So you’ve already decided you’re going to learn Japanese and if you haven’t check out our article why you should learn it here. Hopefully you’ve already decided to learn or you’re well into learning and looking for more resources to use. And what better way to improve your Japanese than by watching films.
Movies not only give you a more natural exposure to the language but they also give you a deeper insight into the culture. Each country has its own unique style of cinema and Japan is not exception. Many Japanese films feel typically Japanese when you watch them, they have an undeniable style.
Although Japan may be famous for its anime film, we wanted to give you a slightly larger range to include films that aren’t anime based if you’re not that interested in them. So we do have quite a broad range of film styles. However, because it’s Japanese, we of course had to include some anime classics and we hope you like them.
Top seven films to watch to improve your Japanese
Release date: 2000
Battle Royale is probably the most famous Japanese film in the world and has also given influence to other books and films that have followed it.
Set in a dystopian Japan where teenagers run wild and have no respect for their elders, once a year one class of school children are chosen to travel to an island where they have to fight each other for their survival. The last one left alive wins and can leave the island, but everyone else will die. The point of this contest is to crush rising groups of violent teenagers who pose a danger to the regime.
The film follows class 3B, who think they are taking a field trip before they are gassed to sleep and wake up to find themselves on an island as this years participants of the contest. Follow the class to see who makes it out alive.
Even if you weren’t learning Japanese, Battle Royale is a classic film and definitely worth a watch. Some people even argue that Battle Royale is where Suzanne Collins took inspiration for her idea of the Hunger Games.
Release date: 2016
Taking a completely different tone now, since it’s release Your Name (2016) has taken the world by storm. It is one of the most popular anime films since Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro.
Your Name follows two central characters Mitsuha and Taki who find themselves switching body against their control. Mitsuha is a country girl who dreams of city life and something a bit more interesting, while Taki is a teenage boy living in Tokyo who struggles to speak to girls and studies hard in school while keeping down a part time job.
Destiny has brought them together but what for? Unfortunately it’s hard to say too much about Your Name without giving the plot away but it’s a truly beautiful film and a bit of a tear jerker. It’s our favourite recent anime and we hope it’s yours too.
Release date: 1954
If you’ve seen the Magnificent Seven, then the plot of Seven Samurai won’t seem too much of a surprise to you.
After being attacked by bandits who come to steal crops, a villager asks for the help from a Samurai to protect himself and the village. The Samurai agrees and enlists six other samurais to help him. Together they teach the village how to defend themselves and stay to help them fight off the bandits.
The only issue with this, is that the film was made in 1954 so the acting styles and special effects are slightly dates, one major difference being that the film is shot in black and white. However, if you can get passed that, Seven Samurai is one of the most lasting and influential films worldwide, not just in Japan.
Release date: 2003
Like many Japanese anime films, Spirited Away follows the protagonist 10 year old Hayao, as her and her parents come across and old abandoned funfair. When her parents are turned into pigs, Hayao must make a choice as she is told the only way to free her parents and herself if to work at the abandoned funfair.
My neighbour Totoro
Release date: 1988
Many people can’t believe how long ago this film was made due to it still being a cult classic and loved by so many. My neighbour Totoro probably also gave rise to the most iconic character to come out of Japan (after Pikachu).
My Neighbour Totoro is set in post war Japan and follow the lives of two young sisters in the Japanese countryside. The family move to a new home while the mother recovers from a long term illness. In the new house the two young daughters find small creatures called susuwatari.
The spirits leads the two girls to find their new friend Totoro.
Grave of the fireflies
Release date: 2004
Grave of the fireflies will definitely give you plenty of reasons to cry. This beautiful film is set in Kobe during world war two, and follows two siblings Seita and Setsuko as they struggle to survive in a world they should never have had to be part of.
Many war films focus on the plight of the soldiers, or the battles of war, but Grave of the fireflies focuses on the citizens whose lives are completely changed by a war they never asked for.
If you and your younger sister were left to fend for yourself in a city in ruins, what would you do to survive?
Release date: 1950
Rashomon was ahead of its time in that it used different perspectives from different characters to show differing versions of the same incident. Throughout the film you see the plot through the eyes of the samurai, the bandit, the wife and the woodcutter, and you’ll have to decide was the wife raped? Or was she seduced by the bandit? And was there a murder? Or was there a duel?
Rashomon is somewhat of a cult classic, and has been referenced time and time again, just check out this clip from the Simpsons.
Special mention – Pokemon
It may not be a film, but we wanted to give a special mention to the original Pokemon series, although I’m pretty sure you all watched it in English when you were children, rewatching it in Japanese as an adult is a most if you’re learning Japanese. Not only is it a fun trip down memory lane but it will help your Japanese as the language is relatively simple, seeing as it’s aimed at children.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of best Japanese films to watch to improve your Japanese.
If you have any recommendations, or if you think we’ve missed something off the list, or even if there’s a film on this list that you think doesn’t deserve to be there then please let us know in the comments below. We always want to hear your opinions, especially if it can help improve our recommendations and advice.
Films are a great way to improve your language skills as they give you exposure to a more natural version of the language that you might be learning in a classroom or with textbooks. And let’s not forget, they’re lots of fun.
Good luck with your Japanese journey and keep on learning.