The 20 Best Japanese Movies of The 21st Century

7. Tokyo Sonata (2008) by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

tokyo sonata

This is a story of an average family with a normal life filled with routine and sophisticated communications between them. It all begins with a typical day where a department office starts laying off workers in order to outsource to an overseas corporation that costs much less to run.

One of the employees (Ryuhei) is getting laid off, stripped of his position, and now he finds himself in the dark and mundane world among other laid-off workers. Every morning they put on their suits and head off with their suitcases in order to stand in line at an unemployment office where most of them turn down the majority of the jobs that they think are less valued.

With this sudden lack of structure in his life, Ryuhei bonds with his old friend, who has managed to keep an appearance of somehow being employed for months using a variety of tricks. However, his structure-less life becomes more complicated when he finds out his friend commits suicide, which forces him to push his insecurities onto his family. This movie is a modern horror story with a premise that doesn’t seem much like a horror movie at all.


6. Like Father Like Son (2013) by Hirokazu Koreeda

Like Father Like Son (2013)

Like Father Like Son is a movie that gives the audience a heart-wrenching and head-scratching story. Fukuyama plays Ryota, an ambitious man married to Midori and living in a luxurious house with his six year old son.

Ryo’s world took a twist by news from the hospital when they mixed up the babies six years ago. His real child is now being brought up by Yudai, a happy underachiever. Because of this, one of the fathers is practically floating on greed at the settlement he will get. Unfortunately, most of their reactions due to this mix-up are bizarre even when the children are re-united.

Koreeda seeks his audience by questioning two things in this film. Will the children live with their new family? Will the father be the one defined by DNA or by love? This ultimately brings the audience to question nature vs. nurture, or is it a bit of both?


5. Audition (2000) by Takashi Miike


Audition is made in 1999 and first realeased in Japan in March 2000, that’s why it made to the list.

This movie begins with the death of a hospital-bound wife and mother. Moving forward after seven years, the boy has grown up and encourages his father to marry someone. A colleague of Aoyama suggests that he should hold an audition to cast actresses for a production that will never happen. Aoyama meets Asami, an aspiring singer, but he subsequently screws up the courage to ask her to dinner. Things get bizarre from then on, suggesting that all is not right with the new relationship.

Instead of attempting to match Cronenberg’s level of intellectual sophistication or thematic consistency, Takashi Miike shares his austere beauty aesthetic and fascination with body horror.


4. Battle Royale (2000) by Kinji Fukasaku

Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale is a movie about a law that was passed due to an escalation of violence in high schools, which allows the military to take a troubled class and turn them all loose on an island with the objective of killing each other until only one remains alive. A brilliant dark humor movie leaves the audience glued to their seats while watching the teenagers kill each other for the strangest reasons.

During this game, at sixth hour, there is an update on which classmates were killed, how many are left alive, and which students are in danger zones. Students were issued a random weapon and a survival pack, although some weapons were useless and some would only suit certain circumstances.


3. Departures (2008) by Takita Yojiro


Director Takita examines Daigo Kobayashi, an out of work cellist (a bass instrument from the violin family) who undertakes a job being a “Nokanashi,” an undertaker, in order to solve the financial issues that take place. Daigo is a talented musician who loses his job and suddenly finds himself without a source of steady income.

Making a decision that he and his wife should move back to his small town, he goes through the newspapers and answers an ad for a company called “Departures,” assuming that he will be working for a travel agency. Upon arriving at the workplace, he realizes he will be preparing the bodies of the recently deceased for their trip to the afterlife.

Japanese cinema reserves a special place for death, like films such as Tokyo Story, Ikuru, and After Life. Though it doesn’t focus on afterlife, but rather focuses its attention on the survivors and on the meaning of the life that just ended, this movie touches human emotions and want to make you believe rather than be thrilled and frightened.


2. The Taste of Tea (2004) by Katsuhito Ishii

The Taste of Tea (2004)

Filmed entirely in a Japanese countryside, the story revolves around a lot of characters and their complex relationships to one another. Akin to Babel or Crash, this movie depicts a time in the life of a family in a small rural town, “Tochigi,” which is north of Tokyo. Yoshiko is not your typical housewife, but instead she is working on an animated movie project at her house while her husband works and leads a normal life.

Katsuhito varnishes this movie with wildly imaginative visual effects that derives from the thoughts and feelings of the characters, complimented by the people and the cheerful moments. The Taste of Tea certainly brings a new taste and new light to the filmmaker and brings a Japanese film that has been described as a psychedelic version of the great Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.


1. Nobody Knows (2004) by Hirokazu Koreeda

Nobody Knows

Inspired by true events and known as The Affair of the Four Abandoned Children of Nishi Sugamo,” Nobody Knows (Dare Mo Shiranai) is about four siblings living happily with their mother in a small flat.

Every child has a different biological father and each has never been to school. Hirokazu makes this about four kids in danger who initially face solitude among themselves, living their life by watching TV, playing games and hiding from their landlord to keep the secret of their very existence. The most poignant part of this story is watching these kids wasting their lives.

This movie is not for the fainthearted; it has no overtly violent scenes or moments of weeping, but it is a thrilling ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Koreeda closely films the kids and underlines their claustrophobic moments in the apartment when their mom leaves them alone.

There are a lot of films out there that could have been on this list, but unfortunately life has its limits, and so does the list. The films that could have also made the list include Still Walking, I Wish, All Around Us, Crying Out Love in the Center of the World, Kabei: Our Mother, Adrift in Tokyo and 9 Souls.

Author Bio: Vinnoth Ira Krish is a Filmmaker and Raconteur for Opsoclo Films & Cinema 48. Currently residing in Lincoln, NE making documentaries for Vision Maker Media and NET Nebraska. Just like any other moviegoer, he watch movies, writes stories and wields stories for his audience. You can find him at twitter: