• Charlie Vogelsang

10 Of The Best Japanese Films Of The 21st Century (So Far)

What better way to celebrate the new year than by remembering the amazing Japanese films from the past 20 years?

For the past two decades, Japanese cinema has been simply incredible - with many auteurs such as Nobuhiro Yamashita and Hirokazu Kore-eda making their mark on the film industry in some style. To celebrate the sensational films hailing from the land of the rising sun, we’ve decided to rank 10 of the best films from Japan so far.


Directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita, Linda Linda Linda follows a group of high school girls who are forced to recruit a new lead vocalist for their band to perform at their school’s festival. They have three days and due to desperation are left to choose a Korean exchange student with little understanding of Japanese music. Linda Linda Linda is a feel-good masterpiece that’ll leave you beaming with an infectious grin.


It wouldn’t be a list of great Japanese films without the legendary auteur Takeshi Kitano mentioned. Torn between Dolls, Outrage and Zatōichi, finally Zatōichi won this spot due to Kitano’s performance as the title character. Zatōichi follows a blind samurai who makes his living by gambling and giving massages, but he is a master swordsman underneath the façade. After wandering into a town run by sinister gangs and two beautiful geishas, the blind samurai ends up getting involved. Zatōichi is a minimalistic jidaigeki adventure that brings the pure cinematic joy that Kitano brings to all of his films.

Credit: Shochiku/OfficeKitano


The final film for the masterful director Kinji Fukasaku, Battle Royale follows a group of high-school students that are forced to fight to the death by their totalitarian government. It’s a complete masterpiece of chaos, violence and teen melodrama, and that’s why we love it. Thankfully, there’s enough black humour that the film never feels depressing, but it’ll make you think of what could happen if society crumbled.


Inspired by short story The Bamboo Sword by Shuhei Fujisawa, The Twilight Samurai follows a low-ranking warrior as he struggles to support his daughters and his mother with dementia. His life is suddenly flipped as he is reluctantly forced back into the life of a samurai. Directed by the iconic Yoji Yamada, The Twilight Samurai perfectly demonstrates why Yamada has been directing films for almost 60 years.

Credit: Shochiku/EmpirePictures


Studio Ghibli had to be featured on this list and again it was a struggle to decide on one. Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is the only logical film to showcase the amazing talents of Japanese animation. The film follows a young girl who is forced to rescue her parents after they are transformed into pigs and taken away from her. She has to blend in at a bathhouse that is full of spirits and is run by a witch named Yubaba. All of the films in the Ghibli collection are beautiful, but Spirited Away brings together both adults and children to enjoy the magical world in front of you.


Satoshi Kon’s mind-bending science fiction film follows a psychologist who is the only one to retrieve her patients’ stolen dreams after the machine that stores them is burgled. She ends up becoming intertwined with a police officer and they have to solve a murder and retrieve the stolen machine before it’s used to create a neurological catastrophe. Breath-taking animation, fascinating story and outstanding voice acting makes Paprika a film to fall in love with.

Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan


How far would you go as a mother? Tetsuya Nakashima’s Confessions explores this as it follows a grieving parent who vows vengeance on her students who she believes are responsible for the death of her daughter. Confessions shows how grief can change someone completely into a cold-blooded avenger who will stop at nothing to receive twisted justice. It’s definitely a chilling thriller that’ll leave you shocked and questioning the lengths you’d go for your own family.


Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters delves into the side of society that Japan would rather ignore. The film gives a glance into the struggle of the underclass and how a family of small-time crooks take in a child they find discarded on the streets. Shoplifters will change your thoughts and challenge your ideas, while providing both a melancholic and uplifting film that’ll leave you wanting to watch all of Kore-era’s films.

Credit: GAGA Pictures


How does one destroy a comet that is about to blow up the entire world? With punk rock music of course! Yoshihiro Nakamura directs this hilarious musical comedy that follows a band and their journey through writing the world’s savour song “Fish Story”. Fish Story is told through surprisingly intertwined tales that reveal how a band created an ethereal song in 1975 and how it could save the present. If you like bizarre tales with unbelievable results, you need to watch Fish Story.


Based on his own novel, Makoto Shinkai directs this charming animation that started off small and became a behemoth in anime. Your Name follows two completely different strangers who end up swapping bodies in this fantasy romance. They find themselves linked and desperately want to see each other - only to find that may be a little harder than expected. Your Name is a love story stretched across time and space that is both magnificent and will give you something you’d have never imagined.

Credit: Toho

What is your favourite Japanese movie? Let us know in the comments.