(Photo by Walt Disney Pictures, Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Certified Fresh Japanese Movies
Japan rose to almost immediate cinematic prominence with the one-two punch of Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 Tokyo Story and Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai, part of a creatively fertile post-war period that saw similar artistic strides in Italy, France, and Sweden. Ozu’s deeply human drama and Kurosawa’s action-genre big bang are both Certified Fresh, meaning they’ve maintained a 75% after at least 40 critics reviews. That’s the only Ozu movie on our guide to Japanese Certified Fresh films (though plenty of his movies are currently 100%, they don’t meet the minimum reviews threshold), while Kurosawa appears five more times with Rashomon, Ikiru, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, and Ran.
Others director featured in our guide to Certified Fresh films produced in Japan include Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters), genre icon Takeshi Kitano (Zatoichi), Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno (Shin Godzilla), the impossibly prolific Takashi Miike (Audition, 13 Assassins), and Yojiro Takita, whose Departures took home the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award in 2008, a first for Japan.
Anime has been one of Japan’s greatest entertainment exports, with Hayao Miyazaki’s films (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) at the forefront. Other prominent animation directors include Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, The Tale of Princess Kaguya), Makoto Shinkai (Your Name, Weathering With You), Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue), and Mamoru Hosada (Mirai).
Read on for our guide to 61 Certified Fresh Japanese movies! And let us know your favorite films from Japan (Certified Fresh or not!) in the comments.
Adjusted Score: 76306%
Critics Consensus: Norwegian Wood is a poetic adaptation of the Haruki Murakami novel that uses rapturous visuals to draw viewers in its exploration of young love and lasting death.
Toru thinks back to the '60s when he grew close to Naoko after his friend Kizuki killed himself.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77104%
Critics Consensus: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai adds an atypically restrained entry to the Takashi Miike filmography that loses little impact in favoring human drama over action.
A samurai (EbizÃ´ Ichikawa) asks permission to commit ritual suicide in the courtyard of a prominent feudal lord and hears... [More]
Adjusted Score: 79726%
Critics Consensus: A whimsically engaging sex comedy.
Down on his luck, an unemployed man (Koji Yakusho) meets a bizarre woman (Misa Shimizu) whose body gushes water whenever... [More]
Adjusted Score: 80532%
Critics Consensus: Perfect Blue is overstylized, but its core mystery is always compelling, as are the visual theatrics.
A mysterious figure stalks a pop star when she becomes an actor on a television show.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 80963%
Critics Consensus: Outrage packs enough violent impact to satisfy - even if fans of writer-director Takeshi Kitano will find themselves familiar with many of its ingredients.
After his men go too far in their confrontation with a rival gang, a yakuza henchman (Beat Takeshi) gets caught... [More]
Adjusted Score: 82415%
Critics Consensus: If slow and predictable, Departures is a quiet, life affirming story.
After his orchestra disbands, a Japanese cellist (Masahiro Motoki) finds his true calling when he takes a job preparing the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 84239%
Critics Consensus: Dragon Ball Super: Broly may seem like colorful chaos to newcomers, but for longtime fans, it represents this long-running franchise near its action-packed apogee.
Goku and Vegeta encounter Broly, a Saiyan warrior.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85486%
Critics Consensus: An audacious, unsettling Japanese horror film from director Takashi Miike, Audition entertains as both a grisly shocker and a psychological drama.
While searching for a prospective wife, a deceptive widower (Ryo Ishibashi) meets a mysterious and deadly woman (Eihi Shiina).... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87098%
Critics Consensus: Sweet Bean's deliberate pace demands patience, but the satisfying simplicity of its story -- and Kirin Kiki's absorbing performance -- yield an array of riches well worth the wait.
A baker's (Masatoshi Nagase) business takes off when he hires an eccentric 76-year-old woman (Kirin Kiki) who specializes in making... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87037%
Critics Consensus: Following its own brand of logic, Paprika is an eye-opening mind trip that is difficult to follow but never fails to dazzle.
A woman who works as a scientist by day and a dream detective by night probes the theft of a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87594%
Critics Consensus: A remarkable technical achievement, Metropolis' eye-popping visuals more than compensate for its relatively routine story.
A detective and his sidekick discover a duke's plot to control the world via a humanlike robot.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88770%
Critics Consensus: Godzilla Resurgence offers a refreshingly low-fi -- and altogether entertaining -- return to the monster's classic creature-feature roots.
