10 Japanese Movies You Must See!

10 Japanese Movies You Must See!

You want to discover great japanese movies but you don’t know where to begin?

Here we go!

#10 – Tetsuo / IMDB Rating:

Top Japanese Movies: Tetsuo (1988, Shinya Tsukamoto)

# Bottom line: The kind-of live version of Otomo’s animated masterpiece Akira, a cyberpunk manifesto full of crazy ideas you’d have never thought about. That’s pure indie-undeground movie.


#09 – Funeral Parade of Roses / IMDB Rating:

Top Japanese Movies: Funeral Parade of Roses (1969, Toshio Matsumoto)

# Bottom line: Just so you know, A Clockwork Orange “borrowed” some ideas from Funeral Parade of Roses. Yep, even Kubrick was inspired by Japanese movies! And especially by this is gay version of Oedipus Rex set in Tokyo, 1960s.


#08 – Graveyard of Honor / IMDB Rating:

Top Japanese Movies: Graveyard of Honor (1975, Kinji Fukasaku)

# Bottom line: Before Battle Royale, there was this nihilistic-violent-bloody yakuza movie where hope, honor and dream are just dead. One of the best japanese crime movie ever made!


#07 – The Great Killing / IMDB Rating:

Top Japanese Movies: The Great Killing (1964, Eiichi Kudo)

# Bottom line: Imagine a violent samurai showdown shoot like French Connection, a story a la The Battle of Algiers, and that should give you a glimpse of what you’ll experience with The Great Killing!

#06 – The Man Who Stole The Sun / IMDB Rating:

Top Japanese Movies: The Man Who Stole The Sun (1979, Kazuhiko Hasegawa)

# Bottom line: The Japanese Taxi Driver, except here, it’s about a young teacher who is building his homemade A-Bomb in order to threaten his government & his society. Quite amazing.


#05 – Branded to Kill / IMDB Rating:

Top Japanese Movies: Branded to Kill (1967, Seijun Suzuki)

# Bottom line: Remember Ghost Dog? Well, Jarmusch was deeply influenced by Branded to Kill, an abstract and insane yakuza movie with a killer who wants to be number 1! The film was so strange, the director got fired!


#04 – The Streetfighter / IMDB Rating:

Top Japanese Movies: The Streetfighter (1974, Shigehiro Ozawa)

# Bottom line: In True Romance, the main character met his soulmate at the movie theater, watching The Streetfighter! A pure badass movie with no limits in violence! One might say, the crazy japanese version of Bruce Lee.


#03 – Female Prisoner Scorpion / IMDB Rating:

Top Japanese Movies: Female Prisoner Scorpion (1972, Shunya Ito)

# Bottom line: One of the best women in prison film! It’s violent, visually astonishing, even anarchistic. With Meiko Kaji, the Lady Snowblood actress, as a cold-blood prisoner.


#02 – Red Angel / IMDB Rating :

Top Japanese Movies: Red Angel (1966, Yazuso Masumura)

# Bottom line: The cruelty of war seen through the eyes of a beautiful, naive and dedicated nurse. Don’t expect a tear-jerking drama or pathos, it’s a very pessimistic, dry and sad story! With some real shocking scenes…


#01 – Hitokiri (Tenchu!) / IMDB Rating :

Top Japanese Movies: Hitokiri - Tenchu ! (1969, Hideo Gosha)

# Bottom line: This is how the samurai film genre ends. Fights without honor or humanity, blood everywhere… Best known for Yukio Mishima harakiri scene. But also one of the most underrated classics from Japan!


So, what would you recommend?

26 thoughts on “10 Japanese Movies You Must See!”

  1. While we’re talking Masumura, A Lustful Man starring Raizo Ichikawa is a hoot. Ichikawa plays a dimwitted Casanova, bonking his way across Edo-period Japan. However, Giants & Toys is my all-time favorite.

  2. Patrick, now that you mentioned Raizo portraying a Casanova, it reminds me of a Toei-studio flick I saw here in Honolulu during the 1970s that was entitled “Hanjiro,” also a period-piece about a lecherous philanderer. Have you seen that one? I saw it at the Toyo Theatre which screened Toei movies only. Regrettably, the Toyo Theatre has long been torn down. What I lament about its passing is not only the fact that it showed chambara films but also because it included a pond filled with koi-fish. Passing over the koi-pond was a small nihon-bashi, which is the Japanese-type bridge seen in all the chambara films. Gone are the days.

  3. I am not familiar with the film you mention. However, during the 70s, there were many a Japanese theater like you describe dotting the landscape of our country. And, sadly, they have all flown to the four winds.

  4. Your list of 10 “must see” films is all pulpy fun stuff rather than established classics. I love these titles too but I’m not Quentin Tarantino and so I just can’t put The Streetfighter ahead of The Seven Samurai. Actually, there are so many great Japanese films that I couldn’t begin to isolate just 10. But I can pick 10 directors whose best films are also Japan’s best.

    Yasujiro Ozu: no guns, Yakuza, girls, fast cars, swords, or wild jazz music but he’s the best Japanese director. He’s not flashy but he gets to comedy and emotion unlike any other director. Most people pick Tokyo Story as his masterpiece but I’m more fond of The End of Summer which I think captures everything he wishes to say about zen & society. That said, I Was Born, But…, it’s remake Ohayo, The Only Son, Late Spring, and Early Summer are all equally wonderful.

    Seijun Suzuki: guns, Yakuza, girls, fast cars, swords, and wild jazz music! Style over substance and an amazing visual sense. Ironically, his best film is a WW2 movie that takes Bushido to task, The Story of a Prostitute, though it isn’t as much fun as the others.

