and calm, but filled with pathos and close-ups of a family’s heartstrings being pulled. Ozu arguably laid the groundwork for many contemporary directors today, such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, who follow similar patterns of detailed, slow-moving human drama . Tokyo Story, unlike its predecessors or descendants evokes a non judgemental tone in every frame, indicative of Ozu’s delight in the complexity of what is simple.

The narrative follows an elderly retired couple who live in south-western Japan. The couple travels to Tokyo to visit their adult children only to find that they are too busy to make time to see them. The only family member that makes a substantial effort to spend time with them is their widowed daughter-in law. Instead of feeling bad about their preoccupied children, the parents seem to float through their feelings as if with the current of a river, the sound of water a subtle companion throughout the movie. Instead of swimming upstream, Tokyo Story observes the ways of life, letting things fall into place as if to say this is the way it is. This film is often thought to be the epitome of Japanese cinema .

Tokyo Story - Available at Amazon

43. The Mourning Forest / 殯の森 - Naomi Kawase (2007)

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The Mourning Forest / 殯の森 - Naomi Kawase (2007)

Winning the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007, The Mourning Forest is an emotionally impactful film centered around a young woman, Machiko, who has lost her son and secretly blames herself for his death. The film takes place at a rural retirement home where Machiko works as a caregiver, striking up an odd friendship with Shigeki, a patient at the retirement home who has lost his wife many years before. When their car gets stuck in a ditch, the two commence a two day journey through the forest.

Naomi Kawase was the first woman and the first Japanese director in fifty years to have appeared at the Cannes Film Festival in France in 1997. Before her was the renowned Akira Kurosawa. Kawase is well known for her style that centers itself around nature and nostalgia.

Mourning Forest - Available at Amazon

44. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya / かぐや姫の物語 - Isao Takahata (2013)

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The Tale of the Princess Kaguya / かぐや姫の物語 - Isao Takahata (2013)

This long awaited Studio Ghibli animation made by Isao Takahata is based on the 10th-century Japanese folktale, The Tale of The Bamboo Cutter . Takahata, known for taking his time, took eight years to complete this film. Unlike other animations, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, is composed entirely of line drawings. Steering clear of CGI assistance, Takahata drew everything by hand.

The story begins when a bamboo cutter, Sanuki, discovers a small baby in the forest that fits in the palm of his hand. He brings the magical child home to his wife, and together they watch as she grows up rapidly into a beautiful woman whose looks and charm motivates Sanuki to move them to the capital to live a finer, nobler life. The Princess has difficulty adjusting to this new life, and longs for her home in the woods and the friends that they left behind. The plot is one of heartbreak, loss and identity . An adventurous girl who comes to earth from the moon.

Check out some other great anime art from these Top Female Manga Artists !

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya - Available at Amazon

45. Nobody Knows / 誰も知らない  - Hirokazu Kore-eda (2004)

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Nobody Knows / 誰も知らない  - Hirokazu Kore-eda (2004)

Kore-eda kantoku is by far one of the most internationally recognized Japanese directors of today. His most recent work, Shoplifters (Mambiki no Kazoku), was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. Well known for his careful attention to detail in family and human drama, Kore-eda has long since been crafting feature films as if they are stylized documentaries . Similarly, his 2004 piece, Nobody Knows (Dare mo Shiranai), although fiction in its storytelling and approach, is based on a real event. The viewer will note the naturalistic qualities that this gracefully and patiently paced film carries with it from scene to scene.

In a society prone to being left uncriticized by the everyday media, Kore-eda’s films narrow in on the microcosmic circumstances of family, unveiling Japan’s social dilemmas on a much larger scale. In Nobody Knows , Kore-eda re-imagines the true events of a children abandonment case , where the eldest brother, Akira who is just twelve years old, cares for his younger three siblings in a Tokyo apartment. There is much to adore about the affection the four children have for one another, and how they pass the time whilst alone together. You are recommended to have a box of tissues on hand when watching this contemporary film!

Nobody Knows - Available at Amazon

46. Tokyo Sonata / トウキョウソナタ - Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2008)

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Tokyo Sonata / トウキョウソナタ - Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2008)

After losing his job at a respectable company in Tokyo, a Japanese salaryman begins his descent into secrecy . He doesn’t tell his family of his misfortune, and he carries his shame with him wherever he goes, often leaving the house under the ruse of going to work but instead going to over-crowded agencies, or even homeless shelters serving meals. Meanwhile, his son Kenji, a sixth grader trying to navigate his older brother’s rebellious life choices to join the U.S. military and the family’s other burdens, decides to secretly begin taking piano lessons against his family’s incessant will not to.

