The 10 Best Movies to Watch Before Visiting Japan

If you’re heading to Japan in the near future, then there are certain movies that you should watch ahead of time. Either based around or set in Japan, the following films will get you excited for your trip and show you an insight into the extraordinary culture!

A huge part of their culture, there are so many films that slip under the radar. So to whet your taste buds and give you a flavour into the fascinating country, it’s worth watching these hidden gems:

1) The Ramen Girl (2008)

An incredibly underrated film, The Ramen Girl stars the brilliant, late actress Brittany Murphy. Based on a girl that moves to Tokyo with her boyfriend, it showcases how she settles into the new culture and her new life there.

Whilst in the city, she finds a Ramen shop and takes up a job there as an apprentice. A unique but charming little movie, it’s often forgotten about in the world of cinema. 

2) Akira (1988) 

Starting off our list of Japanese animated masterpieces is Akira. Released in 1988 this magical film showcased Japan after the war. Set in Tokyo (or Neo Tokyo as it’s known) the protagonists are battling to save their city from a biker gang that’s terrorizing it at every turn.

Featuring beautiful animation, an interesting concept and a futuristic version of the city, it’s the perfect film to watch before a trip there as it amazed audiences both when they first saw it in the 80’s and now.

3) My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Anime makes up a big part of Japanese culture, so it’s only right to spend some time before your trip indulging in some classic anime films. One of these is My Neighbor Totoro. Directed by the acclaimed Hayao Miyazaki, this breath-taking film is incredibly popular in Japan.

Created by the acclaimed Studio Ghibli, you could watch this before heading to the museum in Mikata. Telling the story of two little girls that meet a monster, it’s set in the animated Japanese countryside. There are so many weird yet wonderful scenes in this film that will make you laugh, cry and be in awe.

4) Tokyo Story (1953)

Set in Tokyo (as the name would suggest), this renowned 1953 movie showcases the beauty of the decade in the capital. Also venturing to Osaka, Atami and Onomichi, it’s based around a couple who go to Tokyo to visit their family. 

A classic drama, it’s frequently in the top 10 lists of best Japanese movies – making it a great choice for those looking for an acclaimed film to watch before visiting the incredible country.

5) Lost in Translation (2003)

Perhaps the most well-known movie on this list due to its popularity across the ocean, Lost in Translation features Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. Set in the capital, it’s based around two people that form an unlikely connection. Quirky and beautifully filmed, it’s a popular choice for many planning a holiday in Japan.

6) Seven Samurai (1954)

Another movie that you’ve undoubtedly heard of is the Seven Samurai. Directed by the acclaimed Akira Kurosawa, it’s based around a samurai and his recruits who are navigating their way through life.

A wonderful insight into the hereditary military nobility, it’s a definite must-watch prior to your trip and well-deserves a mention in this list of the best movies set in Japan.

7) Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Although this is directed by an American filmmaker (David Gelb) this extraordinary short film is simply charming and captures Japanese life at its best. Based around a sushi chef, it showcases how he has achieved 3 Michelin Stars in his quaint restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. 

If you really want to immerse yourself and you’re travelling to Tokyo during your trip, you can even go to his restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro! Although it’s quite an expensive restaurant, it’s bound to be an experience unlike any other!

8) Departures (2008)

Based around a cellist who loses his job, this unique film showcases how one mistyped job ad leads the protagonist (called Daigo) to work as a Nakanishi – a professional that prepares a body for either a cremation or traditional burial. Throughout the film you see Daigo and his wife getting used to his new career, and the embarrassment they are facing of telling their loved ones about it

Directed by Yojiro Takita, it’s subject is definitely unique. An incredible look into the traditional Japanese preparation ceremony, it’s paired with beautiful visuals and excellent acting.

 9) Spirited Away  (2001)

Another Hayao Miyazaki classic, Spirited Away is an anime masterpiece. Set around a 10-year-old girl that explores an old amusement park only to find that it’s so much more than it seems. Quirky and magical, this little film will transport you into the breath-taking imaginary world. 

Although there aren’t any obvious Japanese landmarks (even though the bath house is based on the Dogo Onsen) it should be on your list for movies to watch ahead of your holiday.

10) Godzilla (1954)

A film that has made a huge impact in the world of cinema, the original Godzilla is based around a beast who has been awoken by nuclear radiation. Created as a metaphor for the destruction caused by nuclear weapons, it’s simply terrifying – even though it might now be a little dated. Despite its sometimes clunky visuals, it’s charm and magic make it a classic Japanese horror/sci-fi.

To Conclude

So, there you go! There is a list of the best movies to watch before visiting Japan. All entertaining and wonderful in their own way, they will give you a unique view of Japanese culture and what life is like in the awe-inspiring country. No matter what film you watch on this list, you’re bound to be thrilled from beginning to end.