    Akira Kurosawa: I like even the minor ones like Scandal, I Live in Fear, and The Lower Depths. My favorite two are No Regrets For Our Youth and The Hidden Fortress, but nearly every film by him is a wonder.

    Kon Ichikawa: His best films are atypical-Tokyo Olympiad which is just amazing, one great image after another, and Alone on the Pacific, which is, again, more visual than narrative. But The Burmese Harp, Enjo, An Actor’s Revenge, Being Two Isn’t Easy, and others are well worth looking at.

    Shohei Imamura: Pigs and Battleships, The Insect Woman, Intentions of Murder, The Pornographers, The Profound Desire of the Gods, and The Ballad of Narayama are just amazing.

    Kenji Mizoguchi: From his early film The Water Magician through Osaka Elegy, Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, Utamaro and His Five Women, My Love Has Been Burning, Miss Oyu, Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff, and even Tales of the Taira Clan, again comes a director whose name is attached to just one great film after another.

    Hiroshi Teshigahara: Again most people pick Woman in the Dunes as his masterpiece but I pick another film, The Face of Another, as his best. That said, Pitfall, Summer Soldiers, Antonio Gaudi, and Rikyu are all worth looking at.

    Mikio Naruse: I haven’t seen his early comedies but Mother, Repast, Sound of the Mountain, Flowing, Late Chrysanthemum, Floating Clouds, and When A Woman Ascends The Stairs assure him a place in the top 10.

    Masaki Kobayashi: Like Teshigahara, he made but a handful of films but The Human Condition, Harikiri, Kwaidan, and Samurai Rebellion are all he had to make.

    Yasuzo Masumura: He’s only recently shown up on my radar but Manji and Blind Beast are so incredibly out there that I’m still recovering. Black Test Car and Giants and Toys completely destroy corporate culture once and for all time while Irezumi and Red Angel are the Japanese equivalent of Verdi operas.

    In addition to these directors there are one-shot films worth considering. Certainly Funeral Parade of Roses listed above as well as Kazuo Kuroki’s Silence Has No Wings, Hiroshi Shimizu’s Children of the Beehive, Yukio Mishima’s Patriotism, and Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth. The best Kihachi Okamoto (Sword of Doom), Kinji Fukasaku (Blackmail Is My Life & Black Lizard), and Hideo Gosha (The Wolves & Onimasa) films rank not to mention the best J-horror films of the last 20 years. Anime features and series are their own category but some of the all-time best Japanese cinema certainly falls into it, with Hayao Miyazaki being only the tip of an amazing treasure trove.

  5. If you’re into straight up weirdness I recommend Funky Forest. It’s the weirdest movie I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.

  6. Does anybody know who played the role of Kitoh in “Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion”?

  7. Here’s the cast list for Female Prisoner 701 Scorpion. See if you can find a “Kitoh” (character names are in parentheses).

    * 梶芽衣子 カジメイコ (松島ナミ)
    * 扇ひろ子 オウギヒロコ (進藤梨恵)
    * 渡辺やよい ワタナベヤヨイ (木田由起子)
    * 横山リエ ヨコヤマリエ (片桐)
    * 三原葉子 ミハラヨウコ (政木)
    * 根岸明美 ネギシアケミ (大塚)
    * 小林千枝 コバヤシチエ (土橋)
    * 国景子 クニケイコ (根元)
    * 谷本小夜子 タニモトサヨコ谷本小代子 (保谷)
    * 片山由美子 カタヤマユミコ (鬼頭)
    * 城恵美 ジョウエミ (森川)
    * 三戸部スエ ミトベスエ (井棟)
    * 織田英子 (小岩)
    * 山本緑 ヤマモトミドリ (小沢)
    * 由貴利恵 ユキリエ (竜野)
    * 園かおる ソノカオル (高木)
    * 渡辺文雄 ワタナベフミオ (郷田)
    * 室田日出男 ムロタヒデオ (仲崎)
    * 堀田真二 ホッタシンジ (古谷)
    * 沼田曜一 ヌマタヨウイチ (曽我)
    * 伊達三郎 ダテサブロウ (海津敏)
    * 日尾孝司 ヒオコウジ (竹中)
    * 藤山浩二 フジヤマコウジ (保利)
    * 夏八木勲 ナツヤギイサオ (杉見次雄)

  8. I’d say it’s usually a good sign to look at a “Must See” list and find only one film I’ve seen. I guess I’m ready to be schooled further in pulpy Japanese freakiness.

  9. Hey..anyone know what movie it is..Its Japanese (I know cuz I have a postage stamp with a snap from it) Its a girl in a school-girl uniform, with an American M3 Grease Gun (Sub-machine gun)

    I saw a similar movie ad with a school-girl but she had a German MP40 (you gotta know your guns to reply to this)

    I think its some kinda Yakuza revenge film.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  10. Dave, I don’t know my guns, but here’s a good guess: Sailor Suit and Machine Gun.

    1981, directed by the legendary Shinji Somai and starring super-idol Hiroko Yakushimaru. Stamp exists, too. Later adapted into two TV-shows, first in 1982 with Tomoyo Harada, and then in the 2000’s with someone.

  11. THATS IT!!!!….MAN thats a good feeling to get that off my brain! Thank you guys SO much!..of COURSE I should have known it was some crazy explicit title; “Girl and Gun”..brilliant. I have that stamp back in Canada, and I wanted my girl to do some posing here in Osaka in that style..but I couldnt remember the exact pose or the reference.

    Now I am good to go..thanks to you…Big big kudos for your help Mikko and Martin!


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