Many Japanese movies that are known internationally are based on anime. This may be a turn off to some non-Japanese viewers who don't like anime. That said, there are tons of great Japanese films that are worth watching. Even those who are not familiar with the Japanese culture will appreciate these movies.
Here, I have picked some of the best Japanese movies in my opinion. All of these movies have been released in recent years.
Warning: The following may contain some spoilers.
Like Someone in Love (2013)Credit: Amazon
Akiko (Takanashi Rin) is living a double life. During the day, she is a university student in Tokyo. At night, she works as a high-class escort, something that she keeps from her grandmother and her boyfriend. One night, her boss assigns her to Takashi (Okuno Tadashi), an elderly man who is a former professor. When Akiko meets him in his home, Takashi reveals that he is not interested in her services. He simply wants to have someone to talk to. He comments on Akiko's striking resemblance to his late wife. He treats her well and even cooks dinner for her. The next morning, Takashi drives Akiko to her university where he meets her boyfriend Noriaki, a rather quick-tempered man. Noriaki has mistaken Takashi as Akiko's grandfather and even asks for his relationship advice.
The movie is slow-paced (the story happens in just a couple of days!), but it is never boring. I think the movie is done beautifully. The acting is great. The cinematography is beautiful. It may not be easy to understand, but that is the beauty of it. It's about an old man whose youthful emotions being rekindled after meeting Rin. He finds himself acting like a young man in love.
Initiation Love (2015)
Suzuki, a rather chubby university student in Shizuoka, goes to a blind date with his friends. He meets Mayu (Maeda Atsuko), a beautiful dental hygienist and is immediately smitten with her. The two start to date and later on, become a couple. On Christmas Day, Mayu gives Suzuki a pair of running shoes.
Some time later, we see a fitter Suzuki (Matsuda Shota) going for a jog. He is handsome and is hardly recognizable if not for his distinct shoes. He has already graduated from the university and has found a job in Tokyo. He and Mayu starts a difficult long distance relationship. Over the weekend, Suzuki would drive back to Shizuoka to meet Mayu. This set up is difficult for them and soon, their relationship begins to fall apart. To make things worse, Suzuki and his coworker Miyako (Kimura Fumino) have become closer.
The story is set in the 80's, which I think, makes the movie so much more interesting. I like the delivery of the story. It is very engrossing from beginning to end. It has a plot twist that I didn't see coming at all!
Bunny Drop (2011)
Twenty-seven-year-old Daikichi (Matsuyama Kenichi) attends the funeral of his grandfather. There, he sees a tearful girl named Rin (Ashida Mana) staying close to his grandfather's plants. He quickly learns that she is the illegitimate daughter of his late grandfather. So technically, the six-year-old girl is Daikichi's aunt. No one knows who her mother is and no one wants to have anything to do with her. Annoyed with his relatives indifference, he announces that he will be the one to take care of Rin, to which his mother violently objects. She tells Daikichi that it is hard to raise a child and she herself has made several sacrifices taking care of him and his sister. Daikichi is taken aback by his mother's reaction, but he is determined to raise Rin.
Daikichi soon realizes that raising a child is not an easy task. His job requires him to work overtime. He lives alone and has no one to take care of Rin. With his sister's help, he finds a day care center. The nearest center is still far from his home and he has to run back and forth to fetch Rin. Both of them have nearly collapsed from exhaustion. As he recalls his mother's protest at the funeral, he makes up his mind to sacrifice his job for Rin. The next morning, he goes to his boss and requests for a demotion. He gets a blue-collar job which pays less but requires less working hours.
Daikichi and Rin form an unlikely bond. Daikichi's relatives are amazed to see that someone as impulsive as he is can be such a great and loving guardian. With Daikichi's fatherly love, the previously shy Rin is able to adapt to her new environment.
Bunny Drop is a heart-warming movie about a single guy who adopts a girl on a whim. I love the chemistry between Daikichi and Rin. This is a great family movie that teaches about parenthood, love, and sacrifices.
The Eternal Zero (2013)
Eien no ZeroCredit: Amazon
Eternal Zero is about two siblings who are trying to get to know their biological grandfather who had died during the World War II.
The story starts with the funeral of Kentaro's (Miura Haruma) grandmother. His grandfather, who has been tough all his life, suddenly breaks down and cries. Kentaro is very surprised to see his grandfather in such state.
After the ceremony, he learns from his mother and his sister that his grandfather is not blood-related to them. Their real grandfather was Kyuzo Miyabe (Okada Junichi), a Kamikaze pilot who died a long time ago. His mother knows practically nothing about her biological father and whenever she asked her late mother about him, she would just give her a sad smile.
Kentaro wants to know more about his mysterious grandfather, and so the search begins. He and his sister Keiko start visiting several ex-comrades of Miyabe. To the siblings' dismay, the veterans they have interviewed called Miyabe a coward because of his reluctance to death. To them, a brave soldier should always be ready to die, which was contrary to Miyabe's creed. His famous mantra was, "I don't want to die" - quite undignified for soldiers. At one point, Kentaro almost gives up researching about him and feels ashamed to have such a cowardly grandfather. Somehow, he is convinced by his sister to continue asking around.
They encounter a dying old man who tells them that his grandfather was very brave. As the siblings listen to his story, they slowly learn that the reason behind their grandpa's "cowardice" was his great love for his family. He wanted to live so he could go back to his family. Unlike most of his comrades, he believed dying for war is unnecessary and surviving is much more worthwhile.
The film has several flashbacks and goes back and forth between Kentaro's and Miyabe's time. I think the plane scenes are wonderfully shot. It kind of reminds me of Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, which is about the creator of these Zero Fighter planes. The story has several poignant moments. I can very much relate with Kentaro, a man in his 20's who is searching for his identity. Somehow, learning about his grandfather's bravery has given him the strength to face his uncertain future.
The movie has been criticized because of seemingly depicting Kamikaze pilots as heroes. Despite its controversies, I really love Eternal Zero. It tugs every string in my heart. Of all the movies I have listed here, this is the one that has left the most lasting impression on me.
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(price as of Jun 20, 2016)
© Rainy Kua 2016