Skip to content

15 Best Movies About Japan To Watch (In 2024)

These are some of the best movies about Japan to watch to help understand the country before visiting or just for general viewing.

First of all, you may be wondering what a backpacking website has to do with Japanese movies. Well, I’ve been a huge fan of Japanese movies since I went to film college when I saw them for the first time, and for the past 25+ years have watched all the movies listed here, and many more.

I always recommend to other travellers to watch movies about the places they intend to travel to before going to understand the place better, which is why I do articles like this, especially as my Japanese guides are some of the most popular ones on my site.

Note: I own none of the images in this post. They are used in fair usage terms to discuss the movies.

Movies About Japan

Naturally, there are plenty more great movies about Japan to watch other than just these, but these are my personal favourites and span all genres from the old classics to modern greats.

They are a mix of mostly Japanese movies and a few foreign movies made in Japan that are about the country.

Firstly, I’ve added links to where you can watch these movies and they are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission at no extra cost to you if you use the links. This helps me with keeping my website running. Thanks!

Also a top tip: You can get a 1-month free trial of Amazon Prime (get with that link) where you can watch many of these movies about Japan for free and then cancel before the trial ends if you don’t want to continue.

Drive My Car (2021)

Japanese movies to watch - man and woman in car.

I’ve updated this list since first publishing it a few years ago to reflect some other recent movies and Drive My Car is number one on this list now.

If you were to watch just one recent movie about Japan then make it this one. It’s the best Japanese movie I’ve seen in a while.

It follows an actor whose wife dies and in dealing with his grief he ends up getting new work and needs a driver to help get him around. That driver is a young 20-year-old woman and they develop a special relationship over time and in doing so it helps him.

A lot of this movie is set inside a car which may not sound so exciting but the dialogue between the two is brilliant. Highly recommended.

Watch it here:


Seven Samurai (1954)

Japanese movies - Seven Samurai

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 everyone’s liking as it’s three 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 movies about samurai ever made and for what it was like during the times of the samurai.

It’s one of the best movies about Japan in feudal times and one of the best Japanese fighting movies.

Watch it here:


Spirited Away (2001)

Japanese animation movie - Spirited AWay

This list would not be complete without including animated movies. Even if you don’t like animation you should watch it at least once before going to Japan, as they are such a big part of the modern-day culture there.

Spirited Away is one of the best Japanese anime movies you could watch and is directed by the legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli fame.

It’s about a ten-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 to be free and free her parents.

It won the Best Animated Feature at the 2003 Oscars. Watch Spirited Away to see how great Japanese animation can be.

Watch it here:


Black Rain (1989)

Ok, Black Rain (directed by Ridley Scott) may be a hit-and-miss movie for some people out there but I loved the setting of Osaka in this movie. It has become a cult classic movie about Japan although, upon its initial release, it had mixed reviews.

The first 15 minutes or so starts in New York City and the rest is set in Osaka, Japan, which is one of my favourite cities in the country.

It’s about a New York cop (Michael Douglas) who has to transport a Yakuza gangster from the city back to Osaka. But things go wrong on arrival there and the gangster escapes and he must team up with a local Japanese detective (Ken Takakura)to track him down.

The scenes in Osaka are brilliant giving a good look at the city and also the culture clash between the west and the east.

Watch it here:


Shin Godzilla (2016)

No list of movies about Japan would be complete without a Godzilla movie. The original classic Godzilla movie is from 1953 and is worth watching, but my personal recent favourite is the more recent Shin Godzilla, or Shin Gojira in Japanese, which is the staggering 31st instalment in the Godzilla film series and the third reboot of the franchise.

Unlike many previous Godzilla films, “Shin Godzilla” presents a unique origin story for the iconic monster. The creature evolves and adapts rapidly, going through different forms and stages throughout the movie.

Naturally, being a Godzilla movie, there is a lot of rampaging through the city and mass destruction. It also shows the Japanese government’s response to the attack and a rag band group of volunteers who try to unravel the mystery of the monster and its weaknesses.

Watch it here:


Tip: You can get a 1-month free trial of Amazon Prime (get with that link) where you can watch these movies about Japan if you don’t already have an account.

Battle Royale (2000)

Get ready for some fun but also gross youth culture of the future. Japan is brilliant for all things weird and horror-related when it comes to movies and Battle Royale is a perfect example of this.

It’s about a teenage school class that is taken to an island by the authorities and each is given different weapons. They are then told that the last one alive will be allowed to leave the island.

It’s brilliant for mixing typical Japanese cuteness, and youth culture, along with a lot of violence.

Rated as one of the best modern Japanese movies.

Watch it here:


Tokyo Story (1953)

A beautiful story about an elderly couple who go to visit their family in Tokyo, only to discover that their children have such 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 make it worth the watch.

One of the best Japanese drama movies and a great movie about Japanese history in Tokyo after WW2.

