16 Best Movies From Japan On Netflix

Staff & contributors

, 2022

Adapted from the Japanese film Ikiru, which in turn was adapted from the Russian story The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Living is a parable about, well, living. Specifically, it's about the importance of wonder and the magic of the mundane. It's also about legacy and the stories we leave in our wake, which live on long after we're gone. This familiar premise could have very easily been turned into another trite and cheesy movie that warns you to make the most out of your life, but thanks to a lean script, assured camerawork, and powerfully restrained performances, Living is elevated into something more special than that. It’s a technically beautiful, well told, and profoundly moving film, with Bill Nighy giving a career-best turn as a repressed man aching for meaning in his twilight years. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrian Rawlins, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp, Barney Fishwick, Bill Nighy, Celeste Dodwell, David Summer, Edward Wolstenholme, Eunice Roberts, Ffion Jolly, Grant Gillespie, Hubert Burton, Jamie Wilkes, John MacKay, Jonathan Keeble, Lia Williams, Matilda Ziegler, Michael Cochrane, Michael James, Nichola McAuliffe, Nicky Goldie, Oliver Chris, Patsy Ferran, Richard Cunningham, Robin Sebastian, Rosie Sansom, Thomas Coombes, Tom Burke, Zoe Boyle

Director: Oliver Hermanus

Watching A Silent Voice, sensitive viewers will likely feel repulsion toward the main character, Shoya Ishida — and maybe you should, for the awful things he did as a kid. You might even feel the urge to jump into your screen and protect Shouko Nishimiya, the deaf girl who is new at school. A beautifully crafted anime, the story captures a high-school bully’s remorse and despair as he tries to redeem himself from past wrongdoing, demonstrating that even the cruelest among us can become vulnerable to feelings of shame and regret. While it is heart wrenching, the story is also full of hope, showing how to ask for forgiveness, as well as how to give it. Beyond the great script, animation, colours, and scoring, each shot of A Silent Voice is a masterpiece in and of itself.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aoi Yuki, Kensho Ono, Mayu Matsuoka, Megumi Han, Miyu Irino, Naoko Yamada, Saori Hayami, Toshiyuki Toyonaga, Yoshitoki Oima, Yui Ishikawa, Yuki Kaneko

Director: Naoko Yamada

Rating: Not Rated

Snowpiercer is an under-the-rader post-apocalyptic thriller that offers the grittiness that many times only Asian cinema may achieve. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong forces audiences to forget that Chris Evans was ever a Marvel superhero, as he leads a revolt of his fellow “low-class” citizens against the self-appointed gentry in a train that contains all remaining members of the planet. With immersive environments and a layered script, this film melds together social commentary and moral discourse in a visually arresting and vastly entertaining package.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction

Actor: Adnan Haskovic, Alison Pill, Chris Evans, Clark Middleton, Dana Green, Ed Harris, Emma Levie, Ewen Bremner, Go A-sung, Go Ah-sung, Griffin Seymour, Jamie Bell, Jim High, John Hurt, Joseph Bertót, Kendrick Roger Ong, Kenny Doughty, Ko A-sung, Ko Asung, Luke Pasqualino, Luna Sophia Bar-Cohen, Magda Weigertová, Marcanthonee Reis, Octavia Spencer, Parry Shen, Paul Lazar, Peter Hallin, Robert Russell, Sean Connor Renwick, Seisuke Tsukahara, Song Kang-ho, Stephen Park, Steve Park, Tilda Swinton, Tomáš Dianiška, Tómas Lemarquis, Tyler John Williams, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Rating: R

You don't need to be familiar with the rest of the Rurouni Kenshin live-action movie series—or the original manga and anime, for that matter—to appreciate The Beginning as a powerful period drama in its own right. This is a story that courses its historical context about a tumultuous time in Japan's past through a stoic, fearsome protagonist who can't seem to escape the violence that's become his only function. And even more impressively, as a prequel, the film keeps a heavy sense of dread about it, even if you're sure about which characters are meant to survive in order to appear in the previous films. It's the mark of any great tragedy that even the things that are destined can still feel so painful.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance

