17 Best Movies From Japan On Tubi

Staff & contributors

The title of this 2018 Palme D'or winner is not to be taken metaphorically: Shoplifters is about a marginalized family of day workers, crooks, and small-time outlaws, who live on the fringes of Japanese society. Osamu (Lily Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Andô) both have jobs but spruce up their low-wage income by committing petty crimes. One day in winter, Osamu takes in a bruised girl he finds outside in the cold and introduces her to the family in his ramshackle house. But when the second-youngest member of the family, Shota (Kairi Jyo), finds himself teaching her how to shoplift, he faces a moral dilemma that threatens to unravel the family's fabric. If you were hitherto unfamiliar with the unique storytelling and social realism of Hirokazu Koreeda, we really recommend checking it out—as well as his other movies, namely, Still Walking, Like Father, Like Son, I Wish, and After the Storm. His 2018 outing features the last ever performance of Kirin Kiki, who plays the elderly matriarch and passed away that same year. Like many of Koreeda's works, Shoplifters is an understated, beautiful, and mysterious study of the effects of poverty and trauma and a delicate portrait of a family in Japan's urban underbelly.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Family, Thriller

Actor: Aju Makita, Akira Emoto, Chizuru Ikewaki, Hajime Inoue, Haruna Hori, Jyo Kairi, Kairi Jo, Kairi Jyo, Kengo Kora, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka, Miyu Sasaki, Moemi Katayama, Nana Mizoguchi, Naoto Ogata, Sakura Andô, Sosuke Ikematsu, Yoko Moriguchi, Yuki Yamada, 山田裕貴, 松冈茉优, 蒔田 彩珠

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Rating: R

With Howards End, the magic trio of producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala converted yet another turn-of-the-19th-century EM Forster novel into exquisite cinematic form. Ravishingly shot and performed to career-best heights by many of its cast, Howards End loses nothing of the elegance we expect from a period drama, and yet it also feels thoroughly modern. The film charts the tragic entwining of three families: the progressive and intellectual middle-class Schlegel sisters, the much more traditionally minded and wealthier Wilcox family, and the Basts, a down-on-their-luck working-class couple. It’s the liberally minded Schlegels who cross the class divide of 1910 London to bring these two distant social circles so close to each other, but it’s the old-world values of the Wilcoxes that make that meeting a tragic one. Simmering with rich emotion and crackling with class politics, Howards End is the crowning glory of the Merchant Ivory powerhouse and the rare perfect period drama.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Ross Magenty, Allie Byrne, Anne Lambton, Anthony Hopkins, Barbara Hicks, Brian Lipson, Crispin Bonham-Carter, Emma Thompson, Gerald Paris, Helena Bonham Carter, James Ivory, James Wilby, Jemma Redgrave, Jo Kendall, Joseph Bennett, Margery Mason, Mark Payton, Mark Tandy, Mary McWilliams, Nicola Duffett, Patricia Lawrence, Peter Cellier, Prunella Scales, Sally Geoghegan, Samuel West, Simon Callow, Susie Lindeman, Vanessa Redgrave

Director: James Ivory

Rating: PG

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

Kathryn Bigelow has a knack for action-packed scenes without compromising on the affective qualities of film style. It is precisely this combination that makes her a rare gem in American cinema, where the values of entertainment soar high. Point Break is one such example of controlled chaos, impeccable framing, and a convincing use of fast-paced editing to really get you as close to the action as possible. But what gives the film its flavour is how developed and synced the characters are and the Reeves-Swayze duo here belongs in the pantheon of equally hot frenemies, providing an apt, but subtle comment on the dangers of toxic masculinity. 