Also, a must-see if looking for movies about Japanese culture in general. It was directed by legendary Japanese director Ozu.

Watch it here:


Akira (1988)


As great as Spirited Away is, Akira is the movie that put Japanese animation into the mainstream.

It’s about a cyberpunk 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 gains himself.

This is an epic piece of animation. If you were ever to see just one animation in your life then this would be a good choice and it’s one of the best-animated movies about Japan.

I’m personally adding it here as it’s the movie that got me into Japanese animation as a teenager and influenced many other people as well.

Watch it here:


Audition (1999)

movies about Japan

The end scene alone is what makes this movie so good and equally sick in one. Japanese horror is some of the best, but it’s hard to put this movie into a category. 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.

It could be called a very f**ked-up Japanese romance movie.

Just be prepared for that spine-shivering end scene. A brilliant slow build-up throughout.

Watch it here:


Ringu (1998)

ring movies about Japan

Japanese horror movies can easily out-beat many of Hollywood. Hollywood does remakes of them a lot, such as The Ring.

It’s about a girl’s ghost who was viciously murdered by her dad and now haunts those who watch a video she has possessed, where they then have 7 days to find out how they won’t die from having seen it.

Discover one of the coolest Japanese horror movies. Although there are plenty of others out there also worth seeing for this genre.

Watch it here:


Harakiri (1962)

Japanese samurai movie - samurai fight scene.

Another samurai movie (let’s be honest samurai movies are awesome for action and history) that starts on the slow side but the story builds up to an epic ending.

It’s set in the early 17th century in the Edo period.

It’s about a samurai who has no master (a ronin) and wishes to commit suicide (seppuku) in the traditional Japanese way having had problems with his family.

At the House of Li Samurai Clan, he recalls the family story in the courtyard of what happened. The ending is so epic you need to see it just for that. It’s that slow build-up that helps make the ending so great.

Watch it here:


Departures (2009)

Departures won the Academy Award for best foreign-language film and is definitely worthy of it (not that you need an Academy Award to have great movies)

The plot revolves around Daigo Kobayashi who finds out the orchestra he is a part of is disbanding (after he just bought a new cello).

He leaves his home to go back to the far north of Japan where his family is from and ends up working in a mortuary where he learns how to get the dead ready for their end in life with traditional Japanese rituals.

Watch it here:


Ichi The Killer (2001)

ichi the killer

If you enjoy gangster-style yakuza movies with lots of violence then you will love this one! It’s not for everyone though, but it has obtained a ‘cult status’ as a movie in a similar vein to Battle Royale mentioned earlier.

It’s about a psychotic killer who is enrolled in the Japanese mafia (yakuza) to find a boss who has been kidnapped. Watch for an example of Japanese cinema pushing the boundaries.

Watch it here:


Lost In Translation (2003)

Movies about Japan - Lost in Translation

A non-Japanese film about two Americans visiting Tokyo for different reasons. They 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 the movie to see.

Watch it here:


Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Japanese movies - Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is not a movie about Japan but is a brilliant documentary based around Jiro Ono an 85-year-old sushi master, one of the best sushi chefs in Japan (if not the world), and his son who tries to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Jiro runs a small sushi restaurant in a Tokyo subway that only takes several people at a time. It’s also a Michelin award-winning place and there’s a long wait to get a seat there (months).

My favourite Japanese food documentary. If you love sushi and Tokyo then this is a must-watch.

Watch it here:


The Best Movies About Japan

So those are some of the best movies about Japan to watch spanning a lot of genres plus a few extras.

If you’re looking for Japanese movies in English don’t worry these can all be found dubbed over but it’s better to watch them in Japanese with subtitles for a more authentic experience with the language.

Again a top tip: You can get a 1-month free trial of Amazon Prime (get with that link) where you can watch many of these movies about Japan for free and then cancel before the trial ends if you don’t want to continue.

Enjoy whichever movies about Japan you choose to see!

Have a read of the 20 best Japanese samurai movies I recommend watching.

And the 15 best documentaries about Japan.

Planning to visit Japan? Get a Japan Rail Pass (get one with that link) to save money on the fast Shinkansen trains.

Share these best Japanese movies about Japan:

11 thoughts on “15 Best Movies About Japan To Watch (In 2024)”

  1. Hi, I’ve found your choice interesting, for many of these movied I haven’t watched yet (and some I havent even heard about as I’m not very much into horrors 🙂
    From my part I would add “Samurai Twillight” (Tasogare Seibei) and “Farewells” (Okuribito), my absolute (not only Japanese) favourites.

  2. Pingback: 10 Must Read Books About Japan (From Culture To The Modern)

  3. Pingback: Living in Japan as A Foreigner (The Good, The Bad, and The WTF)

  4. Pingback: 10 Awesome Day Trips From Tokyo

  5. Pingback: Documentaries About Japan (10 Best To Watch)

  6. Pingback: 15 Best Movies About Travel - Backpackingman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest