Thinking of going to Japan?
10 Movies To Watch Before Going
1. Seven Samurai (1954)
This is a masterpiece in Japanese cinema and is directed by legendary director Akira Kurosawa.
It’s a story about a samurai who is down on his luck and recruits 6 other samurai to help in the defence of a village from bandits, when asked to. The villagers in turn provide meals and a place to stay for the samurai.
There’s an epic fight sequence at the end of the movie.
This movie won’t be to everyones liking as it’s 3 and a half hours long and can be slow in parts. But if you appreciate beautiful cinema and directing and have an interest in the times of the samurai in Japan then this is a must watch.
Watch to see one of the best Japanese movies ever made and for what it was like during the times of the samurai.
2. Spirited Away (2001)
It was Japan that brought how great animation movies can be to the west, and Spirited Away is a key one in that, winning an oscar award.
This list would not be complete without including animation movies. Even if you don’t like animation you should watch at least one before going to Japan as animation and anime are so part of the modern day culture.
Spirited Away is one of the best animations you could watch directed by one of the best animation directors, Hayao Miyazaki.
It’s about a 10 year old girl who wanders into an old amusement park in the countryside with her parents, who are turned into pigs, and she then has to work in a bathhouse for gods in order to be free and free her parents.
Watch to see how great Japanese animation can be.
3. Battle Royale (2000)
Get ready for some fun and kind of gross youth culture. Japan is brilliant for all things weird and horror-ful when it comes to movies, and Battle Royale is a perfect example.
It’s about a teenage school class that are taken to an island by the authorities, each given different weapons, and told the last one alive will be allowed to leave the island.
It’s brilliant for mixing typical Japanese cuteness, youth culture, along with total violence.
4. Tokyo Story (1953)
A beautiful story about an elderly couple who go to visit their family in Tokyo, only to discover with their children busy lives they don’t have much time to see them.
It shows the growing differences in Japanese culture between the old and the young. It’s a slow movie, but the acting and general ambience set out in it make it worth the watch.
One of the best old movies made in Japan.
5. Akira (1988)
As great as Spirited Away is, Akira is the movie that put Japanese animation into the mainstream.
It’s about a cyber punk motorbike gang set in neo-Tokyo in the future, where one of their members has an accident against a child with special psychic powers that he then discovers he has.
This is an epic piece of animation. In fact if you were ever to see just one animation in your life then this would be a good choice.
6. Ringu (1998)
Japanese horror movies can easily out-beat many of Hollywoods. In fact Hollywood does remakes of them, such as the Ring.
It’s about a girls ghost who was viciously murdered by her dad and now haunts those who watch a movie, whereby they then have 7 days to find out how they won’t die from having seen it.
Discover the cool horror of Japan with this movie, although there are plenty of others out there also worth seeing for this genre.
7. Audition (1999)
Wow! What to say about this movie. The end seen alone is what makes this movie so good and equally sick in one.
As mentioned Japanese horror is some of the best, but its hard to put this movie into a category, but it certainly gets very horrific and psychotic as it goes along.
A widowed man interviews (auditions) various women to see who he likes, and then the one he ends up choosing turns out in the end to be not what he was expecting at all.
Just be prepared for that spine shivering end scene. Brilliant slow build up throughout.
8. Ichi The Killer (2001)
Hold on tight! This is some seriously sick stuff, in fact it was almost not included in the list. But it’s a gruesome movie that also stirred up some controversy due to its extreme violence.
It’s about a psychotic killer who is enrolled into the Japanese mafia to find the kidnapped boss.
Watch for a prime example of Japanese cinema pushing the boundaries. This will definitely not be for everyone, which is why it’s here for those more curious about the darker side of Japanese cinema.
9. Lost In Translation (2003)
A non-Japanese film about 2 Americans visiting Tokyo for different reasons who don’t know each other but end up having adventures in Tokyo together.
It’s fun to watch the older (Bill Murray) and younger (Scarlett Johansson) learn about Japanese life and some of the “funnier things” they are not used to.
The film title says it all. Want to know what complete culture shock can feel like before going to Japan, then this is a good movie to see.
10. Bladerunner (1982)
Another non-Japanese movie, but this one is a cult classic. The science fiction dystopian movie is set in Los Angeles in the future.
This one is included just for the fact that Tokyo is regarded as the ultimate futuristic city and walking around some of the modern areas there you can almost feel like you’re in this movie.
Watch it for going to Tokyo.
Shogun TV Series (1980)
Yep this one can be quite cheesy but is nether the less a great look back into Japan from a foreign era perspective towards the end of the 1500’s.
It’s about an English seaman shipwrecked on Japan where being totally culture shocked has to integrate and eventually work his way up in Japanese culture.
Watch it for a look at the samurai past.
That should give you some good movies to watch before visiting Japan spanning a lot of genres. Naturally there are plenty more great ones to see but this is a good start.
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Do you have any favourite movies based around Japan?
I own none of the images in this post. The screenshots from the movies are taken for commenting on the movie within the limits of fair use and the post is used in a non-commercial way.