9 Best Movies Set in Japan to Watch Before Your Trip

Before packing your suitcase and boarding the plane, we recommend watching a few good movies set in Japan to glimpse the country’s captivating culture, stunning scenery, and unparalleled hospitality. Don’t look at this as if it were an assignment, but rather as a pleasant appetizer.


Reasons to Watch Movies Set in Japan

Movies can illustrate the beauty of Japan’s values, symbols, customs, and traditions. Watching a well-made film about Japan is similar to attending a crash course in Japanese culture.

A Lens on Japan

Additionally, films can provide an insight into Japan’s cities and their landscapes. They provide aerial views of towering skyscrapers, capture bustling city streets, and give a glimpse into the tranquil Japanese countryside. It’s a quick, but immersive, virtual tour, providing you with a familiar sight even before setting foot in the country.

Brief Historical Lesson

Movies that focus on historical themes let you peek into Japan’s rich history. They give you a chance to learn about its past to better help you appreciate its present.

Language and Cultural Nuances

Japanese culture is full of etiquette, and it’s easy for foreigners to make mistakes. Movies can help you understand these subtle cultural and linguistic nuances. This insight could be the difference between a merely enjoyable trip and one that is profoundly memorable.

Location, Location, Location

Knowing and seeing the locations of a film you watched makes the sightseeing even more enjoyable. You can visit the same places where the actors stood or walk the same historic path. This connection can make your sightseeing more enjoyable and personal.

Our Recommended Movies

The movies below are a fluid short list that we believe captures the essence of Japan. Though not perfect, it’s a good starting point to help you understand the culture more clearly. We will add to this list, as we are always watching movies about Japan.

Western Movies Set in Japan

  1. Lost in Translation
    • A captivating movie about a fading movie star that ends up in Tokyo to shoot a commercial. The movie does an outstanding job of showing the huge language barrier, and his slip into culture shock. There are great scenes of the character exploring the dazzling streets of Tokyo, experiencing an eccentric Japanese TV show, and exploring sacred temples and shrines, all the while learning about Japanese culture.
  2. Mr. Baseball
    • An engaging movie that follows the journey of an aging Major League Baseball player that gets traded to a team in Japan. He struggles with Japan’s unfamiliar customs, making humorous and often embarrassing mistakes. The movie does a fantastic job of using the world of baseball to explore Japanese cultural differences from an American perspective.
  3. The Outsider
    • A gripping movie about an American ex-soldier, who becomes part of the yakuza, or Japanese mafia. Set in post-WWII Japan, the main character navigates a web of loyalty, honor, and dangerous underworld rules in a culture far from home.
  4. The Last Samurai
    • An exhilarating movie where a US military officer is captured by samurai in Japan. Amid Japan’s modernization in the 1870s, the captured officer learns and respects the samurai’s ancient code of honor, changing his life forever.
  5. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
    • A heartfelt movie about a loyal Akita dog named Hachiko. This real-life story, which originated in Japan, highlights Japanese culture’s deep value for loyalty. Hachi faithfully waits for his deceased owner at a train station daily, touching the hearts of many.
  6. Jiro Loves Sushi
    • A captivating documentary about Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master, who runs a top-rated sushi restaurant in Tokyo. The film artfully displays Japanese culinary artistry and Jiro’s dedication, elevating sushi preparation to a high form of art.

Japanese Movies

  1. Shoplifters
    • A compelling Japanese movie that explores complex family dynamics. It tells the story of a family that relies on shoplifting for survival. Set in Tokyo, the film gives viewers a glimpse into Japan’s societal issues, highlighting the struggles of its underprivileged communities.
  2. Tokyo Story
    • A touching Japanese film showcasing an elderly couple visiting their distant, rushing, city-dwelling children. It’s an emotional exploration of family values, changing times, and the generational gap in post-war Japan, offering a thought-provoking portrayal of Japanese culture and society.
  3. Perfect Days
    • An enjoyable film about Hirayama, a city custodian who cleans toilets in Shibuya, Tokyo. He finds joy in routine and in the simple pleasures each new day brings. This movie does a fantastic job of illustrating daily life and Japanese non-verbal communication.

Want a Unique Japan Trip?

Discover Japan planning secrets with our best-selling Itinerary Planning Course. Or inquire about our exclusive Small Group Tours.

In a Nutshell

Watching movies before heading to Japan is like a brilliant prelude to an incredible symphony. They prepare you emotionally, enhance your understanding aesthetically, and tune your senses to the captivating Japanese rhythm. As such, you’ll gain an enriched perspective, a more profound appreciation, and a more in-depth experience of Japan.

So, pour yourself some sake, get comfortable, and dive into the world of Japanese cinema. Who knows? A peek into Japan’s culture from your home could spark a lifelong love for a country that promises enchantment with every visit. This memorable adventure begins not with your landing at Narita International Airport, but from the moment the opening credits roll.

Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this article. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. We have no association with the companies or the products reviewed. These are our own opinions of top travel products.