Actor: Eiki Narita, Eita Okuno, Emi Takei, Hoshi Ishida, Issey Takahashi, Kasumi Arimura, Kazuki Kitamura, Kinari Hirano, Makiko Watanabe, Mansaku Ikeuchi, Masanobu Ando, Masataka Kubota, Mayu Hotta, Nijiro Murakami, Shima Onishi, Soko Wada, Takahiro Fujimoto, Takeru Satoh, Towa Araki, Wataru Ichinose, Yosuke Eguchi

Director: Keishi Otomo

Rating: R

Robert Redford and Brad Pitt make quite the ensemble in this edgy game of espionage. With performances as strong as their jawlines, this action-packed rescue mission will keep you in suspense! Be sure to keep up with all the witty banter and interesting plot twists shifting between flashbacks and present-day scenarios. Keep in mind that this isn't your average spy movie, with a more realistic approach and a character-driven storyline, most of the flash happens cinematically.

Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Pang, Amidou, Andrew Grainger, Balázs Tardy, Benedict Wong, Bill Buell, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Charlotte Rampling, Colin Stinton, Dale Dye, David Hemmings, David K.S. Tse, David Tse, Demetri Goritsas, Eddie Yeoh, Freddie Joe Farnsworth, Garrick Hagon, Hon Ping Tang, Ian Porter, Imre Csuja, In-sook Chappell, James Aubrey, Joerg Stadler, Ken Leung, Kimberly Tufo, Larry Bryggman, Logan Wong, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Matthew Marsh, Michael Paul Chan, Mohamed Quatib, Nabil Massad, Omid Djalili, Pat McGrath, Peter Linka, Robert Redford, Rufus Wright, Shane Rimmer, Stephen Dillane, Stuart Milligan, Ted Maynard, Todd Boyce, Tom Hodgkins, Tony Xu, Vincent Wang, Zsolt Zágoni

Director: Tony Scott

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, Jeong Da-yi, 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

The film follows Yuma, a young woman with cerebral palsy who dreams of becoming a manga artist but struggles to find independence while living with an overprotective mother. That, however, doesn’t stop her from applying to work at an erotica manga publishing house. In this moving narrative, the themes of identity and self-discovery are tenderly portrayed through the lens of disability as Yuma embarks on a  journey toward self-acceptance and sexual empowerment. Despite a rocky and somewhat dragging last act, the respectful depictions of sex work and disability make this film's warm heart feel genuine.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Eita Okuno, Haruka Imou, Itaya Yuka, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Makiko Watanabe, Mei Kayama, Minori Hagiwara, Misuzu Kanno, Nanami Kawakami, Nobu Morimoto, Shizuka Ishibashi, Shohei Uno, Shunsuke Daitoh, Toshinori Omi, Yuka Itaya

Director: Hikari

Rating: R, TV-MA

, 2022

Part fantasy, part road trip, and part coming-of-age, Suzume is a rich and fast-paced tale with no dull moments in between. The energy is relentless and the animation, as expected, is dazzling, so even though there are occasional plot holes and melodramatic reaches, you’d be hard-pressed not to forgive them. Suzume still wins you over. Of course, the fantastical aspects are what make Shinkai’s films his, but Suzume works best when it zeroes in on humans and their complicated feelings toward each other. The confrontation between Suzume and her aunt, where Suzume accuses her of suffocation and the aunt, in turn, laments the life she could’ve had if she wasn’t charged with caring for her dead sister’s daughter, is just as shattering as any scene involving slaying monsters or battling gods. I only wish there were more tender moments like this, but Suzume is just as endearing and entrancing all the same.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Aimi, Akihiro Tajima, Ayumi Tsuji, Eri Fukatsu, Genta Nakamura, Hokuto Matsumura, Kana Hanazawa, Katsumi Fukuhara, Kyo Yaoya, Matsumoto Hakuō II, Nanoka Hara, Ryoko Nagata, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Sairi Ito, Saori Seto, Shota Sometani, Tomomichi Nishimura, Yoji Ueda, Yoshino Aoyama, Yuu Ayase