A mysterious monster emerges from Tokyo Bay and wreaks havoc upon Japan.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89538%
Critics Consensus: Gentle and nostalgic, From Up on Poppy Hill is one of Studio Ghibli's sweeter efforts -- and if it doesn't push the boundaries of the genre, it remains as engagingly lovely as Ghibli fans have come to expect.
Yokohama teens try to save their school's clubhouse from being demolished.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89364%
Critics Consensus: The Third Murder makes satisfying work of its weighty themes, even if it doesn't quite stand with writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda's best efforts.
A well-known attorney takes on the defense of a murder suspect who freely admits his guilt. As he digs deeper... [More]
Adjusted Score: 90048%
Critics Consensus: Blade of the Immortal highlights Takashi Miike's flair for balletic violence, making up what it lacks in strict originality with rich characterizations and kinetic thrills.
Cursed with immortality, a highly skilled samurai in feudal Japan promises to help a young woman avenge the death of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91406%
Critics Consensus: Sensitively written, smartly directed, and powerfully performed, Like Father, Like Son uses familiar-seeming elements to tell a thought-provoking story.
Ryota learns that his biological son was switched at birth with the boy he has raised, and he must make... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89887%
Critics Consensus: Colorful, rich with action and wonderfully choreographed, Takeshi Kitano takes on the classic samurai character with his own brand of cinematic flair.
A master swordsman (Beat Takeshi) battles a formidable ronin (Tadanobu Asano) and a deadly clan terrorizing villagers.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92629%
Critics Consensus: Exquisitely illustrated by master animator Miyazaki, Howl's Moving Castle will delight children with its fantastical story and touch the hearts and minds of older viewers as well.
After a witch (Lauren Bacall) transforms her into a crone, a hat maker (Jean Simmons) seeks shelter at the ambulatory... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88361%
Critics Consensus: Battle Royale is a controversial and violent parable of adolescence, heightening teenage melodrama with life-or-death stakes.
A brutal instructor trains teenagers to use weapons so they can fight to the death on a remote island.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 90563%
Critics Consensus: The Boy and the Beast combines familiar parts to create a gripping, beautifully animated adventure with inventive storytelling to match its visual appeal.
Kyuta slips into an alternate universe where he is raised by a bear-man, Kumatetsu. Kyuta is eventually thrust into an... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96435%
Critics Consensus: The Wind Rises is a fittingly bittersweet swan song for director Hayao Miyazaki.
A lifelong love of flight inspires Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, whose storied career includes the creation of the A-6M... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92080%
Critics Consensus: Mary and the Witch's Flower honors its creator's Studio Ghibli roots with a gentle, beautifully animated story whose simplicity is rounded out by its entrancing visuals.
A strange and rare flower whisks a young girl away to a school of magic that's run by a headmistress... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91349%
Critics Consensus: True Mothers uses an intractable conflict to explore the bonds of parenthood with director/co-writer Naomi Kawase's usual sensitivity and grace.
An adopted son's mother receives an unexpected visit from the boy's biological mother.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91238%
Critics Consensus: My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising sends fans of the saga on an exhilarating adventure that ends the series on a beautifully animated high note.
Deku and the rest of the heroes of Class 1-A must save a group of islanders from a powerful villain.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94364%
Critics Consensus: Belladonna of Sadness has more than enough brilliant visual artistry to keep audiences enraptured even as the film's narrative reach slightly exceeds its grasp.
A peasant woman is banished from her village and makes a deal with the devil to gain magical powers.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94409%
Critics Consensus: Akira is strikingly bloody and violent, but its phenomenal animation and sheer kinetic energy helped set the standard for modern anime.
A Japanese teenager learns that his newfound powers of telepathy are more powerful than he suspected.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93746%
Critics Consensus: The simplicity and colorful warmth of Mirai's animation is underscored by a story with surprising - and deeply affecting - depth and emotional resonance.
A boy finds a magical garden that allows him to travel through time to meet his relatives from different eras.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96031%
Critics Consensus: While not Miyazaki's best film, Ponyo is a visually stunning fairy tale that's a sweetly poetic treat for children of all ages.
During a forbidden excursion to the surface world, a goldfish princess becomes more and more human after befriending a village... [More]
Adjusted Score: 95072%
Critics Consensus: When Marnie Was There is still blessed with enough visual and narrative beauty to recommend, even if it isn't quite as magical as Studio Ghibli's greatest works.
