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20 Most Heartbreaking Japanese Movies (1-10)

Updated on April 27, 2015

Click here for 20 Most Heartbreaking Japanese Films (11-20)

You can say whatever you want about Japanese culture, but if there’s one thing they know, it’s how to do films that tug at your heartstrings. It doesn’t matter if it’s live action, animation, or even CGI, they’ve managed to create some of the most heartbreaking movies in history. Here are 20 of them:

Nobody Knows

Nobody Knows focuses on four half-siblings who have different fathers, whose mother remarried and left. Over time, they learn to rely on each other in order to face life’s multiple challenges.

Most Heartbreaking Part(s)

The film is generally designed to uplift spirits as it shows the orphans functioning as a family unit in spite of their hardships, but towards the end of the film, one of the siblings dies and the kids find a way to mourn and provide proper burial, first by borrowing money and using it to buy chocolate candies, and then stuffing everything into a suitcase along with the kid’s dead body, then burying everything in an open field near an airport’s runway.

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Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies is an animated drama film about two siblings, 14 year old Seita and 11 year old Setsuko, and their struggle to survive in Japan during the twilight of the Second World War.

Most Heartbreaking Part(s)

Towards the end of the film, Setsuko starts to die from malnutrition and starvation, and Seita withdraws all the money remaining in their mother’s bank account as a last ditch effort to buy food. Unfortunately, by the time he gets home Setsuko is already near-death and hallucinating. Seita tries to cook as fast as possible, only for Setsuko to die shortly thereafter.

Departures

Departures (Okuribito) is a drama film loosely basedo n Aoki Shinmon’s memoir Coffinman, focusing on a young man who returns to his hometown and getting a job as a mortician after failing in his dreams as a cellist.

Most Heartbreaking Part(s)

The most heartbreaking moment in Departures is towards the end, when the protagonist and his chosen career is finally accepted by his loved ones, only to be met by the sudden demise of his father. After finding out that the local funeral workers are careless with his father’s body, he takes over and finds a stone-letter that he had given to his father, still being held tight by the dead man’s hands.

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Still Walking

Still Walking follows the Yokoyama family, who have come together every year in order to commemorate the death of their eldest son Junpei while saving the life of another boy.

Most Heartbreaking Part(s)

The scene with the most emotional resonance was when the boy Junpei saved, Yoshio, was being so humble and apologetic yet thankful to Junpei for saving his life. He is overweight, in a less than sterling profession and generally considered to be of less value than Junpei. Having everyone except for one of the family members mocking him when he left was heartbreaking.

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Memories of Tomorrow

Based on the same-titled novel by Hiroshi Ogiwara, Memories of Tomorrow follows the life of a once-powerful advertising executive as he starts to suffer from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Most Heartbreaking Parts(s)

There’s no twist ending to this film, as it starts with the man already reduced to a sorry state by Alzheimer’s, before shifting to a flashback of his life before the onset of the disease. The most heartbreaking parts occur towards the end of the film, when his life and relationships start to fall apart and the once powerful

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Dolls

Dolls is a drama art film from Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, consisting of three separate (yet visually connected) stories: a young man who rejects his fiancée to marry the daughter of his company’s president, a young man who blinds himself after the pop star he’s obsessed with was disfigured in an accident, and an aging yakuza who tries to meet an old girlfriend from his youth.

Most Heartbreaking Part(s)

The saddest part comes from the story of the young man who abandoned his fiancée for his boss’ daughter. When his former fiancée attempted suicide and was reduced to a vegetative state, he regrets his decision and takes her out of the hospital so they can run away.


Be With You

Sometimes translated as “Now I’m coming to see you” (ima, ai ni yukimasu), Be With You is based on the Yoshikzu Okada novel about a woman who promises her husband and son that she would come back in the rainy season a year after her death.

Most Heartbreaking Part(s)

The film starts with the woman already dead, so most of the film’s story is told through flashbacks, but the real cincher comes when both the husband and son find the woman stranded in the forest during the rainy season, with no memory of who she is or why she’s in the forest. They soon managed to form a bond, and the saddest part comes when it was time for the woman to leave again.

r100

r100 focuses on an ordinary man who joins a mysterious gentleman’s club that promises joy and only allows 1 year memberships. It has one simple rule: no cancellation under any circumstance. Soon, he is visited by various mysterious women in the most inappropriate time and places.

Most Heartbreaking Part(s)

You wouldn’t expect it from r100 because it is technically a comedy film, and in a way that is true. You won’t see any dramatic scenes based on sap. However, there are scenes that are generally heartbreaking as the protagonist is reminded of the reasons why he ended up in the mysterious club in the first place.

Kids Return

Kids Return is about two highschool friends who dropped out of high school in order to pursue difference careers – one as a boxer and another as a gangster. The two eventually meet again and realize that their life decisions has a way of catching up on them.

Most Heartbreaking Part(s)

Kids Return is Takeshi Kitano’s first film after suffering a nearly fatal motorcycle accident, and it’s where he poured the depression he felt while recovering from being half-paralyzed. In Kids Return, none of the protagonists die yet the entire film is heartbreaking as it shows innocence lost as two teenagers find themselves corrupted by the cutthroat world of amateur boxing and the yakuzas.


Bokura Ga Ita

Adapted from a popular manga, Bokura ga ita is the first of a two part film that follows a young man, a woman, and their rocky relationship as they try to maintain their love for each other amidst insecurities and past regrets.

Most Heartbreaking Part(s)

The film is full of heartbreaking parts all over, but one of the saddest ones was the train scene, with the female protagonist running after the train that had the male protagonist (who was moving to a different city.) it’s a cliché at this point, but this time we owe it to actress Yuriko Yoshitaka, who turned in one of the most affecting performance in a film that is full of them. When you see her break down in tears, you feel your heart get crushed as well.


Ten movies should be enough to last you a while, but there’s ten more that you have to watch out for if you prefer to get your heart broken by Japanese films.

Click here for Part 2 of 20 Most Heartbreaking Japanese Films

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