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Top 10 Japanese Movies to Watch before you Die

Japanese Movies

The magnificent impact movies have always had on cultures and societies over the past few years, has created an indelible impression in people’s way of living, for enjoyment or otherwiseWhen it comes to Japan, film watching is unarguably a smart way to get to understand what this unique and intriguing country is at all. Very few realize that it’s much more than food, sumo wrestling, and neon lights.

Movies not only convey what visuals or words could never possibly express, it also paves the way to create awareness about unique ideas and has the capacity to drive national consciousness. If you are keen to get a glimpse of Japan from the inside, including its mysteries, and what kind of historical perspective it shares with the rest of the world, then take a look at the list of movies given below.


Our Little Sister

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Release Date: 13 June 2015
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Cast: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose
Distributed By: Toho Gaga
Music By: Yoko Kanno
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Running Time: 126 minutes
Awards: Japan Academy Award
Box Office:
Available at: Amazon Netflix Youtube

“Our Little Sister” is Japanese language movie which was directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. This movie was released in the year 2015 with stars namely Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho and Suzu Hirose. The main plot of the story is about the three sisters who live together at Kamakura.

The sisters in the age of 20’s are later united with their 14-year-old younger sister after the death of their father. One day, the three sisters come to know of the death of their so called “Bad” father and without any emotional attachment, the threesome half-heartedly attends his funeral. But unexpectedly in Yamagata, something unusual happens: meet half-sister Suzuand immediately a new relationship begins to blossom. From there on the movie takes a rather eloquent path.

A book called “Umi-machi Diary” is claimed to be written on the film. Mikita Takimoto, cinematographer of the film has also created a book with full of photographs taken during the film shooting. The movie title is set to be based on the manga series Uni-machi Diary created by Akima Yoshida. The movie got selected for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival in the year 2015.

One interesting trivia about the movie “Our Little Sister” is that many film critics and reviewers consider this as a worthy successor to the movie “The Makioka Sisters.”




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imdb    Imdb:    8.1/10
meta    Metacritic:    68%
rt    Rotten tomatoes:   7.1/10
Release Date: 13 September 2008
Director: Yōjirō Takita
Cast: Masahiro Motoki, Ryōko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki
Distributed By: Shochiku
Music By: Joe Hisaishi
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Running Time: 130 minutes
Awards: Academy Awards
Box Office: $70 million
Available at: Amazon Netflix Youtube

“Departures” is a Japanese movie which means “One who sends off” which was screened in the year 2008. Yogiro Takita, the director of the movie presented a solid star cast with the likes of Masahiro Motoki, Ryōko Hirosue, and Tsutomu Yamazaki. Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), comes to know that his orchestra is going to dissolve. Daigo along with his wife move back to his place in Japan, where he applies for an ad believing that it is a travel Company but is, in reality, a mortuary. As Daigo goes about with his job, Daigo finds his true inner calling in life.

This movie holds the pride of being the first Japanese movie to have bagged the best foreign language movie award at the Oscars. Do not miss this movie which talks about the social taboos that have been haunting human thinking and rationalism.


Nobody Knows

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imdb    Imdb:    8.1/10
meta    Metacritic:    88%
rt    Rotten tomatoes:   8/10
Release Date: August 7 2004
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Cast: Yūya Yagira, Ayu Kitaura, Hiei Kimura
Distributed By: Cinequanon, IFC Films (USA)
Music By: Gontiti, Takako Tate
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Running Time: 141 minutes
Awards: Cannes Film Festival Award
Box Office: US $ 22,65,264
Available at: Amazon Netflix Youtube

Nobody Knows released in the year 2004, is a drama film from Japan. The story is painstakingly real and with some superlative realistic acting, this film has been given the status of a Japanese cult classic.

Akira Fukushima played by Yûya Yagira and his young siblings after being unfortunately abandoned by their mother, Keiko (You). Keiko then moves in with a new lover. Now Akira Yagira has been given the duty to take care of his two sisters, his brother with no or little money to handle. To know the rest, watch this movie which is sure to touch everyone’s  heart string.

Kore-eda, the director creates a sense of belonging to the house.The claustrophobic plight of the children is caught so brilliantly and aesthetically. They all become so intimate that they don’t even bother to realize whether they get good food to eat or not, which is magnificently caught on camera for the watchers to experience.

This movie is considered as the one of the most touching Japanese film ever made in this century and as a matter of fact, this film is believed to have been made based on a sensational case that rocked the Japanese consciousness in the late 80’s.