A tomboy (Hailee Steinfeld) explores a long-abandoned villa and meets a mysterious blonde girl only she can see.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 95316%
Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated and narratively engaging, Weathering with You further establishes writer-director Makoto Shinkai as a singularly talented filmmaker.
A boy runs away to Tokyo and befriends a girl who appears to be able to manipulate the weather.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93566%
Critics Consensus: The story of an aging movie actress' complicated personal saga unfolds in this sophisticated anime film that deftly blurs memory and make-believe into a meditation on the nature of cinema itself.
A reporter and his assistant hear intriguing stories as they interview a legendary actress (Miyoko ShÃ´ji).... [More]
Adjusted Score: 102817%
Critics Consensus: More than straight monster-movie fare, Gojira offers potent, sobering postwar commentary.
A fire-breathing behemoth terrorizes Japan after an atomic bomb awakens it from its centuries-old sleep.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94462%
Critics Consensus: Tragic and haunting, a beautifully heart-wrenching portrait of child abandonment.
A woman abandons her four children (YÃ»ya Yagira, Ayu Kitaura, Hiei Kimura) in a tiny apartment, leaving them to fend... [More]
Adjusted Score: 97435%
Critics Consensus: With its epic story and breathtaking visuals, Princess Mononoke is a landmark in the world of animation.
A prince becomes involved in the struggle between a forest princess and the encroachment of mechanization.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 98545%
Critics Consensus: My Neighbor Totoro is a heartwarming, sentimental masterpiece that captures the simple grace of childhood.
Two sisters encounter a mythical forest sprite and its woodland companions when they move to rural Japan.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 95858%
Critics Consensus: Elliptical and deliberately paced yet steadily absorbing, I Wish presents a beguiling portrait of childhood that grounds its sweetly nostalgic glow with well-rounded characters and attention to detail.
Forced to live apart due to their parents' separation, a sixth-grader (Koki Maeda) and his younger brother (Ohshiro Maeda) hatch... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96638%
Critics Consensus: J-Horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa turns successfully to dramedy and gives a unique (and specifically national) perspective to the universal subjects of family and identity.
A Japanese family begins to break apart when the patriarch (Teruyuki Kagawa) loses his job and his wife (KyÃ´ko Koizumi)... [More]
Adjusted Score: 101053%
Critics Consensus: A career high point for Akira Kurosawa -- and one of the best film adaptations of a Shakespeare play.
A Japanese version of "Macbeth" features a samurai (ToshirÃ´ Mifune), his scheming wife (Isuzu Yamada) and a flurry-of-arrows finale.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99486%
Critics Consensus: As effortlessly engaging as it is widely influential, Yojimbo represents Kurosawa at the peak of his powers -- and lays the groundwork for the modern American western.
A free-lance samurai (ToshirÃ´ Mifune) works both sides of the street in a village split by warring merchants.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99632%
Critics Consensus: Takashi Miike's electric remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 period action film is a wild spectacle executed with killer, dizzying panache.
Unemployed samurai are hired to kill a sadistic lord before he plunges Japan into war.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100565%
Critics Consensus: Visually lush, refreshingly free of family-friendly clatter, and anchored with soulful depth, The Secret World of Arrietty lives up to Studio Ghibli's reputation.
A secret friendship blossoms between a human boy and a tiny girl who lives with her family beneath the floorboards... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99517%
Critics Consensus: A stunning feat of modern animation, Ghost in the Shell offers a thoughtful, complex treat for anime fans, as well as a perfect introduction for viewers new to the medium.
A cybernetic agent must stop a potent form of artificial intelligence before it can attain human form.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103810%
Critics Consensus: Akira Kurosawa's sprawling, epic take on King Lear should be required viewing for fans of westerns, war movies, or period films in general.
Lord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) and his three sons wreak epic 16th-century chaos in a modified version of "King Lear."... [More]
Adjusted Score: 102257%
Critics Consensus: After the Storm crosses cultural lines to offer timeless observations about parental responsibilities, personal bonds, and the capacity for forgiveness.
A dissolute private detective (Hiroshi Abe) attempts to reconnect with his distrustful family following the death of his father.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 102813%
Critics Consensus: First Love's blend of violence, comedy, and romance might seem disparate -- but for director Takashi Miike, it's just another wildly entertaining entry in a filmography full of them.
One night in Tokyo, a self-confident young boxer and a prostitute get caught up in a drug-smuggling plot involving organized... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103494%
Critics Consensus: Spirited Away is a dazzling, enchanting, and gorgeously drawn fairy tale that will leave viewers a little more curious and fascinated by the world around them.
