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Beyond 'Godzilla': The Very Best Japanese Movies on Netflix

By Flixboss
Updated: 1 February, 2021

Japanese films have long held a place in Americans’ hearts, and provided a look into their culture, but they arguably experienced a resurgence in the 1990s. Japanese films have been rediscovered for breaking out of Hollywood’s boxes, especially in their signature genres, like anime, horror, and suspense. Even the quirkier, more independent Japanese films have earned their place on our screens and in our hearts. Thankfully, we can catch some of the best Japanese movies of this century right in our living room. Netflix has stepped up its International offerings over the past couple of years, including its work from notable Japanese filmmakers and artists. Check out some of our favorites!

The Forest of Love

Renowned and controversial filmmaker Sion Sono’s Forest of Love is a look at what this talented writer/director can create when he’s given free rein. Based on the true story of serial killer Furoshi Matsunaga, Forest of Love introduces audiences to master manipulator Joe Murata (Kippei Shiina). Murata works his way into the lives of young, vulnerable artists, eventually turning his relationships shockingly violent and disturbing. Sono’s vivid sense of imagery is at its most impactful throughout the gruesome and captivating film. This one isn’t for the faint of heart.

The Forest of Love (2019)
Directed by: Sion Sono
Cast: Kippei Shiina, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Kyooko Hinami, Eri Kamataki, Young Dais, Natsuki Kawamura, Yuzuka Nakaya, Dai Hasegawa

Blame!

Based on the Japanese manga series of the same name, Blame! delivers an engaging anime dystopian world. Humans are on the brink of extinction in this machine run world, and a band of survivors works to save what’s left of mankind. Action-packed right from the start, Blame! is agile and fast-paced, keeping its audience engaged even though it may take those unfamiliar with the story a moment to catch up. Director Hiroyuki Seshita delivers a fresh take on the post-apocalyptic drama that appeals to new and old fans of the manga series.

BLAME! (2017)
Directed by: Hiroyuki Seshita
Cast: Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Sora Amamiya, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Mamoru Miyano, Aya Suzaki, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Yuki Kaji

37 Seconds

Filmmaker Hikari’s first feature film, 37 Seconds, introduces us to Yuma (Mae Kayama), a young manga artist with cerebral palsy. Yuma’s world is limited by those who take care of her and who seem to benefit from her limitations. Determined to make her own way, she applies for a job at a manga publishing house that produces erotica. As the opportunity opens Yuma up for new adventures, her narrow world expands, and she realizes that she is capable of so much more than she’s ever thought possible.

37 Seconds (2020)
Directed by: Hikari
Cast: Mei Kayama, Misuzu Kanno, Shunsuke Daitoh, Makiko Watanabe, Yoshihiko Kumashino, Minori Hagiwara, Shohei Uno, Yuka Itaya

River’s Edge

In director Isao Yukisada’s River’s Edge, troubled high school students bond over a corpse they find on the bank of their Tokoyo suburb’s polluted river. Dark and broody, this dramatic film is full of teenage angst. Served up with a heavy dose of symbolism, Rivers Edge combines its arthouse style with a faux-documentary delivery, giving audiences the chance to get into the heads of the characters that seem so isolated from their peers. Like the fog that permeates the film’s aesthetic, Rivers Edge leaves a lasting impression. 

River's Edge (2018)
Directed by: Isao Yukisada
Cast: Fumi Nikaido, Ryo Yoshizawa, Shuhei Uesugi, Sumire, Shiori Doi, Aoi Morikawa

In this Corner of the World

In this Corner of the World is an animated wartime drama set in Hiroshima in the 1930s and 1940s. The film chronicles the life of Suzu as she grows up while her country heads to war. Profoundly affecting, In This Corner of the World shows Suzu’s idyllic life becomes increasingly turbulent as WWII begins. In a beautiful blend of art and history, Suzu’s story reflects the trauma of war and what it takes to rebuild with hope.

Lu Over the Wall

The family-friendly animated tale Lu Over the Wall is director Masaaki Yuasa’s first foray into an animated film for all ages. The result is a delightful fantasy story of a mermaid who befriends a sullen keyboard player and creates music that causes uncontrollable dancing. Full of catchy tunes and sweet characters, Lu Over the Wall is a joyful and heartfelt story that will charm audiences young and old.

A Silent Voice

A beautifully shaped film about teen bullying, A Silent Voice proves that animated dramas can be just as impactful as their live-action counterparts. When Shoya Ishida and Shoko Nishimiya meet in elementary school, he and his friends bully the young deaf girl. But as they grow older, the tables have turned, and Shoya’s reputation as a bully makes him an outcast. Taking an unflinching look at the challenges of growing up, A Silent Voice is an affecting film about the difficulties of finding your place.

Fullmetal Alchemist

The super-popular manga series Fullmetal Alchemist’s first live-action adaptation is an ambitious venture that ultimately pays off. Set in a fictional European country where alchemy is the highest form of science, two brothers are determined to bring their mother back to life using the craft. Jam-packed with majestic effects and immersive worldbuilding, Fullmetal Alchemist cherry picked its storylines to fit the live-action format, leaving room for sequels or even a Marvel-style franchise while still endearing itself to longtime fans.

FullMetal Alchemist (2017)
Directed by: Fumihiko Sori
Cast: Ryosuke Yamada, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka, Misako Renbutsu, Kanata Hongo, Shinji Uchiyama, Jun Kunimura, Yo Oizumi

Romance Doll

In an exceptionally quirky marital drama, sex doll maker Tetsuo (Issey Takahashi) becomes obsessed with his prototype, neglecting his wife in the process. Despite the seemingly erotic premise, Romance Doll is a complicated love story at its forefront, highlighting the cracks that form when a couple fails to communicate. Creative and emotional, Romance Doll is a beautifully made film with an unapologetically peculiar premise.

Romance Doll (2020)
Directed by: Yuki Tanada
Cast: Issey Takahashi, Yu Aoi, Kenta Hamano, Toko Miura, Koji Ohkura, Pierre Taki, Eri Watanabe, Kitaro

Bleach

In this gripping action fantasy film, a teen who sees ghosts must learn to fight evil and help his spirit friends to the afterworld. Like Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach is an epic manga series slimmed down to suit the medium, but that doesn’t take away from the larger than life action sequences and stunning visual effects. This adaptation of the beloved manga series will remind fans of its appeal even as it draws in a whole new audience.

Bleach (2018)
Directed by: Shinsuke Sato
Cast: Sota Fukushi, Hana Sugisaki, Ryo Yoshizawa, Erina Mano, Yu Koyanagi, Seiichi Tanabe, Taichi Saotome, Miyavi

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