Japan is a country whose culture, traditions, and language have intrigued and inspired people from around the world since ancient times. If you’re interested in Japanese film, look no further! We’ve compiled this list of the Best Japanese Movies of All Time, along with a variety of other categories including Comedy, Anime, Horror, Samurai, and more. Prepare to be amazed by how many Japanese titles have inspired the creation of international remakes!
Best Japanese Movies of All Time
The historical action drama Harakiri is set in Japan between 1619 and 1630 and stars Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Ishihama, and Shima Iwashita. The film recounts the story of aging samurai Hanshiro Tsugumo who visits an overlord’s palace and asks to commit a ritual suicide, which the lord takes as a tactic to gain pity and employment. The lord tells Hanshiro a story of a man who came asking the same thing and was forced to follow through.
IMDb 8.7 | 2h 13min | 1962 | Japanese
2. Spirited Away
Spirited Away is an animated family adventure film starring Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, and Miyu Irino. The movie tells the story of young Chihiro, whose family moves to a small town in the Japanese suburbs. On the way to their new home, Chihiro’s parents decide to stop and explore an abandoned theme park. Chihiro decides to inspect the park on her own, discovering that it’s actually a place filled with demons and evil spirits.
IMDb 8.6 | 2h 5min | 2001 | Japanese
3. Seven Samurai
The dramatic action adventure film Seven Samurai recounts the story of a poor Japanese village under attack from outlaws. To defend themselves, the villagers hire seven inactive samurai to help protect them. Throughout the film, the samurai teach the townspeople how to fight for themselves and end up in an all-out battle with 40 bandits. The movie stars Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, and Keiko Tsushima.
IMDb 8.6 | 3h 27min | 1954 | Japanese
4. Princess Mononoke
The animated adventure fantasy film Princess Mononoke takes place in 14th century Japan and stars Yôji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, and Yûko Tanaka. When the harmony between animals, humans, and gods begins to deteriorate, Ashitaka, a young warrior, goes on a journey seeking a cure for an infected animal attack. He tries and fails to create peace between his companion Princess Mononoke and the humans.
IMDb 8.4 | 2h 14min | 1997 | Japanese
Rashomon is a dramatic crime mystery film starring Toshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyô, and Masayuki Mori. Set in Rashomon, a former gatehouse in Japan, the film tells the gruesome tale of a bride’s rape and the murder of her samurai groom through the eyes of a woodcutter, a thief, the bride herself, and the ghost of her groom for the benefit of the trial.
IMDb 8.2 | 1h 28min | 1950 | Japanese
Best Japanese Horror Movies
The dramatic horror mystery film Audition takes place in Tokyo, Japan and stars Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, and Tetsu Sawaki. The movie tells the story of widowed Shigeharu Aoyama who, in search of a new bride, decides to hold an “audition” led by his son. Shigeharu falls for one of the women who are under the guise of auditioning for a film, but the woman he chooses is not who she seems.
IMDb 7.2 | 1h 55min | 1996 | Japanese
The horror mystery film Ringu is set in Japan and stars Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, and Yûko Takeuchi. The story follows a reporter, Reiko, and her ex-husband who investigate a mysterious videotape, said to kill anyone who watches it seven days after viewing. When she and her son watch the video, they must figure out the curse before it’s too late.
IMDb 7.2 | 1h 36min | 1998 | Japanese
3. Dark Water
Dark Water is set in Japan and stars Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, and Mirei Oguchi. This dramatic horror mystery film recounts the story of a mother and her six-year-old daughter who, after a difficult divorce, move into a dilapidated apartment building whose surface is covered in a layer of dark water. They soon realize that the apartment is haunted by the ghost of a little girl as things begin to unravel.
IMDb 6.7 | 1h 41min | 2002 | Japanese
4. Ju-on: The Grudge
The horror film Ju-on: The Grudge is set in Japan and stars Megumi Okina, Misaki Itô, and Misa Uehara. The movie tells the story of Rika Nishina who is sent to visit a family in a haunted house. Upon entering, she is marked and cursed by the evil spirit residing within the house. As it happens, every person that lives in or visits the house either disappears or is murdered.
IMDb 6.7 | 1h 32min | 2002 | Japanese
5. Suicide Club
The dramatic crime/horror film Suicide Club stars Ryo Ishibashi, Masatoshi Nagase, and Mai Hosho. The movie follows a detective who tries to find the cause of multiple suicides. It all starts when a group of 54 high school girls jump to their deaths in front of a subway train, but the incident is just the beginning. The detective begins to look into the new girl group, Desert for answers.
IMDb 6.6 | 1h 39min | 2001 | Japanese
Best Japanese Anime Movies
1. Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell is an animated action crime film starring Atsuko Tanaka, Iemasa Kayumi, and Akio Ôtsuka. Set in Japan in the year 2029, the movie follows cyborg policewoman Major Motoko Kasunagi and her partner on the hunt for a cryptic and mighty hacker called the Puppet Master. Kasunagi must proceed with extreme caution as the Puppet Master is capable of hacking cyborg brains for information used to commit crimes.