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Rating: PG

When it comes to ghosts, plenty of films are centered around personal, unresolved business in the living world, but rarely do films examine how the spirit world would be, unless it’s for fantastical fights or horrific terror. The Parades instead focuses on a world of lost, but ordinary, and thankfully kind, souls. And as the film builds its calm world, Minako (and the viewers) get to meet the people who would form her eventual found family, whose various lives uncover the intimate and personal hopes of ordinary people, shaped by the events of their respective times. While the film doesn’t fully resolve all their stories, The Parades celebrates life, in all forms, and the powerful ways storytelling and community helps us go through it.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Akari Takaishi, Ayumu Nakajima, Daiken Okudaira, Denden, Hana Kino, Hiroshi Tachi, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Lily Franky, Mai Fukagawa, Masami Nagasawa, Nana Mori, Ryusei Yokohama, Shinobu Terajima, Takuya Wakabayashi, Tetsushi Tanaka, Yuina Kuroshima, Yukiya Kitamura

Director: Michihito Fujii

Rating: PG-13

Bad Lands isn’t exactly new. It has the romanticized con artist that manages to slip through the fingers of those more powerful than her, through quick wit and good sense. It has the successful con, and those that come out of the woodwork to take what they’ve stolen. The story isn’t even original, being based on Hiroyuki Kurokawa’s 2015 novel, Keiso. But it’s done well. It’s a well-executed character study focused on a grifter pushed into the business, and taking on a cold, ruthless mindset to survive. It juxtaposes her self-contained lifestyle with the skeevy, abusive tech billionaire ex and the police force he infiltrated. And it’s all the more powerful with Sakura Ando leading the story.

Genre: Action, Crime

Actor: Junichi Okada, Katsuhisa Namase, Ken Yamamura, Koki Maeda, Mitsuo Yoshihara, Noriko Eguchi, Ryosuke Yamada, Ryudo Uzaki, Sakura Andô, Yasumasa Oba, Yasushi Fuchikami

Director: Masato Harada

Based on the 13-episode series of the same name, Violet Evergarden tells the story of Violet, a scribe commissioned to write letters at a time when telephones and computers had yet to exist. Shell-shocked from her time in the war, Violet is exceptionally stoic, except when she remembers Gilbert, her military superior and sometime lover. His parting words were "I love you," and through her letters, Violet has been examining the meaning of the phrase since then. 

Fans of the series will have no trouble following the events of the film, but if you're going in cold without any prior exposure to the franchise, it might take a while for you to adjust to its world. More an amalgamation of multiple cultures than a reflection of just one, the imaginary Leidenschaftlich is filled with Japanese-speaking citizens, in modern-day-influenced clothes, with architecture and vistas that could fit right in 1800s Western Europe. Against this backdrop, Violet attempts to restart her life as a writer. Living often doesn't feel easy, especially when PTSD comes in the form of shocks and painful flashbacks, but loving, as she finds out, might be even harder. A tale of self-forgiveness and forging on, despite all odds, Violet Evergarden is a moving ode to life and love at a time of war. 

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Aya Endo, Aya Saito, Ayako Kawasumi, Daichi Endo, Daisuke Namikawa, Emi Shinohara, Haruka Tomatsu, Hidenobu Kiuchi, Hisako Kyoda, Jouji Nakata, Kanako Sakuragi, Kaori Mizuhashi, Koki Uchiyama, Kozue Harashima, Mayuno Yasokawa, Megumi Matsumoto, Minori Chihara, Mitsuru Miyamoto, Mugihito, Rie Hikisaka, Rina Sato, Rina Satou, Sumire Morohoshi, Takehito Koyasu, Yasuhiro Mamiya, Yui Ishikawa, Yuuki Sanpei