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Actor: Anthony Kiedis, Anthony Mangano, Betsy Lynn George, Bojesse Christopher, Chris Pedersen, Christopher Pettiet, Daniel Beer, Dave Olson, Debra Lamb, Galyn Görg, Gary Busey, Gary Roberts, Gloria Mann, Jack Kehler, James Le Gros, Jared Chandler, Jeff Imada, John Apicella, John C. McGinley, John Philbin, Julian Reyes, Julie Michaels, Keanu Reeves, Lee Tergesen, Lori Petty, Michael Kopelow, Mike Genovese, Patrick Swayze, Peter Phelps, Ping Wu, Randy Walker, Raymond Forchion, Richard Grove, Sydney Walsh, Tom Sizemore, Vincent Klyn

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Rating: R

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

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Rating: PG-13

Surreal, strange, yet wondrous, Penguin Highway never takes a straightforward approach to its story. Penguins pop up out of nowhere, leading the nerdy and precocious Aoyama to study them via empirical observation and logical deduction. These studies don’t end up with a feasible explanation– in fact, by the final act, the film abandons all laws of physics. But the journey to that act feels intuitively right. This journey feels like an indescribable formative experience. Aoyama may be obsessed with growing up and committing to the reasonable adult mindset, but he is still a child. From fending off bullies to forming connections with others, his childhood imagination served him better than science could. The film reveres this discovery as well as it should.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Kana Kita, Landen Beattie, Mamiko Noto, Megumi Han, Miki Fukui, Misaki Kuno, Naoto Takenaka, Rie Kugimiya, Winston Bromhead, Yu Aoi

Director: Hiroyasu Ishida

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

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, Kimiko Tachibana, Miyuki Matsuda, Ren Osugi, Renji Ishibashi, Ryo Ishibashi, Shigeru Saiki, Tatsuo Endō, Tetsu Sawaki, Toshie Negishi, Yuriko Hirooka

Director: Takashi Miike

Rating: R

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

Upon the first few minutes of Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life, it’s obvious that the Brothers Quay’s first live-action film is highly unusual. First, it’s entirely black and white, with embellished, serif subtitles translating the initial German. Second, many of the film’s shots take the form of moody, gothic close-ups, reminiscent of 1920s silent films, like when Johannes examines his new pupil’s health, or when Lisa directs Jakob with an animal’s hoof next to his cheek. And third, the plot itself is strange, as the students are taught not to think anything of themselves, with only Jakob questioning their instruction. But there’s a certain beauty in the surreal approach the Brothers Quay takes in adapting the Swiss-German novel, a certain intuitive feel that allows the story to expand past its stilted movement, restrained frames, and the school’s oppressive tutelage. Institute Benjamenta is bizarre, but it’s undeniably a fascinating film, even at its most disturbing.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alice Krige, César Saratxu, Daniel Smith, Gottfried John, Jonathan Stone, Joseph Alessi, Mark Rylance, Peter Lovstrom, Uri Roodner

Director: Stephen Quay, Timothy Quay

, 1998

Despite being remade, parodied, and absorbed into pop culture over the years, the original Ring defiantly marches to the beat of its own drum. Focused entirely on building a slow-burn mystery instead of dispensing scares, the film provides ample space for a number of interpretations: on the spread of technology, the erasure of traditional beliefs, or even motherhood. It's all relentlessly quiet and extremely creepy, the tension building with the same energy as ghost stories told around a campfire. And while famous for its eerie images and the rules surrounding its cursed videotape, Ringu also serves as a reminder that great horror should compel the audience to keep on watching, even if they already know exactly what awaits them if they do.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Daisuke Ban, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hiroyuki Watanabe, Hitomi Satô, Katsumi Muramatsu, Kiriko Shimizu, Masako, Miki Nakatani, Miwako Kaji, Nanako Matsushima, Rie Ino'o, Rikiya Ôtaka, Yôichi Numata, Yôko Ôshima, Yûko Takeuchi, Yûrei Yanagi, Yutaka Matsushige

