10 Good Japanese Movies

Tuesday, November 30 by Travis Petersen

If you're new to the cinema of Japan, here are ten good Japanese movies to get you started. They cover the wide range of Japanese film, from samurai epics to futuristic anime, early classics to modern revisionist upstarts. It may be a short list, and you'll definitely want to explore further, but here are ten good Japanese movies to whet your cinema whistle.

  1. "Rashomon" – Akira Kurosawa's first classic is the story of a brutal crime, told from the point of view differently by all involved. Issues of truth and guilt permeate this fine film, the first on this list of ten good Japanese movies.
  2. "Chushingura" – Any list of good Japanese movies should include this classic tale of the 47 Ronin (masterless samurai) taking revenge for the death of their master. It is an early example of the samurai epic, and a classic film of honor and swordplay.
  3. "The Seven Samurai" – Perhaps the most famous Japanese film of all time, it was remade in America as the western "The Magnificent Seven." Toshiro Mifune, the Clint Eastwood of Japan, stars in this masterful film from Akira Kurosawa.
  4. "Tokyo Story" – Ozu's most acclaimed film, it is a simple story, of an older couple visiting their children and grandchildren in the city. The poignant drama comes from the beauty of its simple film technique. "Tokyo Story" is uniquely subtle and beautiful, making it an easy choice for any list of good Japanese movies.
  5. "Akira" – This sci-fi anime, set in a post-apocalyptic "Neo-Tokyo," is noir filmmaking at its animated best. Mystical and action-packed, "Akira" is a great introduction to adult animation and to Japanese movies.
  6. "Battle Royale" - This over-the-top action film has high school class battling it out for survival—with each other, no less—on a remote island. Tasteless, maybe. Entertaining, yes.
  7. "Hana-Bi" (released in America as "Fireworks") – A stylish Japanese noir, it put director and star Takeshi Kitano, famous in Japan, on the map of worldwide cinema. "Fireworks" is essential when beginning to look at good Japanese movies.
  8. "Princess Mononoke" - Another anime film, this is an epic fantasy tale in the vein of "Star Wars" or "Lord of the Rings," but with a Japanese twist, giving audiences a young girl as a heroine rather than a young boy. It is beautiful, exciting, and entertaining, a wonderful addition to this list of good Japanese movies.
  9. "Audition" - This disgusting horror film isn't for the faint of heart. But it does embody the new style of J-Horror, making it essential to this beginner's guide to good Japanese movies.
  10. "Shogun Assassin" - A full-length film version of the "Lone Wolf and Cub" series of shorter films, "Shogun Assassin" is the story of the Shogun's disgraced executioner and his young son, wheeled around in a tiny, weapon-loaded cart, as they flee and fight their enemies. It is a bloody classic and the final film on this beginner's guide to good Japanese movies.

Additional Resources:

Battle Royale on IMDB

Hana-Bi on IMDB

Princess Mononoke on IMDB

Audition on IMDB

Shogun Assassin on IMDB