The Taste of Tea

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imdb    Imdb:    8.0/10
meta    Metacritic:    77%
rt    Rotten tomatoes:   7.9/10
Release Date: July 17 2004
Director: Katsuhito Ishii
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Takahiro Sato, Maya Banno, Satomi Tezuka, Tomokazu Miura, Tatsuya Gashuin, Anna Tsuchiya, Rinko Kikuchi
Distributed By: Grasshoppa
Music By: Little tempo
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Running Time: 143 min
Awards: Entrevues Film Festival, Hawaii International Film Festival and many more
Box Office:
Available at: Amazon Netflix Youtube

This Comedy-drama classic from Japan is a must in the top movies from Japan. This movie released in the year 2004 has created ripples in all the places it was screened.The Taste of Tea film was directed and written by Katsuhito Ishii, his third movie. The movie has been considered as a perfect reply to the Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.  The story is simple but stunningly portrayed with perfection and visual timing.In rural Japan, the Haruno family stay in a small town. Yoshiko (Satomi Tezuka)  essays the role of an artist and Nobuo (Tomokazu Miura), plays a hypnotist is her husband. Hajime (Takahiro Sato) their son, falls in love with a girl in school, and, Sachiko (Maya Banno), his sister is having some strange visions.

The movie is based on the happenings in the Haruno Family who stays in the rural Tochigi Prefecture which is the countryside in the Tokyo’s northern part. Yoshiko is against being a normal housewife and keeps herself engaged with animation work in films at home. She takes help from her granddad who was a former animator and also a model occasionally.

This movie has been applauded at various international film festivals for its extraordinary visual presentation and emotionally touching story. This film is sure to take the viewers on a different cultural experience.


Spirited Away

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imdb    Imdb:    8.6/10
meta    Metacritic:    94%
rt    Rotten tomatoes:   8.6/10
Release Date: 20 July 2001
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Takehiko Ono, Bunta Sugawara
Distributed By: Toho
Music By: Joe Hisaishi
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Running Time: 125 minutes
Awards: Academy Award
Budget: $15-19 million
Box Office: $289.1 million
Available at: Amazon Netflix Youtube

Animation fantasy movie of 2001-Spirited away is a classic Japanese language movie. The movie was directed by Hayao Miyazaki and the Studio Ghibli took care of its production. The stars in the movie include Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Takehiko Ono, and Bunta Sugawara. The plot line of the movie is about how a ten-year-old girl named Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi) is trapped in the spirit world as she shifts into a new neighborhood. In this classic animation film by famous director Hayao Miyazaki, ten-year olten-year-old kid (Rumi Hiiragi) and Takashi Naitô, Yasuko Sawaguchi who plays her parents, discover an  abandoned amusement  theme park. Her parents  are converted into giant pigs.Chihiro then comes into contact with Haku (Miyu Irino), who mentions that the amusement park is for the spirits, and that Chihiro must work there to free her parents and herself. How she saves her parents forms the rest of the story.

It is one of the best animation films in the Japanese movie history. It is also considered as one of the most successful domestic movie in Japanese film history. Watch out for terrific animation effects and embrace the world of mystery.


Battle Royale

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imdb    Imdb:    7.7/10
meta    Metacritic:    81%
rt    Rotten tomatoes:   7.5/10
Release Date: December 16th 2000
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, Takeshi Kitano
Distributed By: Toei Company
Music By: Masamichi Amano
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Running Time: 121 minutes
Awards: Blue Ribbon Award
Budget: $4.5 million
Box Office: $25,000,000
Available at: Amazon Netflix Youtube

Battle Royale is a Japanese movie made in the year 2000. This movie is an adaption from the novel of the same name written by Koushan Takami. It is the final movie that was under Kinji Fukasaku’s direction, the screenplay being scripted by his son Kenta and Takeshi Kitano playing the lead role. The movie is based in dystopian Japan and the storyline is a student in high school and his classmates.

A deserted island,42 9th grade students and a riveting story is the movie’s plot in a nutshell. To find their way they can use a map, food is provided for survival and some weapons. Around everyone’s neck a collar is fitted which is explosive in nature. How each and every one fight for their survival and who turns out to be the last surviving person on that island is narrated in a rather unusual and interesting way.

The movie faced a lot of controversies in both Japan at the domestic front and also at the international platforms. The movie was either banned out rightly or was compulsorily banned from distribution in many other countries. This movie can be described as a watchable fantasy. One interesting fact is that the Japanese Parliament has tried to ban this movie when it released because of its controversial story.



