A list of 10 movies to watch before visiting Japan.

Planning on going to Japan or just interested in Japanese culture? I have been watching Japanese movies for over 25 years and spent several months living in Japan, ahis is what I recommend to watch.

I’ve included trailers and also links to where you can either stream the Japanese movie online or purchase them.

Japanese Movies to Watch


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.

Watch it here: Seven Samurai (English Subtitled)


2. Spirited Away  (2001)


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 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.

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.

Watch it here: Spirited Away

3. Battle Royale  (2000)


Get ready for some fun gross youth culture. Japan is brilliant for all things weird and horror related 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 that the last one alive will be allowed to leave.

It’s brilliant for mixing typical Japanese cuteness, youth culture, along with total violence.

Watch it here: Battle Royale

4. 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.

Watch it here: Tokyo Story

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 gains himself.

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.

Watch it here: Akira: Movie

6.  Ringu  (1998)


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

It’s about a girls 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 the cool horror of Japan with this movie, although there are plenty of others out there also worth seeing for this genre.

Watch it here: Ringu

7. Audition  (1999)


The end scene alone is what makes this movie so good and equally sick in one.

As mentioned before Japanese horror is some of the best, but its 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. Brilliant slow build up throughout.

Watch it here: Audition

8. Ichi The Killer  (2001)


This is some seriously sick stuff. It’s a gruesome movie that stirred up some controversy due to its extreme violence.

It’s about a psychotic killer who is enrolled into the Japanese mafia to find a boss who has been kidnapped.

Watch for an 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.

Watch it here: Ichi the Killer Pack

Non – Japanese Movies to Watch


9. Lost In Translation  (2003)


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: Lost in Translation

10. Bladerunner  (1982)


Another non-Japanese movie, but this is a cult classic. It’s a science fiction dystopian movie 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 in when there you can almost feel like you’re in this movie at times.

Watch it for going to Tokyo.

Watch it here: Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Bonus –

Shogun TV Series  (1980)


This can be quite cheesy but is 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 in Japan and while totally culture shocked has to integrate and eventually work his way up in Japanese society.

Watch it for a look at the samurai past.

Watch it here: Shogun


Movies to Watch About Japan


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.

Want more movies to watch about Japan? Check out this post of 10 of the best Japanese samurai movies to watch.

Amazon has a 30 day free trial for some of their movie’s and TV’s streaming worth checking out (it’s free!) –


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Jonny Duncan is a travel blogger and freelance photographer. He specialises in adventure and budget travel with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 to give advice for other travellers. He has lived in Japan, Amsterdam, Kiev, and more.

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