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Japanese Movies - The Old, Modern, Fun, and Bizarre!

Updated on October 22, 2014

Kinkaku-Ji -- the Golden Temple. In Kyoto, Japan.

Kinkaku-Ji -- the Golden Temple. In Kyoto, Japan.
Kinkaku-Ji -- the Golden Temple. In Kyoto, Japan.

So, What Was Your First Japanese Movie? You Might Be Surprised!

My first glimpse of a Japanese movie? When I was a kid living with my folks in New Mexico, my sister and I would watch the Saturday matinee "Creepy Creature Feature" on our local TV station (we only had 3 stations [CBS, ABC, and NBC.... and maybe a PBS] in those days). The set was B&W, the sound was scratchy, but we saw our first Godzilla movie and I was hooked!

We later enjoyed watching "Godzilla and Mothra" and other variations of the Godzilla theme. The dubbing was always a bit off, but the movies were fun (and you'd have to try not to visualize the guy in the rubber Godzilla suit).

My First Introduction to Japanese Movies -- Through Big Lizards!

Godzilla 50th Anniversary 9 Movie DVD Collection (Godzilla (1998) / Godzilla 2000 / Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah / Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth / Godzilla vs. Destoroyah / Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla / Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla / Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack / Godzilla vs. Megaguirus)
Godzilla 50th Anniversary 9 Movie DVD Collection (Godzilla (1998) / Godzilla 2000 / Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah / Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth / Godzilla vs. Destoroyah / Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla / Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla / Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack / Godzilla vs. Megaguirus)

You can check out my Komodo Dragon website to see that I like BIG LIZARDS! Maybe it was my exposure to Godzilla movies when I was a kid that got me started.

This collection of "big lizard" stories (REALLY BIG LIZARD stories) will keep you on the edge of your seat. Starting with the original movie, and then going through all the renditions up to the more modern versions. Get this collection for your own today!

 

One Way to Get Closer to Japan is by Moving Closer -- the Other Way is Through Their Movies!

A few years later, and my family and I left New Mexico and were flying our way across the Pacific, through Hawaii and on to the Western Pacific island of Guam. As we became more familiar with the Japanese culture, language, and television that was readily available on the island (Guam is a major Japanese tourist destination), this new location gave our family more chances to see Japanese movies and shows with a whole different perspective. (And we also saw a bunch of huge lizards.)

Recently, now that I've left the island and live in California, we had some Japanese exchange students finish their month-long stay in our town and they missed the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami in their homeland while they were here. When we asked them what their impressions were about the disaster--they said, "Our people have a strong heart and this is just another thing to recover from." Awesome wisdom.

This website is a collection of my impressions and experiences with Japanese movies and provides you with links to resources and references such that you, too, can enjoy this cultural fun!

Zatoichi -- An Example of Blind Justice!

Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman: Vols. 1-4
Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman: Vols. 1-4

Zatoichi is another fine series of "old-style" samurai/ronin movies that detail the culture and lifestyle of old Japan. Zatoichi is a blind masseuse who also happens to be an accomplished swordsman--so good, that he is an extremely deadly foe if anyone crosses him.

Zatoichi is fun-loving and gentle when around kids and women, but when set upon or picked on (or when he sees the poor and weak set upon by goons), he unsheaths his cane-sword and does the slicing and dicing routine on the bad guys. Zatoichi movies always have a mix of sword-action, humor, traditional music, and sensitivity. Even if you get a movie without subtitles, you can still get a lot from the movie!

 

So Many Japanese Movies and So Little Space to Present Them!

So many great Japanese movies, and so little time (and especially not enough room to feature them all here)! I'll feature a few of them in the Amazon sections for your perusal. But if you are interested in any of those not featured (but still listed here), highlight and copy the title provided in the listing below, then click on one of the Amazon items listed and paste the copied title into the search box in the Amazon page. You may find other goodies while you are there in the suggested/related items section at the bottom of the Amazon page.

Some of the movies were intended for only a Japanese audience -- and thus may have dubbing and/or subtitles and then perhaps not. Other movies were intended specifically for a foreign (non-Japanese audience) and may have more English than Japanese featured in the story. Also, be aware that cultural tastes may vary -- so if you are adverse to blood and guts spurting through all the fight scenes, you may want to avoid any of the samurai movies (because they fought up-close-and personal with swords -- and those kind of wounds tend to spurt a lot). Japanese culture also does not have so many hang-ups with nudity such as what you'd find in their "ofuro" (Japanese baths ... sort of like a "hot tub") or in other situations. So, if you don't want to see any nudity, be sure to read the review of the movie before you get it. Many movies -- even the samurai movies -- will have some nudity involved. (Of course, you can always fast-forward through those parts, too ... but you'll have to be aware that those parts are coming so you can be prepared with the fast-forward button.)

