Best Japanese Movies of the 2010s, Ranked

Japanese cinema has been around for over a century now, making it one of the world’s oldest cinemas in film history. The small island country has produced some of the biggest names in the world, from director Akira Kurosawa and his frequent collaborator Toshiro Mifune, to the recent notable director of drive my car, Oscar nominee Ryusuke Hamaguchi. While some might imagine Japanese films to consist solely of samurai or anime films, the domestic entertainment industry has produced gems in the genres of horror, family melodramas and sprawling poetic meditations on true the meaning of life. (Faena, in fact, wrote an introductory guide to Japanese cinema.)

Perhaps one of the defining characteristics of Japanese films is that they break free from the traditional Western view of storytelling. East Asian cinema leans toward a mode of storytelling where multiple climaxes occur gradually throughout the story, thus propelling the plot further through a series of smaller interconnected conflicts. The 2010s, which saw increased promotion in international cinema, saw Japanese films establish themselves, especially since Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. These are the best Japanese movies of the 2010s, ranked.

Related: J-Horror: Some Of Japan’s Scariest Movies, Ranked

9 Like someone in love

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami may have created some of the most beloved films in Iranian cinema, but he turned his lens in 2012 to Japan with the feature Like someone in love. Like someone in love would be his last film, since he died in 2016. Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a sociology student in Tokyo who leads a double life behind closed doors: she is a high-end sex worker. The people around her, including her boyfriend, don’t know what her real job is, even though they are suspicious. If they found out, Akiko’s life would change drastically. With notes of melancholy, Like someone in love is a subtle Kiarostami film in its essence.


8 norwegian forest

In this adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel norwegian forest, Kenichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi and Kiko Mizuhara form the main cast. A young man, Toru Watanabe (Matsuyama), moved to Tokyo for college in the 1960s, but instead finds himself drowned in loneliness. After randomly meeting his ex-best friend’s girlfriend in a park (Kikuchi), Watanabe finds himself in a love triangle with her and another girl (Mizuhara). With the continuing historical unrest in the background, norwegian forest is a coming-of-age story saturated with grief and loneliness.

7 happy hour

Before there was drive my car or Asako I & IIRyusuke Hamaguchi has fallen happy hour, a five-hour saga about the lives of four different women. All of the women are married and live in Kobe, Japan, and are in their thirties. Deep down, each of them is unhappy with the relationships they have created, which drives them to seek change. But because the film has such a long running time, each character has the opportunity to tell their story and be truly understood, creating a sense of realism that can only be achieved with time and a well-done script.


6 Antiporn

Released in 2016, Antiporn seeks to revive a genre of Japanese cinema that seeks to reclaim sexual identity in a strict society. What’s unique about this film, however, is that it puts a more feminist slant on a genre that tends to glorify and objectify women. As he zooms out from his own story to deconstruct the narrative medium itself, Antiporn criticizes cinema as a medium perpetuating both the male gaze and their fantasies.

5 after the storm

Hirokazu Kore-eda returned in 2016 with a family story: after the storm. In life, you can’t always follow your dreams of who you want to be, and that ends up after the storm. A father, once an award-winning author, has burned out and wasted most of the money he earns. Because of this, he is unable to pay child support, as his wife is divorced and has custody of their son. As he visits his son and tries to get back together with his ex-wife, he has only one night left to try to right the wrongs he has created in his life.


4 A bride for Rip Van Winkle

A bride for Rip Van Winkle released in two different versions. One edition was longer than the other with almost fifty minutes more content. A high school teacher meets a young man online and decides to marry him. When he asks why her guest list is so small, she contacts a friend online and ends up hiring paid actors to attend the wedding, creating a complex situation that divides her story into “before” and “after”.

Related: Every Best International Feature Film Oscar Winner Of The 2010s, Ranked

3 Like father, like son

Like father, like son dwells on themes similar to those of the film Hirokazu Kore-eda released three years later: after the storm. A father succeeds in his career as an architect, but it comes with a major sacrifice. He abandoned his son and his wife in favor of his ambition. One day he comes home and discovers that his son is not really his son. her real son was switched at birth. The two families then decide they should swap the kids, which leads to revelations about social class, upbringing, and what it means to be a cohesive family.


2 your name

your name caused a stir when it was released in 2016 and was a commercial success around the world. The animation of your name looks stunning on screen, creating a dynamic experience that is truly memorable. A boy and a girl wake up one morning to find they’ve switched bodies, but there’s a catch: she’s from the country and he’s from the city. There’s so much more to the story than that, leading into a tender story about friendship, dreams, and the meaning of fleeting moments.

1 Shoplifters

Hirokazu Kore-eda returned in 2018 with another family tale, but this time with a twist. Shoplifters is the story of a family living in poverty, and to find enough money to survive, they have to resort to shoplifting. After discovering a little girl abused by her family, they choose to welcome her as if she had always been part of their family. The story was developed after he wrote Like father, like son, and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, while earning an Oscar nomination for best international feature film.


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