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20 Best Japanese Movie of All Time

Written by Sera Serinda A

The Japanese entertainment industry is famous not just for its outstanding anime movies, but also for consistently creating a range of high-quality films that rival Hollywood productions. In this article, Showpoiler will explore several Japanese films that have earned the distinction of being among the best ever made.

We will take a look into a selection of movies that stand out in their respective genres. Long-time fans of Japanese cinema will likely recognize many of the titles and actors featured. So, which movies make this esteemed list? Let's see the full rundown.

After the hit movie Broker in 2022, famous director Hirokazu Koreeda is back with an exciting new film called Monster in 2023. This movie really makes you think about how our words and actions can affect other people's lives.

The story takes you into the life of Minato (played by Soya Korukawa), a boy who acts in a way that worries others. Minato's odd behavior leads to a big argument between his mom, Saori (Sakura Ando), and his teacher, Michitoshi, at school.

Michitoshi (Eita Nagayama) thinks Minato is bullying another student, Yori Hoshikawa (Hinata Hiiragi). But Minato's mom believes Minato is a victim of physical violence committed by one of his teachers. This makes her not want Minato to go to school anymore.

What's interesting is we also get to see things from Minato's perspective. It turns out he is actually good friends with Yori Hoshikawa. They hang out and have fun together after school. So, what's really going on with Minato? Why do his mom and teacher see his situation so differently?

2. Hachi-ko

Year 1987
Genre ,
Director
Cast Tatsuya Nakadai Kaoru Yachigusa
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Before Hollywood adapted the story, the tale of Hachiko was first told in the Japanese film Hachi-ko in 1987. This movie directly retells the story of Hidesaburo Ueno and his faithful dog, Hachiko. Due to its authenticity, Hachi-ko deserves to be included as one of the best Japanese movies of all time.

In Akita Prefecture, a puppy was born and given to Professor Shujiro Ueno of the University of Tokyo. Despite his wife's objections to keeping the dog, Professor Ueno cherished the puppy and named him Hachiko, affectionately calling him Hachi.

Every day, Professor Ueno and Hachi would travel together to Shibuya Station in the morning, and Hachi would faithfully wait for the Professor to return home in the evening.

One day, Professor Ueno suffered a stroke and passed away. Although his family eventually sold their house and moved to another city, Hachi continued to return to Shibuya Station, faithfully waiting for his master's return.


3. Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends

Year 2014
Genre , ,
Director
Cast Takeru Sato Emi Takei Tatsuya Fujiwara
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Following the events of "Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno," Kenshin's adversary, Shishio, sets sail for Tokyo with his allies. Meanwhile, Kenshin finds himself stranded on the shore after diving into the sea in pursuit of Kaoru, who has been captured by Shishio. Luckily, Kenshin's teacher comes to his rescue.

Kenshin asks his teacher, Hiko Seijuro, to retrain him in the secret Hiten Mitsurugi technique. This is because he wants to stop Shishio's plot to take over the government and threaten the wellbeing of the Japanese people. Will Kenshin be able to thwart Shishio's plan?

Directed by Keishi Ohtomo, this film, like its two Rurouni Kenshin predecessors, achieved substantial success, grossing USD 44 million. "The Legend Ends" has also picked up widespread praise from critics, particularly for the epic choreography in its fight scenes.

Although it is actually a remake of a South Korean film, Your Eyes Tell is one of the best Japanese movies that has captivated audiences with its story. It is a romantic melodrama featuring Akari (Yuriko Yoshitaka) and Rui (Ryusei Yokohama).

Rui, a former boxer, now works as a parking lot attendant. On his first day, he meets a girl named Akari. Their first meeting is a bit awkward because Akari suddenly starts talking to Rui about a television drama, but they slowly become closer.

Rui soon realizes that Akari is blind and that she still thinks he is the previous parking attendant. Despite this, they continue to chat every day, and eventually, romantic feelings grow between them.

However, Rui discovers that he was the cause of Akari's blindness in the past. What exactly happened? Will their relationship survive this revelation?

5. Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno

Year 2014
Genre , ,
Director
Cast Sato Takeru Emi Takei Munetaka Aoki Kaito Oyagi Yu Aoi
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Kyoto Inferno is the sequel to the 2012 film Rurouni Kenshin. Like the first movie, this one is also adapted from Nobuhiro Watsuki's manga series Rurouni Kenshin.

