Movies are a great way of getting a new perspective and a look at something new and unfamiliar. When creating this list I tried to imagine a mix of movies that would introduce you to different typical Japanese things. Whether it would be a cultural phenomenon such as Anime or to show a slice-of-life from a (perhaps) typical Japanese family. Or just to simply show you how beautiful Japan could be.
So, here are six great movies about Japan you should watch.
Tokyo Sonata, 2008, drama
What is it about: It’s about a typical middle-class Japanese family going through some tough times. The father all of a sudden loses his job and is desperately trying to find new work while concealing the fact to his family.
Why it’s great: It gives you an insight into a Japanese household and the different and traditional roles you find there. The working husband (salaryman) the housewife and the children. You get to see the importance of the job in Japanese society, in a way this movie is about coming to terms with the fact that lifetime employment is no longer a matter of fact in Japan.
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Tampopo, 1985, comedy
What is it about: This movie is about food, on many levels. Its main story is about Tampopo, a single mother who is struggling with running her noodle restaurant. The story is interwoven with several shorter side-stories also related to food.
Why it’s great: The Japanese people love food, they really really love food, it’s a national obsession. It is everywhere almost all the time. And this movie touches on the subject in a very fun and interesting way.
Lost in Translation, 2003, drama
What is it about: You know this movie. It’s about a fleeting moment of romance and searching for something lost in different stages of two lives that happens to cross each other’s paths in the city of Tokyo.
Why it’s great: This movie makes excellent use of its setting. For me, the great thing about this movie is the silent 3rd actor, the city of Tokyo. The story weaves through its many different locations and you get to see a lot of variations of what Tokyo has to offer, and other parts of Japan as well.
Kikujiro summer, 1999, comedy-drama
What is it about: It’s about the little boy Masao and how he set’s out on road trip through Japan to find his mother that abandoned him. Masao lives with his grandmother and by a turn of events, their neighbor is forced by his wife to bring Masao to find his mother when they find an address they thought they lost.
Why it’s great: It takes you on a trip through Japan in the summer, it’s fun, has great acting and story. Plus, the movie is directed, written and stars Beat Takeshi. Takeshi is the grandfather/godfather of entertainment in Japan, so knowing who he is is a cultural must.
Adrift in Tokyo, 2007, drama
What is it about: Hopeless student Fumiya owe the wrong people money. One day a collector comes to collect but gives him an offer he can’t refuse. Walk with him across Tokyo to Kasumigaseki police station and the loan will be canceled. The pair set out on a walk through Tokyo.
Why it’s great: As the pair cut through Tokyo on foot the movie will show you typical Tokyo neighborhoods. You also get a little bit of sense of the size of the city from a little bit different perspective. The movie takes place during the fall, which many consider the second most beautiful season, second to spring.
Akira, 1988, sci-fi
What is it about: The movie takes place in a dystopian post-apocalyptic Neo Tokyo. The story focuses on bike gang-leader Kaneda and his childhood friend Tetsuo, who after a bike accident acquired telekinetic powers that make him a target and a risk factor for the army.
Why it’s great: The drawing is very detailed and intense, it’s probably one of the best sci-fi movies ever. Manga and anime (comics and animated movies) have always been big in Japan. This movie is one of the earliest export successes and a big reason that so many got hooked on Anime and manga.