23 Best Movies to Watch From Japan

If you're living alone and just came back home from a bad day, it could make you feel like everything's alright again. This is the kind of movie that feels like a warm hug, that you'd keep in your hard drive to watch over and over again, just because it makes you feel so damn good! The story offers a realistic yet ultimately forgiving view of maternity, and growing up in general. From director Mamoru Hosoda, who's known for his other works like "The Girl Who Leaps Through Time", "Wolf Children" is another kind of beautiful that can only be fully understood after you watched it.

In the grand tradition of the ethnographic world tours like Mondo Cane, Samsara hits you in the face with the diversity and wonder of human life on earth. Unlike many of its predecessors, which often descended into colonialist gawping, Samara maintains a non judgmental gaze. This film uses no words or narration to travel the world showing you the breathtaking beauty of various countries, cultures, religions, cities, industries and nature. Shot on 70mm film, the definition and clarity has to be seen to be believed.

Like Father, Like Son is a profoundly interesting, multi-layered Japanese film about a young couple who come to learn that their son was unknowingly switched at birth with another boy, and begin a complicated relationship with their real son and his family. Both sides struggle to cope with the looming possibility of returning each boy to his true parents, while the differences between the two families in means and lifestyle lend further complications to their attitudes and their ability to find a resolution. It’s an even-handed yet poignant story that examines the difficult emotions around parenthood and parental expectation, including a meaningful examination of the “nature versus nurture” argument. Very honest and real — you'll enjoy it even more if you appreciate the intricate style of Japanese cinema. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes.

This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the relationship between father and son. Truly a must-watch.

Rilakkuma and Kaoru is that perfect mix of cute and profound that you’d expect from a Japanese show about a woman living with teddy-bear roommates. The first episode is about cherry blossoms, but really, it’s about loneliness. Actually, the best term I can find to describe this show, and I’m not joking, is “slice-of-life.” The stories are endearing and intimate. You won’t be able to help but relate to the main character as she deals with being single while her friends are in relationships, her apartment building being demolished and she can’t find another affordable place to move into, her stressful job, etc. I have never seen a show combine this many absurd elements (the woman lives with three goddamn teddy bears), with so much realism. And all of this is done in an easy, quiet tone.

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