Sentimental to its core, especially in its final moving scene, this film is a departure from Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s usual horror flicks. Sitting down with Tokyo Sonata is like looking through a window to the inside of the pressures of Japanese society ; the agony of losing a job equal to losing one’s own identity and life purpose.

For more great stories from Japan, check out these 20 Best Japanese Authors of All Time !

Tokyo Sonata - Available at Amazon

47. When A Woman Ascends the Stairs / 女が階段を上る時 - Mikio Naruse (1960)

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When A Woman Ascends the Stairs / 女が階段を上る時 - Mikio Naruse (1960)

A delicate telling of the life of a bar hostess, Keiko, who can no longer rely on her youth in post-war Ginza nightclubs. The stairs that Keiko ascends each night are symbolic to her and to the diegesis of the film, bringing her one step closer to a world ruled by men, catered to by women . Plagued with financial and family concerns, Keiko begins to consider becoming a mistress to a wealthy man in order to rid herself of these troubles. She despises this idea, so looks to open her own bar instead.

Mikio Naruse focused on the female as the protagonist in most of his films. When A Woman Ascends the Stairs is a precise meditation on the decisions that women had to make in order to survive in Japan after world war two. To marry a man is represented as both a freedom and restraint , the epitome of modernity if there ever was one. A great Japanese movie, and a modern classic.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs - Available at Amazon

48. Branded to Kill / 殺しの烙印 - Seijun Suzuki (1967)

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Branded to Kill / 殺しの烙印 - Seijun Suzuki (1967)

A crime film pushed to bizarre ends, Branded to Kill is one of Seijun Suzuki’s most exemplary experiments with new wave and grotesque psycho-surrealistic scenes of murder and delirium . Due to its outlandish and fragmented storytelling, Suzuki was fired after the making of Branded to Kill, and found it very difficult to get a job at any other studio . The story of a yakuza hitman with a fetish for smelling boiled rice has since become a sensation. Suzuki is now known as a celebrated cult cinema director who disregarded boundaries and limitations.

The plot, though simple in its straightforward “ yakuza fails to make a hit and becomes the main target” kind of way, has many twists and turns and trusts that the viewer knows the crime genre enough to exploit one’s expectations and desires. A black and white classic thriller that will leave you impressed and somewhat confused.

Branded to Kill - Available at Amazon

49. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time / 時をかける少女 - Mamoru Hosoda (2006)

movie film japanese

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time / 時をかける少女 - Mamoru Hosoda (2006)

Gifted suddenly with the ability to manipulate time , and initially sparing her own life from getting hit by an oncoming train, Makoto navigates her new responsibility with time travel. At first she begins by using it to perfect her days at high school that are somewhat clumsily spent otherwise. Makoto quickly learns that her decisions affect others, and is slammed with a question from her friend, Chiaki, who asks her if they should be a couple. To undo this question and prevent their precious friendship from changing any further Makoto leaps back in time. A decision that she comes to deeply regret.

This heartbreaking coming-of-age animated feature is made in the image of Hosoda’s usual style: sentimental and personal. Protagonist, Makoto, is often faced with small decisions that turn into much, much bigger ones, a reflection of Hosoda’s goal of creating characters that must eventually face the truth, and more specifically, change. Hosoda is also well known for his other touching animated features such as Mirai, Summer Wars, and Wolf Children.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time - Available at Amazon

50. The Hungry Lion / 飢えたライオン - Takaomi Ogata (2017)

movie film japanese

The Hungry Lion / 飢えたライオン - Takaomi Ogata (2017)

The Hungry Lion made its premier at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2017 to an audience who didn’t quite know how to react. The film’s main character, Hitomi, a popular student at her high school is under suspicion for being the girl in a sex video with her homeroom teacher. Suspicions turn into full on accusations, even those closest to her doubting her vehement denials. The exploitation of her situation runs rampant, and she ultimately makes a desperate decision. The second half of the film focuses on the media fall out. The viewer is subjugated to the intensity of Japanese press, social media, and other tools of invading privacy. A kind of social commentary on today’s method of receiving and sharing information that may or may not be unfounded.

Ironically, the film, in particular its ending, was highly debated in discussions that followed its release. Perhaps this is a testament to the success of the film’s own criticism towards the criminalization of victims, especially young girls, and women who have a different story to tell than the one being told to them.

51. Still Walking / 歩いても 歩いても - Hirokazu Kore-eda (2008)

movie film japanese

Still Walking / 歩いても 歩いても - Hirokazu Kore-eda (2008)

Still Walking formulates around a family reunion that’s tinged with the sadness of a lost son , Junpei, who died years before while saving a stranger from drowning. Kore-eda, perhaps once again emulating Ozu’s mastering of family drama, creates a simmering atmosphere of anger and regret that has long since been buried deep within. The young boy that Junpei has saved is now a full grown man of little means and integrity. Grudgingly, Junpei’s family invites him around for tea every year out of obligation and politeness. The surviving brother, Ryo, has long since suffered under his family’s adoration of his deceased brother, never being able to receive the same amount of approval as Junpei did, even after his death.

