The 20 Best Japanese Movies of The 21st Century

14. Sway (2006) by Miwa Nishikawa

Sway (2006)

Sway (Yureru) is a film about Takeru, who left home many years ago and returns from Tokyo for his mother’s funeral anniversary in Hikawa, where he meets his ex girlfriend Chieko. Takeru has made himself a name in Tokyo as a fashion photographer.

Arriving in his hometown, he encounters his father, who’s authoritative and accuses him of arriving late to honor is mom. Chieko is currently working with Takeru’s brother in a newly incorporated petrol station. The premise for the film is that Takeru’s youngest brother covets him and Minoru (Takeru’s older brother), who confess to his brother that he is guilty of a girl’s death.

The idea of finding the meaning of life and death in this movie is never intended as a main theme, but rather it is about discovering the life of this family. On Takeru’s return to his hometown, not only did he come to honor his mom but also to break the surface tension of the family.


13. Memories of Matsuko (2006) by Tetsuya Nakashima

Memories of Matsuko (2006)

Known as Kiraware Matsuko No Issho, this film is directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. It’s a story about a young woman (Matsuko) whose life is in between disasters. She was fired unfairly from her teaching post, unwanted by her sober father, works in a massage parlor and is beaten by most of her lovers.

Tetsuya tells this story in flashback form, and partly from the perspective of the teenage nephew, Sho. Sho is a young man who dreams about becoming a famous pop star musician and is also addicted to porn. Sho was told by his father to find his aunt, and he became entangled in her story in an effort to piece together the details of Matsuko, whose life is as a dead occupant. We sort through her life, and through his eyes we see the story unravel itself.


12. 13 Assassins (2010) by Takashi Miike

13 Assassins movie

An entertaining film directed by Takashi Miike with great visuals and sound, this epic movie is about a band of enraged samurai who assemble to stop a villain whose evil has disgusted many. Set close to the Edo Period, after gathering 12 warriors, they head out after Naritsugu. The path of the journey becomes tortuous, and a small fight with the opposition leads to a chase toward a deep forest, where they encounter a man, the final assassin whom they find dangling from a tree.

There is a hidden message in this film, where the 13 assassins are making a last stand for the traditional samurai code, pointing out there is corruption, decadence and a hive of partisanship in their politics.


11. Confessions (2010) by Tetsuya Nakashima

Confessions (2010)

Tetsuya Nakashima made this psychological thriller movie in order to challenge Chan Wook Park’s Vengeance trilogy. Twisted, dark, and powerful moments occur during the entire movie. It’s a story about a grieving mother who became a cold-blooded avenger to settle the debt of those who were responsible for her daughter’s death.

Written by Tetsuya and based upon the novel by Kanae Minato, Confession’s story has an extremely entrancing flow and sprawls through multiple characters, intertwined between one and another in an uncanny, stylistic path. It will hook the audience, who can expect everything they have been waiting to see from a great thriller movie, which includes a riveting intro of the film.


10. Like Someone in Love (2012) by Abbas Kiarostami

Like Someone in Love (2012)

Director Abbas Kiarostami is the titan of Iranian New Wave and arguably modern cinema’s auteur. In an interview at Cannes, he mentioned that “Death or birth are definitive, love is nothing but an illusion.”

It’s a story about young prostitute, Akiko, who is on an assignment to visit her retired academic Takashi. Akikio is a student who uses prostitution to meet her own ends and her boyfriend Noriaki is unaware of this situation. Things really get out of control when misunderstandings arise from it.

Kiarostami slowly unveils this slippery business in between several shots at a bar scene. In a beautiful thematic way we can hear these conversations, but none are attributed to any of these people on the screen. That doesn’t stop the audience from trying to match the sounds to visualize it, however. This movie is mainly about miscommunication, how things will get disoriented, and the repercussions of that.


9. Cold Fish (2010) by Sion Sono

Cold Fish (2010)

This movie features a story that claims in the opening scene to be true, and fortunately it is. In case you ever wonder how to make someone disappear by not using magic, you can learn pretty valuable tricks from this movie.

Director Sion Sono tells a story of Shamoto (Mitsuru), a fainthearted fish store owner who is sexually frustrated with his wife and is bullied by his daughter. Cold Fish will test your tolerance due to its unsettling visual and storyline. This movie will take your worst assumptions about humanity and push them to another level, where things couldn’t be any worse.

Cold Fish surprisingly takes the audience in an unwavering tale of murder, rapacity and psychological torture. It shows the audience what drives some individuals to murder when savagery seems like the only solution for mankind. It also pushes the audience further to question their beliefs and the reasons behind the question, “What led people to make such decisions, like murdering another human being?” Was it for financial purposes, sheer desire, bullying or desperation?


8. Zatoichi (2003) by Takeshi Kitano

Zatoichi (2003)

Takeshi Kitano, who is Japan’s most enthralling contemporary director and made movies such as Outrage, Beyond Outrage, Sonatine, made this film. If you are not familiar with Zatoichi, there are about 26 classic films out there in the Criterion Collection. They are hysterical and every film buff has to watch them. Zatoichi’s original movies show the life of a blind masseuse that goes around Japan working and helping those who need him, although he pretends to be old and defenseless.

In Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi, he stumbles upon a widow and helps carry her vegetables and gather wood, and almost becomes one of the family, cheerfully going out gambling with her nephew. In that moment the village is being victimized by a brutal gang demanding protection money while Zatoichi accidentally bumps into a young man and woman disguised as geisha who are out for revenge on this same gang, who murdered their family.