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Dive into Japanese with Movies

Essential Japanese Films for Language Enthusiasts

By Memrise Content Team
Embark on a cinematic journey through the heart of Japan, exploring a world where the whispers of "Spirited Away" and the echoes of "Tokyo Story" beckon language learners and cinephiles alike. Discover the best Japanese films on platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, each offering a window into the soul of Japanese culture and language.

From the surreal landscapes of animated masterpieces to the poignant slices of life portrayed in contemporary classics, our curation presents the must-see Japanese movies and TV shows. Whether you're seeking the finest Japanese films to enhance your language skills or simply wish to indulge in critically-acclaimed cinema, our list is your gateway to an immersive learning experience.

Immerse yourself in the narrative depths of Japanese cinema, where learning meets entertainment. These handpicked films are not just conversation starters but conversation continuers, sharpening your Japanese comprehension as you traverse through gripping plots and profound storytelling.

Let's ignite your "Japanese movies to learn" marathon with these curated picks, and along the way, you might just stumble upon your next favorite piece of cinema.

1. Tokyo Story (1953)

Genre: Drama

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Tokyo Story (1953)

Synopsis: "Tokyo Story" is a poignant tale of an aging couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children, only to find their offspring too busy to spend time with them. The film explores themes of generational conflict, loneliness, and the changing fabric of post-war Japanese society.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • The dialogue is slow and clear, making it easier for learners to follow along and pick up on commonly used phrases.
  • The film offers insight into traditional Japanese family structures and respect language, valuable for cultural understanding.
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2. Tampopo (1985)

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Tampopo (1985)

Synopsis: "Tampopo" is a unique "ramen western" that follows the story of a widow running a struggling ramen shop. With the help of a truck driver and an ensemble of other quirky characters, she learns the art of making the perfect bowl of ramen.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • The film mixes formal and casual speech, presenting a range of language styles.
  • It includes many scenes focused on Japanese cuisine, offering learners specialized vocabulary related to food and cooking.

3. Spirited Away (2001)

Genre: Fantasy, Animation

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Spirited Away (2001)

Synopsis: "Spirited Away" is an animated adventure that follows Chihiro, a sullen ten-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the world of Kami (spirits) of Japanese Shinto folklore. After her parents are turned into pigs, she must work in a bathhouse for the spirits to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • The film's rich fantasy setting introduces viewers to a variety of Japanese mythological and cultural elements, enhancing cultural literacy.
  • Chihiro's interactions with various characters showcase a range of polite and humble forms of speech, essential for formal Japanese communication.
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4. Adrift in Tokyo (2007)

Genre: Comedy, Drama

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Adrift in Tokyo (2007)

Synopsis: A quirky tale of an unlikely friendship between a failing college student and a debt collector who offers to clear the student's debts in exchange for a walk across Tokyo. Along the way, they encounter various eccentric characters and develop a unique bond.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • The film's dialogue includes everyday vocabulary that is essential for conversational Japanese.
  • The use of humor and puns provides context for understanding Japanese wit and wordplay.

5. Sweet Bean (2015)

Genre: Drama

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Sweet Bean (2015)

Synopsis: The film centers around a small bakery and its owner's relationship with an elderly woman who has a delicious recipe for dorayaki bean paste. As their friendship develops, the film touches on themes of acceptance, the struggle against social stigmas, and the beauty of fleeting moments.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • It showcases the nuances of the Japanese language in a business setting and the politeness that accompanies it.
  • Provides exposure to the language used in a familial context, offering a mix of formal and informal speech.

6. Shoplifters (2018)

Genre: Crime, Drama

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Shoplifters (2018)

Synopsis: This film follows a non-biological family that relies on shoplifting to cope with a life of poverty. The story explores the bonds of family and questions what makes a family as they take in a young girl they find outside in the cold.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • Dialogue is rich with colloquialisms and slang, giving learners insight into casual Japanese speech.
  • Emotional depth in character interactions provides context for learning expressive language and honorifics.
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7. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Synopsis: On Christmas Eve in Tokyo, three homeless people discover a newborn baby among the trash and set out to find its parents. The journey is filled with unexpected turns and heartwarming moments.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • The film features a variety of accents and dialects, providing a broad auditory experience.
  • The conversational language used is a great resource for learners to hear natural Japanese dialogue.