Peaceful and undramatic , this stylized film gently guides a viewer through subtle stages of poised grief and regret. Kore-eda’s uncalculated attempt at showing how love seeps in despite strained circumstances is sure to tug on one’s heartstrings.

Still Walking - Available at Amazon

52. Lady Snowblood / 修羅雪姫 - Toshiya Fujita (1973)

movie film japanese

Lady Snowblood / 修羅雪姫 - Toshiya Fujita (1973)

A bloody journey lead by a woman bent on revenge, Lady Snowblood has without a doubt influenced the likes of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill . Toshiya Fujita reaching international notoriety primarily due to the success of Lady Snowblood and its sequel.

Born to a dying mother in prison, Yuki is raised with the single intent of murdering those responsible for her mother’s rape and murder. She grows to become a skilled samurai assassin with a sword of vengeance, cutting down anyone who stands in her way. The dispassionate, calm expression on her face when she makes a kill suggests she couldn’t care less about the blood she spills, as long as she spills it. Empowered and seemingly unstoppable, Yuki tries to carve her way to an emancipated victory of forgive-me-not glory.

Lady Snowblood - Available at Amazon

53. Akira / アキラ - Katsuhiro Otomo (1988)

movie film japanese

Akira / アキラ - Katsuhiro Otomo (1988)

Post-apocalyptic in narrative and nature, Akira disturbs and thrills. Set in a 2019 dystopian Neo-Tokyo built upon the ruins of the 1988 massacred Tokyo, the popular animated Japanese film dives into the controversy of atomic bombs, and top secret ESP experiments on children . The plot is carried on the backs of two teenage friends, Kaneda and Tetsuo, the latter of which is seemingly always trying to prove himself. After a motorcycle accident and injury, Tetsuo is taken by the government to be used as a guinea pig for a new experiment. It’s up to Kaneda and his bike gang to surpass scientists, politicians, terrorists, and various other challenges in order to save Tetsuo from the clutches of cyberpunk corruption.

Most notably, Akira was made before the integration of computerized animation, and is one of the last features to be made with several layers of hand painted cells. Before Akira was a classic cult film , it was a manga series made by the same writer and director, Katsuhiro Otomo, who remarkably turned his own work into a saturated, 125 minute moving masterpiece.

Akira - Available at Amazon

54. She and He / 彼女と彼 - Susumu Hani (1963)

movie film japanese

She and He / 彼女と彼 - Susumu Hani (1963)

Two young newlyweds eagerly enter their new roles as attentive housewife, Naoko, and diligent businessman, Eiichi. As time passes, however, the couple become restless and consumed by the new structure of their lives. Eiichi has less and less time to spend with his wife, and in turn she begins to seek fulfillment elsewhere. Quite comfortable in their middle class apartment, Naoko wakes up to the discovery of the poverty around her as she explores Tokyo with new eyes.

Later referenced as a member of the new wave genre, director Susumu Hani pursues filmmaking with a documentary-esque style. Occasionally using handheld shots in She and He to incite a closeness and urgency to the characters he depicts. An interview with Hani in Midnight Eye, a recently retired Japanese cinema online magazine, depicts the director as “difficult to pigeonhole.” And “ one of the most unjustly neglected Japanese filmmakers of the 1960s .” His movies are difficult to find, so if you happen to come across a screening, don’t miss it!

55. A Man Vanishes / 人間蒸発 - Shohei Imamura (1967)

movie film japanese

A Man Vanishes / 人間蒸発 - Shohei Imamura (1967)

“Where can anyone missing be in such a small country?” This is the question posed at the start of the film. Interview after interview asking after Oshima, the business man who has suddenly disappeared without a trace, leaves the viewer questioning if they are actually watching a non-fiction. As the accounts of Oshima’s character pile up in interviews about his personality, his true character also seems to vanish. Unable to pin-point in location as well as in memory. The film is somewhat haunting in that it cannot provide answers for either the fictional characters’ relentless pursuit of a missing man, nor the viewers who may start to doubt their own idea of what a man is or isn’t.

Director Shohei Imamura was assistant to Yasujiro Ozu for a few films, including that of Tokyo Story. Differently from Ozu, there is an urgency to Imamura’s films that implies truth seeking, and truth showing—a kind of cinéma vérité. At times perhaps he told the truth too effectively , resulting in his temporary suspension from the same company that fired Suzuki Seijun.

