Recommended Japanese Films on Netflix

December 21, 2010

Netflix is the leading DVD rental by mail and movie streaming service in the United States. They offer popular movies, tv shows, foreign films, documentaries, and a wide selection of pretty much everything video. You can watch Netflix on most home video game systems, on your computer, and many internet enabled TVs.

Japanese movies number among the foreign films listed, although, for someone who enjoys Japanese movies and TV shows, the pickin’s are slim.

When people from outside of Japan talk about Japanese movies, I’ve always been surprised that they seemed to think horror films, soft porn, and weird anime dominate the market.

Often, however, popular movies are spin-offs or inspired by tv animation or tv dramas. There are also comedies and original films that don’t seem to make it into Netflix.

The Japan Academy award winning film of 2008, Departures (the Japanese title is Okuribito), based on the novel, IS in Netflix, thankfully, as is the 2006 winner, Hula Girls. The 2007 winner, Tokyo Tower – Mom and Me and Sometimes Dad, is not.

I am sure the same is true for the representation of films from other countries. I think there is genuine interest in Japanese films and tv dramas among the Netflix audience, and I hope that they begin to make an effort to bring these shows to the forefront.

For now, we have to weed through some very, very weird horror films, fringe popularity soft porn, and other films to find movies to watch.

So I decided to put together an inevitably incomplete list of films available on Netflix in the US that are worth seeing. Please add to the list in the comments if you have some you’d like to recommend!

I am leaving out older films, samurai dramas, and other genre that are out there. This list is meant to cover some of the mainstream films that are easy to miss.

In no particular order, and with too brief explanations:

1. Departures (a man looks for his calling)

2. Hula Girls (moving comedy set in Japan and Hawaii)

3. Train Man (I like the drama better, but a very good love comedy)

4. the Death Note series (yes, it’s horror, but extremely good)

5. Battle Royale (based on the book… I believe this inspired the hit Hunger Games book series which is soon to be made into films)

6. Big Man Japan (from Hitoshi Matsumoto of Downtown, the film has boring parts, but also has some good dry humor moments about one of Japan’s last superheroes, who also is kind of a bum)

7. Sukiyaki Western Django (I’m guessing Sukiyaki Western is a play on the term “spaghetti western”… loosely refers to the Battle of Heike)

8. Battle Royale (read the book, but if you like campy horror action, this is nice)

9. Tokyo Sonata (suburban Tokyo family life)

10. Shall We Dance? (not starting Richard Gere… this is the original)

11. Nana (based on the manga about a punk rocker girl)

12. Brother (gang movie from Beat Takeshi, interesting because it also stars Omar Epps)

13. Nobody Knows (family drama about siblings)

14. Kabei: Our Mother (family melodrama set in Japan during WWII)

15. Love*Com The Movie (based on the manga about an unlikely couple)

So what’s missing?

Juzo Itami’s Films…

TV Dramas

Films that are Japan staples like Water Boys and other films based on dramas based on manga like Gokusen starring Yukie Nakama. (although the anime is available)

… and my favorite director Shunji Iwai’s films. The only Shunji Iwai work available is in the film New York, I Love You. Shunji Iwai directed what I believe is the best Japanese film ever made, Swallowtail Butterfly.

As I said above, please feel free to add to the list. I’ll leave you with the a collection of trailers for Swallowtail. It’s just an amazing film in a combination of Chinese, Japanese, and English with a great story and mix of characters.

UPDATE: Just want to throw in a quick update here that Hollywood has cut a deal with Hitoshi Matsumoto for a Big Man Japan Hollywood remake.


1 JokerKyo December 21, 2010 at 9:54 pm

I love Kazuaki Kiriya movies (utada hikaru’s ex-husband) Casshern and Goemon are awesome visually and both have great storylines (Casshern being based on an anime and Goemon based on a legendary ninja)
Beat Takeshi movies are great specially the ones after his motor-bike accident (extremely recommend Kikujirou, still my favorite movie of all time)
And also a must see is Symbol, a Matsumoto Hitoshi movie that is weird (most of the time it doesn’t even make sense) but the ending punchline is super hilarious! it really worth seeing just that, made me missed the rest of the movie because i was laughing too much.

Anyway, just want to point out that i’ve only recently come across this site and have enjoy reading it! keep up the good work and thanks for taking your time to blog for us! Ja ne!

2 jay@newzjapan December 22, 2010 at 3:19 am

Thanks Jokerkyo,

I will definitely check out Kikujiro and the other movies you mentioned. I have to admit, though I’m a big fan o Downtown I haven’t heard of The Symbol so I’ll be looking for that as well. Come to think of it, the part of Big Man Japan that made me laugh most was the very end.

Thanks also for your comments about the blog. I mostly write about what strikes me in Japanese news. The blog is still growing and finding its place and voice though. It’s been a great way to talk about things without bending the ears of (or inadvertently offending) co-workers.

3 Ando Ebisu March 18, 2011 at 5:54 pm


Big Man Tokyo was terrible!

4 Ando Ebisu March 18, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Also – Always Sanchome no Yuhi 1 & 2