12 Best Movies From Japan On Tubi

Staff & contributors
Koreeda is a master of the tender gaze. He deals so softly, elegantly, and emphatically with the characters in his films, it will make you feel like you're watching life itself in all its complex, emotional splendor. Maybe this is particularly true for this movie because it has been inspired by Koreeda's memories of his own childhood and the passing of his mother. Still Walking is a quietly toned movie spanning a period of 24 hours in the life of the Yokoyama family, as they gather to commemorate the passing of their eldest son. At the center of the story is the father, an emotionally distant man who commands respect both from his family and community. Opposite from him sits the other son, the black sheep, who seeks his father's validation. Directed, written, and edited by Koreeda, this dynamic is one of many in this slice-of-life movie about how families deal with loss. And, however distant the culture or setting in Japan may seem to the outsider, you're bound to recognize either yourself or your family among the tender scenes of this masterful drama.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Haruko Kato, Hiroshi Abe, Hotaru Nomoto, Kazuya Takahashi, Kirin Kiki, Ryoga Hayashi, Shohei Tanaka, Susumu Terajima, Yoshio Harada, You, Yui Natsukawa

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Rating: Not Rated

Koreeda's troubled childhood often serves as the inspiration for his poignant Japanese dramas that deal with loss, the meaning of being a child, and of being parent. In Like Father, Like Son, Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama), a hard-working architect, who is married to his work, comes home from work. He receives a call from the hospital where his son Keita was born and learns that he was switched at birth with their biological son Ryūsei. His wife and him are not only faced with the prospect of having to switch the two six-year-olds back, but also with the rickety family his 'real' son grew up in—and his aversion to what they stand for. But who is real and who isn't? Must they be switched back? The age-old question of nature vs. nurture and the relationship of love and biology is at the heart of the parent's struggle. As always with Koreeda's works, the result is soft-spoken, sensitive, and symphonically directed. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Arata Iura, Hana Kino, Hiroshi Ôkôchi, Ichirō Ogura, Isao Natsuyagi, Jun Fubuki, Jun Kunimura, Kazuya Takahashi, Keiji Nakazawa, Keita Ninomiya, Ken Ochiai, Kirin Kiki, Kōichi Kitamura, Lily Franky, Machiko Ono, Maki Yoko, Masaharu Fukuyama, Megumi Morisaki, Meguri Hiroo, Natsuki Inaba, Pierre Taki, Rina Endou, Shogen Hwang, Tetsushi Tanaka, Tomomitsu Adachi, Tomoya Nakamura, Yamamoto Shuri, Yo Yoshida, Yôko Maki, Yuji Yoshimasu, Yuri Nakamura, 福山雅治

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Rating: Not Rated

It has become increasingly rare to find films made in Afghanistan, so when a movie like Osama comes along, it becomes nothing short of essential viewing. This is a profoundly depressing but beautifully crafted story of a young girl made to look like a boy so as to go unnoticed by Taliban forces while trying to help her family. It's a simple film wherein this character's budding awareness of her girlhood is set against a terrifying backdrop of violence, abuse, and fundamentalist extremism—all of which director Siddiq Barmak keeps off the screen.

Barmak knows exactly what to point his camera at, covering multiple angles of life in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan without calling attention to himself, and still finding ways to show the smallest shreds of sympathy and support hiding within this society. And in the lead role, a teenage Marina Golbahari delivers a towering, heartbreaking performance that never registers as anything but authentic. The fear that she embodies is almost too real to watch without becoming afraid yourself. Osama is incredibly difficult viewing, but it's a truly valuable work of art that deserves to be preserved.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Arif Herati, Malik Akhlaqi, Marina Golbahari, Zabih ullah Frotan, Zubaida Sahar, مالک اخلاقی

Director: Siddiq Barmak

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.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daisuke Nakazama, David Gelb, Hachiro Mizutani, Harutaki Takahashi, Jiro Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Yoshikazu Ono

Director: David Gelb

Rating: PG

Known for his horror films, Kiyoshi Kurosawa shifts gears and presents a family drama in Tokyo Sonata. In the film, father Ryuhei, who’s expected to be the breadwinner, loses his prestigious job and chooses to hide his firing from his family. While this premise isn't overtly scary, the film understands the terror of being unable to maintain the current comforts of your family. And the consequences: lose your status (at best) or your life (at worst). Teruyuki Kagawa’s performance crystallizes that sense of losing control, as each expression on his face betrays how secretly afraid Ryuhei feels. The disasters that this family faces threaten to never stop, and Kurosawa executes them perfectly through excellent story structure and performance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Denden, Hajime Inoue, Haruka Igawa, Kai Inowaki, Kanji Tsuda, Kazuki Namioka, Kazuya Kojima, Kenji Kawahara, Kōji Yakusho, Kyoko Koizumi, Takashi Kodama, Tao Tsuchiya, Teruyuki Kagawa, Toshiyuki Kitami, Yū Koyanagi

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Rating: PG-13

A very touching film about Japanese children who are abandoned by their mother in their apartment and left on their own. It's movie that perfectly encapsulates the world of kids and its alignment with this story is both heartbreaking and joyful. Their innocence will make you smile from ear to ear until moments come where you will shed tears. This is a film everyone should have watched, it breaks my heart how little-known it is.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayu Kitaura, Hanae Kan, Hiei Kimura, Kazuyoshi Kushida, Ken'ichi Endô, Momoko Shimizu, Ryō Kase, Sei Hiraizumi, Susumu Terajima, You, Yuichi Kimura, Yukiko Okamoto, Yûya Yagira

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Rating: PG-13

Audition is not for the faint of heart. It's shockingly violent and deeply unsettling, filled with sights and sounds that will haunt you for days on end. But there is grace to its terror; it's profound and artistic in ways that elevate it from generic horror fare.