56. Tampopo / タンポポ - Juzo Itami (1985)

movie film japanese

Tampopo / タンポポ - Juzo Itami (1985)

Tampopo breaks the fourth wall almost immediately, but instead of shattering the possibility of an audience escaping into another reality, this moment seems to solidify that a wild journey is about to take place. A comedy and a western , affectionately dubbed a “ramen western,” this film is a delicious dive into the whimsical adventures of two milk truck drivers who amiably help a woman bring her ramen business to life by finding the best recipes for her restaurant.

Itami doesn’t hesitate with story or plot, often dipping into several different storylines and even genres. The one constant companion the viewer has to keep them company is food itself, almost everything else feels consistently inconsistent. Delightedly so. It’s touching, it’s funny, it’s wonderfully crazy , and certainly deserves a place on any list of the best Japanese movies!

Tampopo - Available at Amazon

57. Dreams / 夢 - Akira Kurosawa (1990)

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Dreams / 夢 - Akira Kurosawa (1990)

A departure from the usual Kurosawa recommendation list, Dreams is the film most movie-goers and cinema lovers may not have seen. Dreams is a collection of eight unrelated stories that unfold in a surrealistic telling of sights, sounds, and sensations. The scenes grow majestically and beautifully but seem to remain distant and out of reach. Dreams feels like a compilation of what engages Kurosawa most introspectively, and unconsciously, as insinuated from its title.

In part one, “Sunshine Through the Rain” a young boy is told by his mother not to go looking for foxes today due to the fact that they will most likely be holding a wedding ceremony. She warns him that foxes don’t like to be seen. Naturally the boy runs into the forest hoping to witness such a fantastical event. Dreams reads like a cluster of metaphors and lessons that we must learn or even forget upon waking.

Dreams - Available at Amazon

58. Suzaku / 萌の朱雀 - Naomi Kawase (1997)

movie film japanese

Suzaku / 萌の朱雀 - Naomi Kawase (1997)

At the young age of 27, Kawase took home the Caméra d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for her debut film Suzaku . This film takes a close look at the disintegration of a small town and family. The town’s insignificance has intensified due to its disconnection to the outside world , quite literally because of a railway project that has been neglected and forgotten. The family lives peacefully together but experiences some friction what feels like depression due to the isolation. The daughter, Michiru even coming to have feelings for her cousin, Eisuke.

Throughout the film, there are tensions about whether or not the family should leave the timber trodden town and seek life elsewhere. Kawase, in this film, as with her others that follow, distinctly leaves her atmospheric and intimate mark . Words like “vague” that have been used to describe some of her stylistic choices, could perhaps be replaced with “interpretative” or “art.”

59. The Taste of Tea  / 茶の味 - Katsuhito Ishii (2004)

movie film japanese

The Taste of Tea  / 茶の味 - Katsuhito Ishii (2004)

This film is another delightful digression from a director’s usual filmmaking style. Heralding from a rural, ordinary town in Tochigi prefecture, The Taste of Tea is a pleasant surreal movie about the individuals that make up the Haruno family. Each member has their own story to tell , and a strange behavioral way to tell it. Nobuo, the father, a practicing hypnotist occasionally experiments with his own family. While young Sachiko, the daughter, is often visited by a giant double of herself who takes to staring at her blankly. It’s quite the conundrum. The pace of everyday life seems to highlight ever so interestingly the distinct qualities of each character. Although under the same roof, very, very different narratives are autonomously evolving.

The Taste of Tea - Available at Amazon

60. Antiporno / アンチポルノ - Sion Sono (2017)

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Antiporno / アンチポルノ - Sion Sono (2017)

Controversial and “pro porno” director, Sion Sono is not shy of exploitation and decadence. In Antiporno, there are no signs that give you direction, or tell you where to go . The carpet is ripped out from beneath your feet and suddenly you are in a different dreamlike narrative where the main character is just an actor, and instead of abusing, she is getting abused. Anitporno is critical of the practices in the porn industry but flaunts sexual delights just the same. Most overwhelmingly this film isn’t afraid of fronting its number one feature: energy, energy, energy. And color. Regardless of how you take it, there is no denying that the film is conscious of its main character, Kyoto’s, trials and tribulations of being simultaneously trapped and emancipated by sex and the industry that perpetuates the selling of it, but makes no move to truly set her free. A cult classic film by a cult classic director that may give you pause.

October 7, 2022 |  Art

JO SELECTS   offers helpful suggestions, and genuine recommendations for high-quality, authentic Japanese art & design. We know how difficult it is to search for Japanese artists, artisans and designers on the vast internet, so we came up with this lifestyle guide to highlight the most inspiring Japanese artworks, designs and products for your everyday needs. 

All product suggestions are independently selected and individually reviewed. We try our best to update information, but all prices and availability are subject to change. As an Amazon Associate, Japan Objects earns from qualifying purchases.

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