IMDb 8.0 | 1h 23min | 1995 | Japanese
The animated fantasy drama Paprika stars Megumi Hayashibara, Tôru Emori, and Katsunosuke Hori. Set in Japan, the film tells the story of three scientists who lose a dangerous invention they’ve created which allows therapists to drop into the dreams of their patients. When the device falls into the wrong hands, pandemonium ensues. Only Paprika, a young therapist, can do what needs to be done to get it back.
IMDb 7.7 | 1h 30min | 2006 | Japanese; English
The animated adventure comedy Ponyo is set in a small seaside village in Japan and stars Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, and Liam Neeson. The story follows a young boy who finds a goldfish named Ponyo trapped in a bottle on the beach. Upon freeing her, he discovers the fish is actually a princess who dreams of being human. Ponyo falls in love with the boy and he tries to help her accomplish her dreams.
IMDb 7.7 | 1h 41min | 2008 | English; Japanese
Best Japanese Romance Movies
1. Whisper of the Heart
The animated family drama Whisper of the Heart stars Yoko Honna, Issey Takahashi, and Takashi Tachibana. The film recounts the story of young Shizuku, a middle school girl who loves to read and dreams of one day becoming a writer. When she finds that the same boy has previously checked out each of the library books that she chooses, she embarks on a mission to find the mysterious boy who may be the love of her life.
IMDb 8.0 | 1h 51min | 1995 | Japanese; English
2. Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood is a romantic drama that takes place in Hamburg, Germany and stars Ken’ichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi, and Kiko Mizuhara. The story follows Toru Watanabe who after many years hears a cover of the Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood” which compels him to reminisce on his life during the 1960s when he developed a romance with his dead friend’s girlfriend.
IMDb 6.3 | 2h 13min | 2010 | Japanese
Best Japanese Samurai Movie
Set in a rural Japanese town, the dramatic action/thriller film Yojimbo stars Toshirô Mifune, Eijirô Tôno, and Tatsuya Nakadai. The film tells the story of Sanjuro, a ronin who arrives in the town to discover that it’s split between the influence of two rival criminal gangs. He uses his craftiness to pit each of the gangs against each other in order to free the town of their misdeeds.
IMDb 8.2 | 1h 50min | 1961 | Japanese
Best Japanese War Movie
Set during the Japanese Civil Wars of the 16th century, Ugetsu is a dramatic fantasy war film starring Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyô, and Kinuyo Tanaka. The film tells the tale of two peasants who sell their handcrafted pots to soldiers in a neighboring village, disregarding a local sage’s warning not to seek profit from warfare. Their pursuit of wealth and desire to become a samurai threaten to become their run.
IMDb 8.3 | 1h 36min | 1953 | Japanese
Best Japanese Monster Movie
The iconic dramatic horror sci-fi film Godzilla takes place in Tokyo Bay and stars Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, and Akira Takarada. The movie follows the story of Emiko, the daughter of a professor who discovers Godzilla, a giant fire breathing monster who has been awakened by American nuclear bomb testing. As the beast terrorizes Japan, she must do what she can to stop it.
IMDb 7.6 | 1h 36min | 1954 | Japanese
Best Japanese Zombie Movie
1. One Cut of the Dead
Set in an abandoned Japanese WWII facility, the comedic horror film One Cut of the Dead stars Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, and Harumi Shuhama. The movie follows the story of a low budget filmmaker who seeks to make a zombie movie. Things go awry when the filmmaker and his cast of actors are attacked by actual zombies and have to fend for themselves.
IMDb 7.7 | 1h 36min | 2017 | Japanese
Best Japanese Comedy Movie
1. Good Morning
Set in a Westernized suburb of Japan in the 1950s, the dramatic family comedy film Good Morning stars Keiji Sada, Yoshiko Kuga, and Chishû Ryû. The movie follows the story of two young boys who take a vow of silence until their parents agree to purchase them a television set. The film focuses on small town suburban life in Japan and is a commentary on the power of communication.
IMDb 7.9 | 1h 34min | 1959 | Japanese; English
Best Japanese Martial Arts Movie
1. Lady Snowblood
The dramatic action thriller Lady Snowblood stars Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, and Masaaki Daimon. The film recounts the story of Yuki, a girl whose family was murdered before her birth, leaving her mother pregnant and wasting away in jail with only her passion to avenge her family keeping her alive. When she dies giving birth to her daughter, Yuki is raised to become an assassin to take revenge on her family’s murderers.
IMDb 7.7 | 1h 37min | 1973 | Japanese; English
Japan’s unique history and culture has given way to a host of wonderful Japanese films across a wide array of genres. We hope that this guide to the Best Japanese Movies of All Time has been a helpful way to get you started checking out all that Japanese cinema has to offer! From Japanese war movies to Anime, you’re sure to get hooked on these gripping films. Sit back, relax, and enjoy some awesome movies!