Lost in a forest, a 10-year-old girl (Daveigh Chase) meets animals, ghosts and weird creatures.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 98874%
Critics Consensus: Demon Slayer's visually stunning animation and masterful action set pieces serve a heartfelt plot that is sure to satisfy fans.
Tanjiro and his allies join forces with a powerful swordsmen to battle demons aboard a moving train.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100420%
Critics Consensus: Kiki's Delivery Service is a heartwarming, gorgeously-rendered tale of a young witch discovering her place in the world.
Kiki and her talking cat, Jiji, move to a seaside town in accordance with her village's tradition for witches in... [More]
Adjusted Score: 102724%
Critics Consensus: Ikiru is a well-acted and deeply moving humanist tale about a man facing his own mortality, one of legendary director Akira Kurosawa's most intimate films.
A rigid clerk (Takashi Shimura) resolves to do something of lasting importance after learning that he is dying of cancer.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 107840%
Critics Consensus: One of legendary director Akira Kurosawa's most acclaimed films, Rashomon features an innovative narrative structure, brilliant acting, and a thoughtful exploration of reality versus perception.
Three parties (ToshirÃ´ Mifune, Machiko KyÅ, Masayuki Mori) and a witness have four versions of a rape/murder in ninth-century Japan.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103100%
Critics Consensus: As beautifully animated as it is emotionally satisfying, Your Name adds another outstanding chapter to writer-director Makoto Shinkai's filmography.
A teenage boy and girl embark on a quest to meet each other for the first time after they magically... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99565%
Critics Consensus: Samurai epic as a touching drama.
In the 19th century a woman (Rie Miyazawa) helps a widowed samurai (Hiroyuki Sanada) who must kill a rebellious swordsman.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 101759%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful, thoughtful, and engrossing, Jiro Dreams of Sushi should prove satisfying even for filmgoers who don't care for the cuisine.
Revered sushi chef Jiro Ono strives for perfection in his work, while his eldest son, Yoshikazu, has trouble living up... [More]
Adjusted Score: 110825%
Critics Consensus: Understated yet ultimately deeply affecting, Shoplifters adds another powerful chapter to director Hirokazu Koreeda's richly humanistic filmography.
On the margins of Tokyo, a dysfunctional band of outsiders is united by fierce loyalty and a penchant for petty... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103229%
Critics Consensus: An achingly sad anti-war film, Grave of the Fireflies is one of Studio Ghibli's most profoundly beautiful, haunting works.
A teenager (J. Robert Spencer) is charged with the care of his younger sister (Rhoda Chrosite) after an Allied firebombing... [More]
Adjusted Score: 107020%
Critics Consensus: Tokyo Story is a Yasujiro Ozu masterpiece whose rewarding complexity has lost none of its power more than half a century on.
An elderly Japanese couple (Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama) visit their busy children but are not treated with respect.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 105103%
Critics Consensus: Thanks to director Juzo Itami's offbeat humor and sharp satirical edge, Tampopo is a funny, sexy, affectionate celebration of food and its broad influence on Japanese culture.
Two Japanese milk-truck drivers (Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken Watanabe) help a restaurant owner (Nobuko Miyamoto) learn how to cook great noodles.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 104756%
Critics Consensus: Only Yesterday's long-delayed U.S. debut fills a frustrating gap for American Ghibli fans while offering further proof of the studio's incredibly consistent commitment to quality.
A put-upon 27-year-old Japanese office worker travels to the countryside and reminisces about her childhood in Tokyo and what life... [More]
Adjusted Score: 102058%
Critics Consensus: Hirokazu Kore-eda's film may seem modest at first, but this family drama casts a delicate, entrancing spell.
A man (Hiroshi Abe) bears the brunt of his parents' disapproval at an annual gathering to honor the memory of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 111717%
Critics Consensus: Arguably Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, The Seven Samurai is an epic adventure classic with an engrossing story, memorable characters, and stunning action sequences that make it one of the most influential films ever made.
A samurai answers a village's request for protection after he falls on hard times. The town needs protection from bandits,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 104088%
Critics Consensus: Boasting narrative depth, frank honesty, and exquisite visual beauty, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a modern animated treasure with timeless appeal.
A tiny nymph found inside a bamboo stalk grows into a beautiful and desirable young woman, who orders her suitors... [More]