Today we’re going to take you for a culture trip through some of our favorite Japanese movies.
Aside from foods, movies are often one of the best gateways to have a closer look at one culture. If you are familiar with foreign films, you would probably agree that Japanese cinema is one of its kinds.
From food-theme movies, to classic movies to cult-following anime, each genre is an art form itself. They are compelling, daring, imaginative and distinctive in style.
Today at JOC, we’re excited to share a selection of our favorite Japanese movies that will take you a deeper look into the country’s history, culture and values. It’s popcorn time; make some Homemade Popcorn with Truffle Salt!
Let us know if you have watched any of these movies on the list. And if you have any recommendation, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Food-Theme Japanese Movies
1. Sweet Bean あん – 2015
This drama film Sweet Bean received a Critic’s Pick by the New York Times, and it is said that “The movie, beautifully shot and acted, earns its ultimate sense of hope by confronting real heartbreak head-on, and with compassion”.
The story centers around Sentaro, a middle-aged man who runs a tiny shop selling Dorayaki (Japanese sweet bean pancake). He finds himself confronted by Tokue, a woman in her mid-seventies with some deformities applying for the position when he puts up Help Wanted sign in his window. Reluctant at first, Sentaro changed his mind after tasting her homemade bean paste. This starts a relationship and life lessons that is much more than just food.
2. Tampopo タンポポ – 1985
Tampopo is a comedic tale of truck drivers Goro and Gun in search of some good eats and run into a widow who runs a small ramen shop. As she is facing some life troubles, they decide to help her on her quest for the perfect ramen recipe and make it the best noodle soup in town. The most recognizable character in the movie is Ken Watanabe. The movie is hilarious with its unique qualities. It comes with evocative accounts that weaves in social aspects of food, sex, cultural hang-ups etc. You may want to watch this while slurping some hot bowl of ramen!
3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi 二郎は鮨の夢を見る – 2011
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary of 85 year-old legendary sushi master Jiro Ono. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station. Jiro clearly loves his job. As the title suggests, he even dreams about sushi in his sleep. His life-long devotion to the Japanese craft also brings about a complex relationship between him and his two sons.
4. Little Forest: Summer & Autumn リトルフォレスト夏/秋 – 2014
Little Forest: Summer & Autumn is set in a rustic rural mountainside. The story follows a young woman named Ichiko returns to her hometown of Komori (which means ‘Little Forest)’ after being unable to find her place in the big city. Upon her return, she comes to enjoy the simple life as she discovers her new-found connection with food and the surrounding nature and its people. As Ichiko continues to find her own self through the changing seasons, she is also facing her conflicted feelings about her return to Komori.
If you don’t mind its slow pace rhythm, this simple movie may make you want to take refuge in the kitchen and start making your own bread & jam from scratch. What’s fascinating is the film has captured the desires of many stress-out city folks for a simple organic lifestyle. The bigger question: is the return to the hometown simply an escape, or the right decision?
5. Kamome Shokudo (Kamome Diner) かもめ食堂 – 2006
Kamome Diner is about a young woman who opens a Japanese diner in Helsinki, Finland. The specialty of her menu is onigiri (Japanese rice balls). As the story develops, the diner appears to attract customers with personal problems. Her delicious food and personable nature seems to help lessen their misery. Relatively slow-pace, this independent film focuses on its visual aesthetic and character development. At the heart of Kamome Diner, food has a powerful way to bring people together and of self-discovery.
6. Spirited Away 千と千尋の神隠し – 2001
Dubbed as the Japanese Alice in the Wonderland, this international acclaim anime film is about Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by spirits, witches and gods, and where humans are changed into beasts. Spirited Away is bound to ignite your imagination.
7. Grave of the Fireflies 火垂るの墓 – 1988
Grave of the Fireflies is a story of a young boy and his little sister’s struggle for survival in Japan in the aftermath of the World War II. Get your kleenex ready!
8. The Wind Rises 風立ちぬ – 2013
The Wind Rises is loosely based on the real life story of Jiro Horikoshi, the chief engineer of Japanese fighter planes during Word War 2. Despite the many controversies that surfaced during its release, the film is a remarkable work of Hayao Miyazaki, as it entwines imaginations with reality, ambitions with failures and love with war.
9. My Neighbour Totoro となりのトトロ – 1988
For a more family oriented anime, My Neighbour Totoro is definitely our pick for children and adults alike. The fantasy film takes you to the adventures of two little girls who befriend with the forest spirits when they move into a house to be closer to their ailing mother. One of the magical creatures they meet is Totoro, a huge friendly bear. Together, they set out on several magical adventures. Visually enchanting, the film taps into the wonder and innocence of being a child.
Japanese Classic Movies
10. Seven Samurai – 1954
Set during the civil unrest of 16th-century Japan, the story follows a village of farmers that hire masterless samurai to protect them against the bandit attacks every harvest season. An unforgettable masterpiece of director Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai is an all-time legendary picture you must watch.
11. Rashomon – 1950
Considered one of the most daring films of its era, Rashomon is another acclaimed work of Kurosawa that served an an introduction of Japanese film for international audience.
The plot recounts how a crime was recalled from different perspectives of a bandit, a samurai, the samurai’s wife, and a woodcutter, before ending on a climax that questions the nature of humanity. You may heard of the term ‘Rashomon Effect’? It gets the name from the movie, which refers to contradictory narratives of the same event given by different people.
12. Like Father, Like Son そして父になる – 2013
Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Like Father, Like Son follows a story of a successful businessman whose world is turned outside down when he finds out his biological son was switched with another child at birth that he has been raising. When he faces the reality, he must make the decision to choose between his true son or the boy he raised as his own. You can expect powerful performance in this touching family drama.
Enjoy Japanese Movies!
We hope you enjoy this movie list we put together. You can watch some of the trailers on Youtube or find them on Amazon or your local library.