In this film, Kenshin Himura decides to stop wandering and settles down at Kaoru's dojo with his friends Yahiko, Sanosuke, and Megumi. One day, the government seeks Kenshin's help to deal with a dangerous rebel named Makoto Shishio.

Shishio was Kenshin's successor as Battosai, but his fate was more tragic. He was betrayed and burned alive by the Japanese government. Miraculously, he survived, though his body was covered in burns.

Now, Shishio plans to take revenge on the government and aims to rule Japan with the help of his elite troops. Seeing this threat, Kenshin heads to Kyoto to help the government prevent a bloodbath like the one during the Bakumatsu era.

6. Rurouni Kenshin (Live Action)

Year 2012
Genre , ,
Director
Cast Takeru Satoh Emi Takei
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A decade after the war, a legendary assassin decides to leave his old life behind. Adopting a new identity as Kenshin Himura, he now roams the land, determined to help those in need.

In his travels, Kenshin meets a young woman named Kamiya Kaoru, the daughter of the owner of the Kamiya Kasshin kendo school. Kaoru seeks Kenshin's assistance in confronting a drug lord threatening to seize her school and convert it into an opium production site.

This situation is tied to a series of shocking serial murders in Tokyo. The government suspects that the legendary Battousai, a nickname once belonging to Kenshin, is behind these crimes.

"Rurouni Kenshin" stands out as one of Japan's finest live-action movies. Takeru Sato's exceptional portrayal of Kenshin Himura and the film's gripping, well-choreographed fight scenes make it a thrilling and memorable experience.

A band of six masterless samurai, known as ronin, and a clever young man join forces to protect a village under threat. Marauders are attempting to take the villagers' crops, leaving the people in a desperate situation.

Kambei, the leader of the samurai, agrees to defend the village in exchange for food, recognizing the villagers' poverty. Despite the villagers' limited means, the seven samurai take their task seriously. They even go so far as to train the villagers in combat.

"Seven Samurai" is celebrated as one of the greatest Japanese samurai films ever made. It was nominated for an Oscar in 1957. The film is renowned for its exceptional storyline and action scenes, especially considering the technology available at the time.

8. Even if This Love Disappears from the World Tonight

Year 2022
Genre ,
Director
Cast Shunsuke Michieda Riko Fukumoto
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Tired of romance stories that end tragically as one of the characters suffers from an illness? If so, you should watch this movie. While the premise might seem classic, this film presents an unexpected plot twist at the end.

The story begins with Toru Kamiya, a student who is forced to confess his feelings for his classmate, Maori Hino, due to pressure from his bullies at school. To his surprise, Maori agrees to go on a date with him, but she sets one condition: they must not fall in love.

Despite the condition, Toru and Maori begin dating. Unexpectedly, Toru becomes comfortable with Maori and genuinely falls in love with her. However, when he confesses his sincere feelings, Maori reveals that she suffers from a condition that makes her forget everything that happens each day.

To remember her daily experiences, Maori writes them in a diary. Determined to make every day special, Toru decides to create happy memories for Maori every day they spend together.

9. Godzilla Minus One

Year 2023
Genre , , ,
Director
Cast Ryunosuke Kamiki Minami Hamabe
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This movie was loved by fans for featuring the best Godzilla design and special effects. Set in post-war Japan, it follows the struggle of a pilot trying to stop Godzilla's terror.

Shikishima, a Kamikaze pilot in the Special Attack Unit of the Japanese military, is stationed on Odo Island when a giant monster attacks his ship at the base. Unfortunately, Shikishima's initial cowardice results in the failure to save many of the aircraft engineers.

Upon returning home to Tokyo, Shikishima is shocked to encounter a similar monster, reminiscent of the one that attacked him. Determined not to repeat his past mistakes, he sets out to make things right.

Shikishima joins a large group of veterans on a mission to defeat the monstrous Godzilla.

10. Departures

Year 2008
Genre ,
Director
Cast Masahiro Motoki
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While watching Departures, we learn about the meaning of life and death. The central character is Daigo Kobayashi, who must stop being a cellist when the orchestra he worked for suddenly disbands.