In any case, there's a wide variety of flicks out there that will cater to all tastes!

  • Yojimbo & Sanjuro - Two Films By Akira Kurosawa - Criterion Collection
  • Rashomon - Criterion Collection
  • Inuyasha TV Series Collections
  • Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman
  • Ran
  • Tampopo
  • Speed Racer
  • Bayside Shakedown
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Ultraman
  • Red Sun
  • Gung Ho
  • The Sea is Watching
  • Mr. Baseball
  • Kimba The White Lion
  • Kibakichi
  • Kunoichi
  • The Most Terrible Time in My Life
  • Naruto the Movie-Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow
  • The Ramen Girl

If you want to see a whole lot more goodies, you will have to click on one of those listed below, then always check out the suggested related items that will be listed at the bottom of the screen or let Amazon provide you with a huge list of goodies when you type in your keyword on their site.

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Do You Need Admission to See the Detective?

The Most Terrible Time in My Life
The Most Terrible Time in My Life

Directed by Kaizo Hayashi, The Most Terrible Time In My Life is a Japanese film shot in black and white to give it an old film noir look. Released in 1993 in Japan, the film mixes tame violence with comedy. In the movie, Maiku Hama (Japanese pronunciation of "Mike Hammer!" -- the character played by Masatoshi Nagase) is an unorthodox private eye. whose office is above a movie theater. If you want to visit his office you have to pay the admission fee.

 

The Movies Depicting Feudal Samurai Times Involve the Castles

The Movies Depicting Feudal Samurai Times Involve the Castles -- This is Fushimi-Momoyama-Jo, in Kyoto.
The Movies Depicting Feudal Samurai Times Involve the Castles -- This is Fushimi-Momoyama-Jo, in Kyoto.

A Classic Japanese Modern Flick! Lots of Fun!

Tampopo
Tampopo

Tampopo is the Japanese word for "dandelion" ... but this flick, considered a "ramen western" (instead of a "spaghetti western") ... is a fun romp through noodle houses and other culinary places. Amusing in a bunch of ways -- "situational comedy" ... Get your copy and enjoy it now!

 

The beautiful tile roofs and pine trees of Japan

The beautiful tile roofs and pine trees of Japan
The beautiful tile roofs and pine trees of Japan

An "American" Sushi Film? Yup -- this is one!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Jiro Dreams of Sushi

An American production of the quest to find the highest rated sushi chefs -- and resulting in this documentary-style movie of Jiro Ono -- the 85-year-old sushi master and his restaurant.

 

Sushi -- Yep, Sushi. Featured in many Japanese Movies -- Sometimes in Strange Ways!

Sushi -- Yep, Sushi. Featured in many Japanese Movies -- Sometimes in Strange Ways!
Sushi -- Yep, Sushi. Featured in many Japanese Movies -- Sometimes in Strange Ways!

When Your Dinner Attacks and Fights Back! Yup. Dead Sushi!

Dead Sushi
Dead Sushi

This flick is a humorous spoof of cooking movies, sushi movies, and creepy-crawlie movies all rolled into one. (Hmm. I wonder if those are "California Rolls?)

The main character of the movie shows some great martial arts (karate) moves and also fights off an army of sushi that attacks the patrons of the resort hotel and restaurant. Be forewarned, however, there is a brief nude scene in the flick (in the Japanese "ofuro" -- hot bath -- of the spa hotel) as well as a lot of sword-play with the accompanying spurting blood.

The movie had me laughing at all the ridiculous scenes ... but your tastes may vary. Enjoy!

 

Akira Kurosawa - Innovator and Visionary with Movies (and Inspiration for American Movies!)

Akira Kurosawa's creativity and films have influenced cinema world-wide.

For instance, his movie, Seven Samurai has reappeared as inspiration for many Western, Science Fiction, and Chinese Martial Arts movies such as

  • The Magnificent Seven
  • Beach of the War Gods
  • Battle Beyond the Stars
  • World Gone Wild

Seven Samurai has also inspired Indian films with similar plots:

  • Andha Naal
  • Khotay Sikkay
  • Rajkumar Santoshi's China Gate
  • Kamal Hassan's Virumaandi
  • Sholay

Kurosawa also used western influences for his films--his movie Ran is loosely based on William Shakespear's story, King Lear.

Novelists have also used Seven Samurai as inspiration for their novels: Stephen King's 5th Dark Tower novel, Wolves of the Calla had a similar plot line.