On a deeper level, Audition is about the destructive power of abuse, trauma, and loneliness, about how a society that neglects to recognize this eventually suffers from it. The revenge plot isn't merely individual, as well, but a representation of the female subconscious: tired of objectification, eager for redress. And everything about the way the film is made, from the shaky camera and titled frames to the dramatic shadows and eerie lighting, reflects that imbalance. 

Audition may be chilling and gruesome, but it's also smart and important, a psychosexual thriller that captures female anger well before it became the rage. 

Genre: Drama, Horror

Actor: Eihi Shiina, Fumiyo Kohinata, Jun Kunimura, Kanji Tsuda, Ken Mitsuishi, Miyuki Matsuda, Ren Osugi, Renji Ishibashi, Ryo Ishibashi, Shigeru Saiki, Tatsuo Endō, Tetsu Sawaki, Toshie Negishi, Yuriko Hirooka

Director: Takashi Miike

Rating: R

Vague statement alert: Burning is not a movie that you “get”; it’s a movie you experience. Based on a short story by Murakami, it’s dark and bleak in a way that comes out more in the atmosphere of the movie rather than what happens in the story. Working in the capital Seoul, a young guy from a poor town near the North Korean border runs into a girl from his village. As he starts falling for her, she makes an unlikely acquaintance with one of Seoul’s wealthy youth (played by Korean-American actor Steven Yeun, pictured above.) This new character is mysterious in a way that’s all-too-common in South Korea: young people who have access to money no one knows where it came from, and who are difficult to predict or go against. Two worlds clash, poor and rich, in a movie that’s really three movies combined into one - a character-study, a romance, and a revenge thriller.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ah-in Yoo, Ban Hye-ra, Cha Mi-Kyung, ChoI Seung-ho, Jang Won-hyung, Jeon Jong-seo, Jeon Seok-chan, Jong-seo Jun, Jun Jong-seo, Kim Shin-rock, Kim Shin-rok, Kim Sin-rock, Kim Soo-kyung, Lee Bong-ryeon, Lee Joong-ok, Lee Soo-jeong, Min Bok-gi, Moon Sung-keun, Ok Ja-yeon, Song Duk-ho, Soo-Kyung Kim, Steven Yeun, Yoo Ah-in

Director: Chang-dong Lee, Lee Chang-dong

Rating: Not Rated

Sunday Beauty Queen starts with a basic but startling fact: there are about 190,000 Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong. They toil for six days a week, with little breaks in between, but on Sundays, the one day they are given rest, they choose to take part in a fabulous beauty pageant.  

More than just a mere show, the pageant is a source of joy and relief for the migrant workers who, despite earning significantly more abroad than they would back home, are mired in a host of problems, including discrimination, loneliness, and underemployment. Because of the Philippines’ and Hong Kong’s stringent statutes, some helpers are also forced to go into hiding, unsure of who will protect them each time.

It’s to director Baby Ruth Villarama’s credit that the film feels both like a criticism and celebration of this migrant reality. She exposes the rotten system that forces these women to flee their country but doesn’t forget to highlight the humanity that keeps them going. This result of this deft balance is a story that is just as warm and exacting as any old home. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Cherrie Mae Bretana, Hazel Perdido, Leo Selomenio, Mylyn Jacobo, Rudelyn Acosta

Director: Baby Ruth Villarama

Rating: 0

Genre: Drama

Actor: Koyuki, Pierre Taki, Shioli Kutsuna, Shota Sometani, Wataru Ichinose

Director: Kan Eguchi

In this raw, psychedelic drama, an American drug dealer living in Tokyo with his sister is killed at a night club. His spirit continues to float above the city and past, present, and future are woven together to complete the tale of his life. Taking a page from the Tibetan book of the dead, the film aims to explore one answer to life's most epic question: What happens when we die? Definitely not for the faint of heart, there is drug use, gore, and challenging themes throughout the movie. Its unique cinematography also captures Tokyo quite well.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Cyril Roy, Ed Spear, Emiko Takeuchi, Emily Alyn Lind, Janice Béliveau-Sicotte, Jesse Kuhn, Masato Tanno, Nathaniel Brown, Nobu Imai, Olly Alexander, Paz de la Huerta, Sakiko Fukuhara, Sara Stockbridge

Director: Gaspar Noé

Rating: Not Rated

You know Anthony Hopkins as the evil Hannibal Lecter, but in this film he gives a warm and heartfelt performance portraying real life New Zealand motorcycle legend Burt Munro who set a land speed record in 1967 on a hand-built 1920 Indian. It's a story of never giving up on your dream even in the face of ridicule and opposition. Hopkins' performance turns what could have been just another schmaltzy formulaic story line into true gold. You'll be cheering for Burt/Anthony by the end!

Genre: Adventure, Drama, History

Actor: Aaron Murphy, Alison Bruce, Annie Whittle, Anthony Hopkins, Antony Starr, Bruce Greenwood, Charles Pierard, Chris Williams, Craig Hall, Diane Ladd, Greg Johnson, Iain Rea, James Gaylyn, Jessica Cauffiel, Latham Gaines, Paul Rodríguez, Tessa Mitchell, Tim Shadbolt, Todd Emerson, Walton Goggins, Wesley Dowdell, William Lucking

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rating: PG-13