Director: Taichi Ishidate

Everyone has those days where nothing goes right, but no one’s having as bad of a day as detective Yuji Kudo is in Hard Days. It isn’t just that nothing goes right– everything goes wrong, and he’s just a hair away from losing it all each time. This Japanese adaptation might take a slightly more serious tone than the South Korean original, but it does retain its ridiculous escalation of increasingly terrible things that could possibly happen, with Junichi Okada and Go Ayano letting loose in their detective characters’ morally dubious behavior. Hard Day is a decent watch, if a bit bloated, especially for those familiar with the story.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Akira Emoto, Go Ayano, Hayato Isomura, Junichi Okada, Kurumi Shimizu, Maho Yamada, Mario Kuroba, Ryoko Hirosue, Ryusuke Komakine, Takashi Yamanaka, Taro Suruga, Tetta Sugimoto

Director: Michihito Fujii

With a new, fast-paced media landscape, Call Me Chihiro might feel too slow for people new to the story. Composed of serene, slice-of-life moments, the film starts off feeling plotless, as the titular protagonist builds random interactions with the townspeople. She makes friends with people who seemingly don’t have much in common with her. Despite this, each interaction feels meaningful and genuine, thanks to the subtle acting of Kasumi Arimura. And as these scenes build up, and Chihiro’s friends begin to become friends with each other, these day-to-day moments form a character study of a lonely woman whose kindness and appreciation for life make her feel so admirable. For those wistful Sunday nights, Call Me Chihiro might be a great watch, but only if you’re in that certain mood.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Fusako Urabe, Hana Toyoshima, Itsuki Nagasawa, Jun Fubuki, Kasumi Arimura, Keiichi Suzuki, Lily Franky, Mitsuru Hirata, Miwako Ichikawa, Ryuya Wakaba, Shigeo Ôsako, Toshie Negishi, Van, Wakaba Ryuuya, Yoichiro Saito, Yui Sakuma

Director: Rikiya Imaizumi

Rating: R, TV-14

Following the success of the Zom 100 manga and anime, Netflix quickly followed suit with a live-action film, which begs the question: why? Why bother, when the freshly released series is barely a month old and already a vibrant interpretation of the comic book it was based from? Why bother, when you’re not going to bring anything new to the table? The film, more than anything, feels like a rushed cash grab that hopes to capitalize on its predecessors’ success. The premise is clever and relatable—after years of living like a zombie, a jaded employee regains a lust for life when an outbreak threatens to kill him—but the film milks it to death, so much so that by the ending, when the characters finally reach this conclusion, they can’t help but seem slow for spelling out what we’ve already known from the start. The film also looks drab and dreary, a far cry from the series’ experimental wonders. Instead of multi-colored blood bursting with every kill, we simply get metallic confetti in the movie. Instead of dynamic action, we get barely believable stunts that seem more awkward than awe-inspiring. Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead isn’t bad per se, but it doesn’t look so good next to its much-better counterparts on TV and in print. 

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Horror

Actor: Akari Hayami, Daiki Miyagi, Eiji Akaso, Kazuki Kitamura, Kenta Satoi, Mai Shiraishi, Mayo Kawasaki, Miwako Kakei, Mukau Nakamura, Reira Arai, Seijun Nobukawa, Shota Taniguchi, Shuntaro Yanagi, Yo Takahashi, Yui Ichikawa

Director: Yusuke Ishida

Rating: R, TV-MA

In Love and Deep Water is torn between multiple concepts. There’s a murder, sure, and a butler trying to figure out who’s the killer, but there also happens to be a romance plot where the same butler falls in love with the passenger that informs him of their partners’ infidelity. The film also tries to squeeze in comedy with the way the killers try to hide the dead body, the ridiculousness of some passengers, and cheeky but contextless commentary. While the romance is lovely, In Love and Deep Water isn’t the fun and chaotic murder mystery promised, as it drowns itself with interesting ideas that never really fully pans out.

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Airi Matsui, Aju Makita, Amane Okayama, Aoi Miyazaki, Hatsunori Hasegawa, Hidekazu Mashima, Ken Mitsuishi, Ken Yasuda, Kento Nagayama, Nahana, Rinko Kikuchi, Ryo Yoshizawa, Saki Takaoka, Takashi Okabe, Tomu Miyazaki, Yoh Yoshida, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Izumisawa

Director: Yusuke Taki

Rating: R, TV-MA