Kurosawa's Rashomon was remade by Martin Ritt in 1964--The Outrage. The Tamil films Andha Naal and Virumaandi, starring Kamal Hassan, tell the story in a way similar to the one Kurosawa used in Rashomon. More recently, the film Hero starring Jet Li, Ziyi Zhang, Tony Leung, and Maggie Cheung also features a Rashomon style story. The 2005 animated film Hoodwinked applies the narrative structure of Rashomon to the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

Rashomon not only helped to open Japanese cinema to the world, but also entered the English language as a term for fractured, inconsistent narratives--aka the "Rashomon Effect".

Yojimbo was another Kurosawa film that inspired some Western films. The one most famous was the one starring Clint Eastwood--A Fistfull of Dollars.

Akira Kurosawa's Compendium of Compositions! - Fantastic Films, Ground-Breaking Techniques, Eye-Popping Imagery!

AK 100: 25 Films of Akira Kurosawa (The Criterion Collection)
AK 100: 25 Films of Akira Kurosawa (The Criterion Collection)

Where else can you get so many Kurosawa films all assembled in one place?

If you love Japanese films - the imagery, the sword fights, the mystical landscapes, the vivid characters, this collection should be in your DVD player!

Get this collection now before it disappears!

 

Winter in Japan sometimes is featured in Samurai movies!

Samurai movies sometimes feature the setting during the winter. This scene is in Kyoto, Japan, during a December vacation.
Samurai movies sometimes feature the setting during the winter. This scene is in Kyoto, Japan, during a December vacation.

Samurai Drama at the Movies - The Japanese version of America's "Westerns"

Here in America, we've liked to watch our "Westerns"--those starring John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Jack Palance to name a few. These movies depict an earlier time in the U.S. -- when the West was really wild.

The Japanese like their "old-country" type movies as well. Except, instead of toting Colt 6-shooters and Winchester rifles, the characters in the Japanese "old-time" movies carry their katana (swords). Instead of wearing chaps, boots, and 10-gallon hats, the samurai or ronin wear their robes, the bamboo hats, and their geta or zori. In fact, Akira Kurosawa's film, Seven Samurai was later made into an American Western called The Magnificent Seven, starring Yul Brynner.

Japanese baths, called an "o-furo" -- feature prominently in Japanese films

Japanese baths, called an "o-furo" -- feature prominently in Japanese films
Japanese baths, called an "o-furo" -- feature prominently in Japanese films

Japanese architecture in the countryside -- fascinating lifestyle

Japanese architecture in the countryside -- fascinating lifestyle
Japanese architecture in the countryside -- fascinating lifestyle

When the Tides (and Storm Surge) Rise -- How It Can Be Handled

The Sea Is Watching
The Sea Is Watching

If you like Japanese movies of the type that Kurosawa would make, but with a more feminine (rather than Samurai) point of view, you should get the movie, "The Sea Is Watching".

Although this movie involves the rising sea levels caused by a terrible typhoon, the flooding effects of the storm surge and resulting disaster is very similar to that of a tsunami. This movie will give you great insight on how the Japanese would handle such a dilemma.

 

Godzilla on the Bay! .... eBay, that is... - They have re-runs in Japan just like they do elsewhere... and yes, Godzilla still comes back to visit!

When I was a kid, I thought about how cool it would be to turn on the TV and see a Godzilla movie any time I wanted to. Now, with the benefit of DVDs and DVD players, you can see a Godzilla movie any time you have the urge to see one.

You can see a bit more about Godzilla and other Japanese Monster Films Here!

Kibakichi - A Movie about Samurai, Werewolves, Ghosts, Demons, Good vs Evil, and, oh, did I mention Samurai?

Kibakichi combines samurai and monster action in a wild mix. Ronin samurai Kibakichi himself is part-man part-werewolf, and strives to discover the goodness he believes exists at the heart of every human being. But deadly obstacles stand in his way, including skeleton armies, giant spiders, more werewolves, and a whole lot more! This movie brings a lot of old Japanese legend, samurai culture, monsters, and myths together for a romp in the 16th century Japanese country-side.

Shomuni - The Power of the "Office Ladies"

Based on Gumi Yasuda's manga comic book of the same name, Shomuni is a TV comedy-drama serial in which the stories revolve around the Office Ladies of General Affairs Department 2 (Shomu ni, or GA-2) in a large multinational company called "Manpan Corporation".

GA-2 is called "the graveyard for female office ladies", because it is where female employees are dumped if they mess up elsewhere. Their jobs include replacing used toilet rolls, changing light-bulbs, organizing company outings, and other menial stuff. Their department is located in the basement in an unused storeroom. The company does this in the hope that these employees will quit due to the monotonous and meaningless nature of the job tasks, just so that the company will save on the costs of firing them.