8. Departures (2008)

Genre: Drama, Music

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Departures (2008)

Synopsis: A newly unemployed cellist takes a job preparing the dead for funerals. This unexpected profession teaches him about life, death, and the beauty and dignity in the end-of-life ceremonies.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • The film uses a formal and traditional version of the language that can teach respect and honorifics.
  • Offers insights into the vocabulary and expressions related to Japanese rituals and customs.

9. Drive My Car (2021)

Genre: Drama

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Drive My Car (2021)

Synopsis: Two years after his wife's unexpected death, a renowned stage actor and director receives an offer to direct a production in Hiroshima. There, he meets a reserved young woman assigned to be his chauffeur, and the journey they embark on leads to introspective revelations.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • The script is rich in dialogue that reflects the characters' introspective and emotional states, beneficial for advanced learners.
  • It offers an example of how Japanese is used in a professional artistic setting, particularly in the context of theater and performance.
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10. Your Name (2016)

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Your Name (2016)

Synopsis: This animated film follows the story of a high school boy in Tokyo and a high school girl in a rural town who suddenly and inexplicably begin to swap bodies. The bizarre occurrence leads to a connection that they use to search for one another.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • Features a mix of teenage slang and standard Japanese, providing a range of linguistic styles.
  • The use of both Tokyo and rural dialects introduces learners to regional language differences.

11. Your Eyes Tell (2020)

Genre: Drama, Romance

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Your Eyes Tell (2020)

Synopsis: A heartwarming story about a former kickboxer who becomes involved with a visually impaired woman, leading to a deep and emotional relationship that changes both of their lives.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • The film includes many conversational dialogues that cover a spectrum of emotions, providing context for emotional expressions in Japanese.
  • Highlights the polite and tender aspects of the language, which are essential for proper communication in Japanese society.

12. Dark Water (2002)

Genre: Horror, Drama, Mystery

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Dark Water (2002)

Synopsis: A mother and her young daughter move into a rundown apartment where they experience strange occurrences. They discover that the apartment is haunted by the spirit of a missing girl.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • The film's tension and suspense help learners to become familiar with vocabulary related to fear, caution, and mystery.
  • Contains clear examples of protective and caring language used by a parent toward a child.

13. Ringu (1998)

Genre: Horror, Mystery

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Ringu (1998)

Synopsis: A journalist investigates a cursed videotape that is rumored to kill the viewer seven days after watching it. As she delves deeper into the mystery, she finds herself in a race against time to save her own life.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • The film features journalistic and investigative language, which can be quite formal and technical, offering a different register of vocabulary.
  • The dialogue includes a mix of urban and rural speech patterns, providing exposure to a variety of dialects.

14. Battle Royale (2000)

Genre: Action, Thriller

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Battle Royale (2000)

Synopsis: In a dystopian future, a group of high school students are taken to a deserted island and forced to fight to the death until only one survives. The story explores themes of survival, trust, and the human condition under extreme pressure.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • Offers a look at teenage slang and the informal language used among peers, which is prevalent throughout the movie.
  • The high-stakes scenario of the film presents language expressions associated with conflict, strategy, and alliances.

15. Still Walking (2008)

Genre: Drama, Family

Check for streaming: Netflix | Amazon | YouTube | Tubi

Still Walking (2008)

Synopsis: The film portrays a family's gathering to commemorate the death of the eldest son who died fifteen years prior. Over 24 hours, the reunion brings to light the family's joys and struggles, revealing the complexities of their relationships.

Why It's Good for Learning Japanese:

  • Features naturalistic dialogue reflecting the everyday speech of a family, making it suitable for learners interested in conversational Japanese.
  • Highlights the subtleties of language in expressing familial respect and the nuances of Japanese family dynamics.

Looking for the best Japanese movies to learn Japanese? Here are a few tips to help:

Immersive Japanese Learning Through Film
Delving into the finest Japanese movies is more than just a cinematic indulgence — it's an exercise in linguistic immersion. When you immerse yourself in top Japanese films, particularly those with English subtitles, your engagement transcends the storyline. You're actively absorbing the Japanese language in its most authentic form. As the allure of J-Drama captivates you, your mind is diligently forging connections between spoken words and their contextual meanings, etching them into your memory. Language craves context, and movies are a sumptuous feast for this need, positioning Japanese films as one of the superior resources for learning the language.

