Japanese Movies on Netflix

Want to dive into Japanese cinema? Watch these 5 Japanese movies on Netflix to fall in love with their versatility and visuals.
Japanese Movies on Netflix

When we think of Japanese movies, we are reminded of the colourful palettes and playful yet sometimes dark nature of anime. If not that, J-Horror will come to mind, which focuses on psychological horror themes such as supernatural folk tales and possessions rather than jumpscare. Then there is the spate of period action films, mainly by Akira Kurosawa, that became popular in the West.

Japanese movies have an allure of their own because of their almost unparalleled ability to communicate complicated themes, such as grief, legacy, and magic, in a package of narratives suitable for a diverse audience of different ages.

Not many films have the power to mean unique things to different people while simultaneously having universal emotions.

Whether it’s coming-of-age movies that touch upon culture, religion, and the inherently messy nature of growing up or slice-of-life movies that make us introspect, Japanese cinema has it all. And, of course, they also have some fun dark comedies.

Here’s a list of five Japanese movies on Netflix that constitute a diverse and detailed introduction to the world of Japanese filmography.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Hayao Miyazaki and coming-of-age themes are the perfect marriage. This one, in particular, has universal appeal due to the myriad themes it covers. For kids, it’s a gentle nudge of encouragement as they find their place in the world.

For us older ones, it’s all about embracing milestone moments in life, such as leaving our homes, being independent, trying to maintain confidence and hope the older you get, or even building new relationships.

What kind of a story incorporates so many themes? Well, it’s simple. Kiki (voiced by Minami Takayama) is a young witch who, according to her cultural norms, has to leave her house at thirteen for a year to “find herself.”

She moves out with Jiji (voiced by Rei Sakuma), her talking cat, and eventually ends up in a seaside town, where a bakery owner hires her in exchange for boarding. She eventually starts doing deliveries for them on her broom and meets some interesting people in the process.

When you watch this film, no matter which theme you feel attached to, some part of Kiki’s journey will feel like your own, and that’s the Miyaki magic.

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

This animated romantic film is another Miyazaki creation but in a slightly different way. He didn’t direct it, but the screenplay is his. Shizuku (voiced by Yoko Honna) is a high school girl living in Tokyo. A budding writer and an avid reader, the library is her second home. She realises that the checkout cards of her library books mention the same name under previous borrowers—Seiji (Issei Takahashi), a confident boy at her school.

She runs into him, and of course, he annoys her with his behaviour because enemies-into-lovers is such a delicious trope, right?

This movie is not just about their romance. It’s about Shizuku realising her dream of becoming a writer and constantly grappling with feeling incompetent when trying to make it in such a stressful field.

The writing, the animation (thank you, Studio Ghibli!), and the soundtrack all combine to create a Japanese film with a relatable tale for anyone who hasn’t figured life out yet.

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

What would you do if you got trapped in a 90-year-old cranky witch’s body? This mesmerising animated masterpiece shows you what shy and bored 12-year-old Sofî (voiced by Chieko Baishô) does when a witch curses her with a frail, battered body.

We don’t see Sofî fighting this or any explanation of the fantasy world she is thrust into. The manner in which Sofî and Howl (voiced by Takuya Kimura, and interestingly, Christian Bale, for the English version) grow together makes their relationship arc unforgettable. It’s not love at first sight, and it’s not physical attraction; it’s something deeper and more intentional.

But even if the romantic angle doesn’t appeal to you, world-building will. The whimsical nature of the scenery — which, no matter which scene you pause at, will look like a gorgeous painting — is enchanting.

The moving castle itself is a representation of many things, depending on what stage you are at in life.

The allure of the vibrant landscapes sharply juxtaposed with scenes of Howl flying through dark war-ridden regions makes Howl’s Moving Castle a powerful Japanese film that also serves as a commentary for today’s times.

Call Me Chihiro (2023)

This Japanese film is a warm hug for those who feel like they have no genuine relationships to fall back on and no one to share life’s highs and lows with. Chihiro (Kasumi Arimura) is a former sex worker starting from scratch in a seaside town. She works at a bento box restaurant, and her small talk with customers is the highlight of her day.

This is not a film with a predictable happy ending. The relaxed pace with which the story moves forward is complemented by the laidback but stunning visuals and the tiny bouts of happiness she experiences while interacting with each customer, who has their own pains and stories to share.

Also, the anime world is known for portraying food visuals with the most mouthwatering aesthetics, and although it’s not an anime, the visuals of the bento boxes and the sizzle of the stir fry dishes in this Japanese film are no different, so keep your food delivery app ready for those cravings.

Trespassers (2024)

2023 was a great year for anime films, so let’s look at something different.

If you are looking for a Japanese film that steps away from the symbolic visuals and profound messages, this is the movie for you. It’s a chaotic heist movie that doesn’t try to be more than that.

No hidden lessons and definitely no existential crisis waiting to be unlocked by the time you’re done watching it. You will be laughing at and with three girls, Eto (Yö Yoshida), Tanaka (Rinko Kikuchi), and Megumi (Kami Hiraiwa), who break into a mansion because if it’s a rich person’s house, obviously they have some money stashed away from the income tax authorities, right? 

This light and silly movie is delightful in its portrayal of three low-salaried women who want to break into their supervisor’s home.

The captivating mixture of crime and drama with inane conversations that border on intentional ridiculousness is hilarious.

The women go over their plan with a fine-tooth comb, even criticising each other’s robbery outfits. Catch the mischief in their eyes, the witty dialogue, and the subtle, playful representation of clashing economic classes to appreciate this lighthearted watch.

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