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imdb    Imdb:    7.3/10
meta    Metacritic:    57%
rt    Rotten tomatoes:   7.6/10
Release Date: January 31 1998
Director: Hideo Nakata
Cast: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Ōtaka, Yoichi Numata
Distributed By: Toho
Music By: Kenji Kawai
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Running Time: 95 minutes
Awards: Fantasia Film Festival Award
Box Office: 1billion ¥
Available at: Amazon Netflix Youtube

The movie Ring is a Psychological genre film which has an under lining sense of Horror in it. Hideo Nakata is the director of this movie and this movie released in the year 1998. This movie is an adaption from a famous novel written by Kôji Suzuki which in fact refers to the Japanese folk story Banchō Sarayashiki. The major role in the movie is played by Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Rikiya Ōtaka. The storyline of this movie is about a reporter. The plot is about how the reporter tries to investigate and find the mystery that is hidden in the videotape which dramatically kills the person viewing it in just 7 days.

It took almost 9 months for the Production work to complete. Both the ring and its sequel-Rasen were screened at the same time in Japan. The ring was a big box office hit in Japan after its release and it also received many positive comments from critics.

The role of Naomi Watts was initially offered to the famous actress Jennifer Connelly but for some reason, she couldn’t act.

Watch it purely for some hair-raising moments and direction.



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imdb    Imdb:    7.9/10
meta    Metacritic:    84%
rt    Rotten tomatoes:   8.3/10
Release Date: 3 September 1997
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Beat Takeshi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima
Distributed By: Nippon Herald Films
Music By: Joe Hisaishi
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Running Time: 103 minutes
Awards: Golden Lion Award
Budget: $2.3 million
Box Office: $233,396
Available at: Amazon Netflix Youtube

The Japanese movie Fireworks, originally known in Japan as Hanbereleased in the year 1997. It is a Japanese movie belonging to the criminal genre in Takeshi Kitano’s direction, editing and he is also the writer. The high appreciation which this movie garnered at the international arena along with the worldwide critical acclaim made Kitano one of the best filmmakers of his era in the Japanese film industry.  The film Fireworks gave a new lease of life to the Japanese cinema.

The plot of the movie is about a sincere police officer who has lost his daughter recently and has a wife who is terminally ill. As per the story, Nishi is forced to borrow money for his wife’s treatment and is forced to use illegal means to repay the same..

“Fireworks” is a display of emotions, both ecstasy and agony at a level different from other normal Japanese movies so far made.



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imdb    Imdb:    8.7/10
meta    Metacritic:    76%
rt    Rotten tomatoes:   8/10
Release Date: 16 September 1962
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Shima Iwashita, Akira Ishihama, Yoshio Inaba
Distributed By: Shochiku
Music By: Toru Takemitsu
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Running Time: 134 minutes
Awards: Cannes Special Jury Award
Box Office: $3,523,463
Available at: Amazon Netflix Youtube

Harakiri is Japanese movie that was released in the year 1962, made under the direction of Masaki Kobayashi. The movie speaks about the happenings that took place during 1619 and 1630 during the Edo period and also at the time of the reign of Tokugawa Shogunate. The entire movie is all about the warrior who reigns without a lord known as Hanshiro Tsugumo. During that period it is quite usual for a person without any master or ronin to request to perform seppuku in the courtyard of the palace. It is done with the expectation of being blessed with alms from the other feudal gods.

The movie’s recurring theme, in this movie, is that blind adherence to rules of honor, by giving them a place more greater than life, sets up a dilemma where human values are prohibited.

This movie is one of the must see for people who are interested to know about the medieval past of Japan in its full glory and honor.


Seven Samurai

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imdb    Imdb:    8.7/10
meta    Metacritic:    98%
rt    Rotten tomatoes:   9.3/10
Release Date: 26 Aprill 1954
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Katō, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Kokuten Kōdō, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Eijirō Tōno, Jun Tatara, Atsushi Watanabe, Yoshio Kosugi, Bokuzen Hidari, Yukiko Shimazaki
Distributed By: Toho
Music By: Fumio Hayasaka
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Running Time: 188 min
Awards: Venice Film Festival Award,Mainichi Film Award and many more
Budget: ¥125 million
Box Office: ¥268 million
Available at: Amazon Netflix Youtube

Seven Samurai is a Japanese movie made in the year 1954. It is a classic history adventurous drama movie that was co-written, edited and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The story line is based on the events that take place during Sengoku Period in the Japanese history in the year 1586. The plot of the movie is about the group of peasants in a village who take in the seven ronin to fight the bandits who come back to loot their crops after the harvest.

Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” released sixty-three years ago is not only a terrific film  in its own way but the origin of a new genre that would run and flow for decades to follow.

The movie is always highly ranked by the cinema rating agencies for its brilliant portrayal and direction.This movie is filled with thrills and emotions which give a new angle to this action movie with its deep philosophical thoughts. Kurosawa has used highly sophisticated techniques in making the film which was considered too big at that time. It is worth spending the time to watch this movie which gives us an idea of modern filming in the good old days.

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