As the drama serial progresses, these employees demonstrate that they have their own pride despite their being the most despised of female employees. In every episode, they end up saving the company from a potential catastrophe.

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The Japanese Detective Version of "Columbo" -- Furuhata Ninzaburo - Furuhata-san's method of crime-solving involves outwitting the criminals and letting them tr

Furuhata Ninzaburo is an unorthodox Japanese detective. He doesn't like wearing a suit and tie (like most Japanese detectives), but he wears a turtle-neck and a sport coat. He uses questioning and deduction in much the way Columbo or even Sherlock Holmes figures out crimes. Criminals leave evidence... it might not be obvious, but the criminals leave evidence. And, their own guilt and carelessness will usually set them up for being caught. Furuhata Ninzaburo always gets his man (or woman--if she did the crime!). Although subtitles are helpful, you can enjoy the drama even without the subtitles.

Bayside Shakedown - The Detectives of the Wangan Precinct and Aoshima Shusaku - Aoshima-san is another unconventional Japanese detective

Bayside Shakedown The Movie Blu-Ray (Region A) (English Subtitled) Japanese Movie
Bayside Shakedown The Movie Blu-Ray (Region A) (English Subtitled) Japanese Movie

This drama series focuses on Aoshima Shusaku (played by Oda Yuji) a young detective dedicated to the police force. He has an unconventional way of doing things (and he even likes to wear a fusty old raincoat in much the way the American detective Columbo does) but he is respected by his fellow police officers. His police office routine is similar to that of other Japanese salary men where they usually take on mostly trivial cases. The serious and high-visibility ones are taken over by detectives from headquarters--which doesn't set well with Aoshima, who wants to take on the major cases and who doesn't want to sit idly by while the other detectives handle the meatier cases.

 

Modern Japanese Movies Frequently Involve Their Trains

Modern Japanese Movies Frequently Involve Their Trains -- like this Shinkansen "Bullet Train" pulling out from Tokyo's Shimbashi Station.
Modern Japanese Movies Frequently Involve Their Trains -- like this Shinkansen "Bullet Train" pulling out from Tokyo's Shimbashi Station.

Modern Japan Movies Show Interesting Street Scenes

Modern Japan Movies Show Interesting Street Scenes
Modern Japan Movies Show Interesting Street Scenes

Subways and Trains play a large part in Japanese movies!

Subways and Trains play a large part in Japanese movies!
Subways and Trains play a large part in Japanese movies!

Maiku Hama (or, Mike Hammer) - The Japanese Private Investigator!

Maiku Hama Private Eye Trilogy (The Most Terrible Time in My Life/The Stairway to the Distant Past/The Trap)
Maiku Hama Private Eye Trilogy (The Most Terrible Time in My Life/The Stairway to the Distant Past/The Trap)

Do You Need Admission to See the Detective?

This is a great collection of three of the Maiku Hama stories.

Directed by Kaizo Hayashi, these movies, including "The Most Terrible Time In My Life" are Japanese films shot in black and white to give them an old film noir look. The films mix tame violence with comedy. In the movies, Maiku Hama (Japanese pronunciation of "Mike Hammer!" -- the character played by Masatoshi Nagase) is an unorthodox private eye whose office is above a movie theater. If you want to visit his office you have to pay the admission fee.

You can add this set to your collection of Japanese movies if you will get it now! (And you won't have to pay admission!)

 

What Are Your Favorite Japanese Movies?

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Copyright and Attribution Notice

NOTE: All photographic images in this website, with exception of those obviously in the Amazon, eBay, and similar sections, were shot on my own camera by me and are thus mine. Likewise, the narrative is original and based on my experiences. Your mileage may vary.

© 2008 David Gardner

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  • jasonkropp profile image

    jasonkropp 2 years ago

    I love anime as much as the next guy but I don't think any movie or show can top Seven Samurai...and the anime version of that movie (Samurai Seven) was also very good too.

  • astevn816 lm profile image

    astevn816 lm 3 years ago

    Godzilla was my first sci-fi movie too, must be a popular story as I see a new Godzilla movie advertised on TV

  • boneworld profile image

    Jackson Thom 3 years ago from West of Left South Lucky

    Nice, dude! I love kung-fu and samurai movies--and definitely the big lizard. Nice to see some love for anime, too.

  • profile image

    mcfitz 3 years ago

    Hey Dave, thanks for this great list. I have definitely added a few to my list. "Ran" was a special film for me. I remember watching it in about 1986 (?) in a wonderful little art-house movie theater in Monterey, California. That was the start of my love of foreign films.

  • Spirality profile image

    Spirality 3 years ago

    Great list! I definitely need to check out some more of the older Japanese films

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