Revisiting titles like "Your Name" or "Drive My Car", hailed as some of the paramount Japanese movies, you uncover new strata of language and culture with each watch. This is not just a casual movie night; it's a deliberate immersion technique to aid in learning Japanese through cinema. So, take the remote, press play, and embark on your educational journey — one scene, one line at a time.
Why Japanese Movies Are Educational Entertainment
Fusing the pinnacle of Japanese filmmaking with the art of language learning, Japanese movies and series emerge as an exhilarating educational medium. The must-see Japanese films offer more than mere amusement; they embody a dynamic, living classroom. Each movie, from box office sensations to indie marvels, equips you with practical, conversational Japanese that might elude traditional textbooks.

These movies, rich with idiomatic expressions and deep cultural insights, convert every snippet of dialogue into an opportunity for language acquisition. With a plethora of Japanese movies available for language learning across various streaming services, the bridge between cultures is fortified, enriching your bilingual odyssey. Whether you're absorbed in the suspense of "Dark Water" or the societal reflections of "Shoplifters", these films are your passage to linguistic proficiency. So why not transform your next movie session into a step toward mastering Japanese? With these standout Japanese films, your viewing experience is also an educational one.
Can I learn Japanese by watching movies/TV shows?
Absolutely, movies and TV shows can be a valuable component of your Japanese learning journey. Immersing yourself in Japanese audiovisual media exposes you to the language as it's naturally spoken, complete with the intonation, slang, and non-verbal cues that textbooks often overlook. However, it's important to consider this method as a supplement to more structured learning approaches. For optimal results, combine your viewing with formal study, such as grammar lessons, vocabulary drills, and speaking practice.
How much time should I spend watching Japanese movies?
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to how much time you should spend watching Japanese movies as it largely depends on your personal schedule, learning objectives, and level of Japanese proficiency. A good rule of thumb is to incorporate Japanese films into your regular study routine in a way that feels sustainable and enjoyable. Some learners might benefit from a movie a week, while others might watch a film or a few episodes of a TV show daily. Remember, consistency is key, and even small, regular exposure to the language can yield significant benefits over time.
Are subtitles helpful?
Subtitles can be a double-edged sword in language learning. On one hand, they make content more accessible and can help beginners bridge the gap between their current level and the language used in the film. They also provide a written context that can reinforce auditory comprehension. On the other hand, over-reliance on subtitles can hinder listening skills and prevent full immersion. A balanced approach is to start with subtitles and gradually phase them out, or to use Japanese subtitles to better connect the spoken and written language.

Your Gateway to Japanese Through Film Awaits...

Captivated by the intricate storytelling of Japanese cinema and eager to delve into the language? Memrise stands at the crossroads of entertainment and language fluency, providing a unique platform that intertwines your love for Japanese movies with your desire to learn. This is where Memrise shines.
Take a look at the Japanese video lessons we offer
Memrise harnesses the power of scenes from popular YouTube videos and TikTok clips, transforming them into tailored language lessons. It's an educational journey that transcends the realm of subtitles, granting you the insight to appreciate the subtleties and cultural nuances of every uttered word. From the heartfelt narratives of "Sweet Bean" to the thrilling suspense of "Battle Royale", Memrise enables you to engage with Japanese films on an authentic, emotional level.
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Spirited Away - Official Trailer
Porco Rosso - Official Trailer
The Wind Rises - Trailer
Castle in the Sky - Trailer
Sweet Bean | Official Trailer
Tokyo Story | Official Trailer
Adrift in Tokyo | Official Trailer
Shoplifters | Official Trailer
Departures | | Official Trailer
Tokyo Godfathers | Official Trailer
Your Name | Official Trailer
Drive My Car | Official Trailer
Your Eyes Tell | Official Trailer
Tampopo | Official Trailer
Still Walking | Official Trailer
Dark Water | Official Trailer
Ring | Official Trailer
Battle Royale | Official Trailer
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