Daigo decides to return to his village with his wife. There, he sees a job advertisement that does not require any work experience. Intrigued, Daigo applies for the job and is hired on the spot.

To his surprise, Daigo discovers that his new job is as a corpse dresser. He encounters various experiences in taking care of corpses from different backgrounds. Additionally, he faces the significant dilemma of keeping his job a secret from his wife.

Confessions is a movie adaptation of the famous novel Kokuhaku by Kanae Minato. It tells the story of Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu), a teacher seeking revenge for her daughter's death on two of her own students.

The story begins when Moriguchi's four-year-old daughter is found drowned in the school swimming pool. After investigating, Yuko suspects that two of her students are responsible for her daughter's death.

However, as they do not admit the murder, Yuko resorts to extreme measures to force a confession, starting from mixing milk with blood contaminated with the HIV virus, to carrying out verbal attacks.

12. My Happy Marriage (Live Action Movie)

Year 2023
Genre , ,
Director
Cast Ren Meguro Mio Imada
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This 1-hour and 55-minute film seamlessly blends elements of romance, history, fantasy, and drama. It centers around the life of Miyo Saimori (Mio Imada), a young woman living in Japan's Meiji era.

After the death of her mother, Miyo's life becomes reminiscent of Cinderella's tale. Her father remarries, bringing a new wife and daughter into the family. Unfortunately, Miyo's stepmother and stepsister treat her poorly, even managing to sway her father's opinion against her. Despite the pain in her heart, Miyo strives to remain strong.

A significant turn of events occurs when Miyo will be married to a soldier reputed for his cruelty, Kiyoka Kudo (by Ren Meguro). When they first meet, Kiyoka seems tough with Miyo. But as time goes on, Miyo sees that he's actually kind and understanding. So, they start to have feelings for each other.

Just when things are getting better for Miyo, strange things start happening to her. Miyo's sister gets jealous of her and works with their mom to make a plan against Miyo. This makes Miyo's life even more complicated.

13. High & Low The Movie 3: Final Mission

Year 2017
Genre , , ,
Director ,
Cast Akira Shô Aoyagi Takahiro Hiroomi Tosaka Takanori Iwata
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High & Low The Movie 3 - Final Mission is the fourth movie in the High & Low series, concluding the war between the Kuryu yakuza organization and the SWORD gang.

Continuing the storyline from the previous films, the SWORD gang's fight in this movie is their final effort to protect their city. To achieve this, the SWORD gang collaborates with other gangs to defeat the entire Kuryu yakuza gang.

The Kuryu group resumes plans to destroy SWORD territory and build a casino there, aiming to cover up past government corruption. The SWORD gang, of course, opposes this plan and mobilizes to stop it.

14. High & Low The Movie 2: End of Sky

Year 2017
Genre , , ,
Director ,
Cast Takanori Iwata Kuroki Keiji Kataoka Naoto Aoi Nakamura
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End of Sky is the fourth installment of the High and Low franchise and the second movie to highlight the battle between the Kuryu Group and the members of S.W.O.R.D. The tranquility the S.W.O.R.D members enjoy after their victory over Mugen is short-lived, as the Kuryu Group remains determined to build a casino in their territory.

When Cobra, the leader of Sannoh Rengokai, attempts to unite S.W.O.R.D to fight Kuryu, each gang has different reasons for rejecting him.

Smoky, the leader of the Rude Boys, falls ill, and his replacement is more focused on surviving than following Cobra's plan. The leaders of the White Rascals also refuse because they are more concerned with protecting the women in their territory than getting involved in the fight.

Additionally, Rocky, the leader of the White Rascals, faces problems with Ranmaru Hayashi, the leader of the Doubt group, who is involved in kidnapping and trafficking women.

15. High & Low The Worst

Year 2019
Genre ,
Director
Cast Kazuma Kawamura Jun Shison Yuki Yamada
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This movie is a crossover between High&Low and Crows Zero. It showcases the battle between the Oya High School gang from High&Low and the Housen High School gang from Crows Zero, introducing many new characters.

One day, some Housen students are attacked by people claiming to be from Oya High School. Meanwhile, Oya High School students are also attacked by people claiming to be from Housen. It becomes apparent that there are parties trying to pit the two sides against each other.

