10 Best Japanese Movies Of All Time, According To IMDb

When it comes to media, Japan is one of the biggest exporters of creative content. Whether it’s movies, video games, anime, or novels, the country consistently delivers quality storytelling combined with its own unique sense of style.

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In the field of cinema, Japan is full of great films. From animated films that comment on the triumphs and failures of mankind, to great epics set in feudal times, the country is home to a legion of talented filmmakers. While there are more fantastic Japanese movies than one list can cover, here are the top ten rated on IMDb.

Taken away as if by magic (2001)

entertainment house Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki possess a filmography that rivals anyone but Taken away as if by magic stands as their masterpiece. When ten-year-old Chihiro sees her parents turned into pigs by a witch, she must work in the witch’s bathhouse to win her parents’ freedom.

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What follows is an incredible display of animation and imagination as Chihiro finds herself in a wondrous world parallel to our own, full of eccentric characters and bizarre creations. Taken away as if by magic won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, making it the first and only non-English language film to do so.

Taken away as if by magic is available to stream on HBO Max.

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Seven Samurai (1954)

Directed by legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai tells the story of seven samurai who unite to protect a village from bandits who threaten it. Each of the samurai comes from a different background, but they all find meaning in protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

Seven Samurai was adapted in America and released as The Magnificent Seven, placing it in a Western setting. The film’s storyline and the concept of “building a team” can be felt in media around the world, with the film’s influence being felt in The Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryanand even Avengers: Endgame.

Seven Samurai is available to stream on HBO Max.

your name (2016)

your name is a romantic animated film that tells the story of two teenagers living in modern Japan. The pair begin to swap bodies and are forced to live each other’s lives for periods of time. In an effort to resolve their dilemma, the teenagers decide to meet for the first time.

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The film was a big hit upon its release and received critical acclaim both in Japan and abroad. your name is beautifully animated, while the story does a great job of depicting the earnestness of young love and the awkwardness of trying to navigate your teenage years.

Up and down (1963)

Rich Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is a corporate executive, who is secretly trying to arrange a corporate takeover. However, when he receives a call claiming his son has been kidnapped and must pay a ransom to see him again, Gondo finds himself in a precarious situation.

What begins as a tense drama quickly turns into a police procedural, as detectives get involved in the search for the perpetrator. The film serves primarily as an examination of Gondo’s character, as he is forced to balance his desire to succeed with that of being a good person.

Up and down is available to stream on HBO Max.

Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Another classic from Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle takes place in a fictional kingdom where magic exists. When a young girl is turned into an old woman by a witch, she befriends a wizard named Howl and travels with him aboard his titular moving castle in an effort to break the spell.

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Miyazaki claimed that Howl is his favorite creation, and he made it as a way to express his contempt for the American invasion of Iraq. The film also tackles topics such as feminism and ageism, offering thoughtful messages beyond its stunning visuals.

Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle is available to stream on HBO Max.


Ran (1985)

Released towards the end of his career, Akira Kurosawait is Ran holds a place as one of his best films, as well as among the greatest films ever made. Influenced by Shakespeareit is King Learthe story follows an aging warlord who attempts to pass his kingdom down to his three sons.

The last epic of his career, Ran is the culmination of all the themes and techniques expressed by Kurosawa throughout his filmography. The film earned him his only nomination for the Best Director Oscar.

the Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Easily the most depressing movie on this list, the Grave of the Fireflies tells the story of a teenager and his little sister. Set during the final months of World War II, the film follows the brother’s desperate attempt to survive as the war heads towards their home.

Animated by Studio Ghiblithe film is as beautiful as it is haunting. the Grave of the Fireflies unafraid of the harsh realities of war and its impact on civilians. The film is one of the greatest war films of all time and a milestone in Japanese animation.

Hara-kiri (1962)

One of the best samurai films of all time, if not the best. Hara-kiri begins with the arrival of a former samurai on the domain of a feudal lord. The samurai asks the lord if he can commit seppuku in his mansion, causing the samurai to explain the events that led him here.

An anti-samurai film, Hara-kiri criticizes the shortcomings that the samurai code reserves for its followers. When wars were won and peace shrouded the land, samurai often found themselves aimless, choosing to commit suicide by performing “harakiri”, resulting in tragic loss of life.

Hara-kiri is available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

The third Hayao Miyazaki film on this list, and the fourth of Studio Ghibli, Princess Mononoke helped establish both of their names internationally. The film follows a young prince who finds himself in a war between the spirits of a forest and the humans who harvest it for resources.

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A depiction of humanity’s negative effect on the environment, the film refuses to paint a clear villain. Forest gods and humans have understandable reasons for their part of the conflict, and Princess Mononoke presents the ideal solution as a middle ground between humanity and nature.

Princess Mononoke is available to stream on HBO Max.

Ikiru (1952)

by Akira Kurosawa 13th movie, Ikiru provides one of its most understated stories. When an elderly man nearing retirement discovers he is terminally ill, he tries to make the most of his final days. Despite a strained relationship with his son, he swears to mark the world by the happiness he can leave to others.

Commenting on the purpose of life and the acceptance of death, Ikiru explores themes that everyone will find relevant. The film is also Kurosawa’s examination of what he saw as a period when Japanese family life was falling apart.

Ikiru is available to stream on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.

NEXT: The 9 Best Animated Movies That Didn’t Come From Studio Ghibli


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