This situation leads to misunderstandings, causing the two large groups to clash. How will they clear up the misunderstandings and find the mastermind behind this riot?

16. Our Secret Diary

Year 2023
Genre ,
Director
Cast Fumiya Takahashi Hiyori Sakurada
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Here’s another must-watch Japanese teen romance movie set in a school. It’s perfect for those who enjoy warm, lighthearted stories filled with adorable interactions between the main characters.

One day, Nozomi Kuroda finds a piece of paper on her classroom desk with the words "I like you" written by Jun Setoyama, the most popular student in school. Embarrassed, Nozomi replies by leaving a note in Jun's shoe locker, starting an exchange of secret notes between them.

Soon after, Nozomi realizes that Jun's first note was actually meant for her best friend, not her. However, she has already developed feelings for Jun, who honestly shares his thoughts and feelings in their secret notes.

Jun himself still doesn't know that it has been Nozomi replying to his notes all this time.

17. Liar Game: The Final Stage

Year 2010
Genre ,
Director
Cast Erika Toda Shota Matsuda
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Liar Game: The Final Stage continues the popular Liar Game series that aired on Fuji TV, directed by Hiroaki Matsuyama, who has been part of the series from the beginning.

In this movie, Kanzaki Nao decides to rejoin Akiyama Shinichi and nine other players in the final stage called Garden of Eden. This stage offers a prize of 5 billion yen.

The players are told that if they work together, they can win the prize collectively. However, if there is only one winner, the other participants will still incur a massive debt.

Nao and the other players attempt to collaborate, choosing the option to win together. Unfortunately, their chances of success are threatened by a mysterious player known as X, who seeks to sabotage the game.

18. The 8-Year Engagement

Year 2017
Genre ,
Director
Cast Takeru Satoh Tao Tsuchiya
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Would you be willing to sacrifice eight years for the one you love? Not everyone has the strength to do so, but Hisashi Nishozawa did, as he couldn't bear to lose Mai Nakahara, the woman he loves.

This movie is inspired by the true story of Hisashi Nishozawa and Mai Nakahara. In their twenties and engaged, Mai's heart suddenly stopped beating one day, and she fell into a coma. She was diagnosed with brain inflammation, and doctors couldn't predict when she would wake up.

Despite the grim news, Hisashi stayed faithfully by Mai's side, believing she would recover. A miracle happened a year later when Mai finally woke up. However, due to brain damage, Mai lost her memory and couldn't remember Hisashi.

Despite the challenges and repeated setbacks, Hisashi never gave up. He continued to wait for Mai, never forcing her to remember everything.

19. Nodame Cantabile: The Final Score - Part II

Year 2010
Genre , , ,
Director ,
Cast Juri Ueno Hiroshi Tamaki
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Our favorite musician couple, Nodame and Chiaki, are back in this second movie, continuing the story from the first film and the Nodame Cantabile series that originally aired on Fuji TV. This time, Nodame and Chiaki face new challenges in their relationship and careers.

Despite their growing relationship, Nodame believes that she and Chiaki need to focus on their respective music careers. As a result, she supports Chiaki when he gets the opportunity to join the Wiltrod Orchestra in Vienna, where he reunites with his former pianist, Rui.

Meanwhile, Nodame stays in Paris to study at the music conservatory. However, her supervisor forbids her from entering music competitions, leaving her feeling depressed.

One day, while attending a concert, Nodame is shocked to see Rui and Chiaki performing the piece she had always dreamed of playing with Chiaki: Ravel's Concerto in G Major. This deepens Nodame's depression and strains her relationship with Chiaki.

Nobody Knows is a movie inspired by a true story of child neglect in the Sugamo area of Tokyo. The film follows the struggles of a 12-year-old boy trying to care for himself and his three younger siblings.

After moving into a new apartment, Akira Fukushima meets his half-sister Kyoko. Akira lives with his mother, his two younger siblings, and Kyoko.

Their mother, Keiko, instructs her children to remain quiet, and only Akira is allowed to leave the apartment. This rule is meant to prevent eviction, a fate they faced in their previous home.

One day, Keiko leaves for work and provides her children with a small amount of money. However, she never returns. Confused and abandoned, Akira takes on the responsibility of caring for his three younger siblings with the limited funds left by their mother.

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