Director: Hideo Nakata

It's an incredible story, but it's one that only really deserves to be told a certain way, which director Arthur Harari gets right. Onoda's one-man crusade to continue World War II is nothing short of delusional, and Harari spends most of the film following the soldier as his companions die one by one, worsening his delusions even further. Unfortunately, even with how impressively strange this story is, 10,000 Nights in the Jungle still misses the opportunity to look through the lens of Onoda's victims. He is, after all, a literal embodiment of colonization's lingering effects, so it's sad that the Philippines here is just window dressing more than anything.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, History, War

Actor: Angeli Bayani, Chiba Tetsuya, Issey Ogata, Kai Inowaki, Kanji Tsuda, Kuu Izima, Kyūsaku Shimada, Mutsuo Yoshioka, Nobuhiro Suwa, Ryu Morioka, Shinsuke Kato, Taiga Nakano, Tomomitsu Adachi, Yuya Endo, Yuya Matsuura

Director: Arthur Harari

Jia Zhangke (who NPR critic John Powers once called “perhaps the most important filmmaker working in the world today"), directed this movie based on the story of a gangster he knew while growing up.

And he is far from being the only noticeable talent here. Actress Tao Zhao shines as a character called Qiao, a dancer who infiltrates the crime scene in Northern China by way of her boyfriend (the gangster). When a boss leader is assassinated, Qiao finds herself in jail after she refuses to incriminate her boyfriend. 

This is a gangster movie but it’s also about how Qiao processes her time in jail and what she does once she gets out. It serves more as a character study and a picture of modern-day China.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Casper Liang, Diao Yi'nan, Ding Jiali, Dong Zijian, Fan Liao, Feng Xiaogang, Jiamei Feng, Kang Kang, Liao Fan, Tao Zhao, Xu Zheng, Yi'nan Diao, Zhang Yi, Zhang Yibai, Zhao Tao

Director: Jia Zhangke, Zhangke Jia

Rating: Not Rated

Prior to being defined by that fateful bombing in 1945, Hiroshima was like any other city outside of Tokyo; small but full, quiet but busy, and in the midst of a slow-but-sure journey to modernization. We experience the rich and intimate details of this life through the kind-hearted Suzu, who herself is stuck between the throes of old and new. She is an ambitious artist but also a dedicated wife; a war-wearied survivor and a hopeful cheerleader. 

Set before, during, and after the Second World War, the film starts off charmingly mundane at first, but it quickly gives way to inevitable grief in the second half. One stark tragedy follows another as it becomes increasingly clear how much we lose our humanity in war.

In This Corner of the World is the rare film outside of the Hayao Miyazaki canon that captures the latter's heart for detail while still being graciously its own.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, History, Romance, War

Actor: Asuka Ohgame, Barbara Goodson, Christine Marie Cabanos, Daishi Kajita, Daisuke Ono, Hisako Kyoda, Kei Tomoe, Kenta Miyake, Kira Buckland, Kohei Kiyasu, Kosuke Sakaki, Manami Sugihira, Manami Tanaka, Mayumi Shintani, Megumi Han, Miki Hase, Minori Omi, Nanase Iwai, Natsuki Inaba, Non, Nozomu Sasaki, Rena Nōnen, Rio Kawakami, Risa Sakurana, Shigeru Ushiyama, Sunao Katabuchi, Tengai Shibuya III, Tomoko Shiota, Tsubasa Miyoshi, Tsuyoshi Koyama, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yukitomo Tochino, Yuuki Hirose

Director: Sunao Katabuchi

Rating: PG-13

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, Campbell Cooley, Charles Halford, Charles Pierard, Chris Bruno, Chris Williams, Christopher Lawford, Craig Hall, Daniel Sing, Diane Ladd, Eric Pierpoint, Gavin Grazer, Greg Johnson, Iain Rea, James Gaylyn, Jessica Cauffiel, Joe Howard, Juliana Bellinger, Latham Gaines, Mark Ruka, Michael Mantell, Mick Rose, Morgan Lund, Patrick John Flueger, Paul Rodríguez, Saginaw Grant, Tessa Mitchell, Tim Shadbolt, Todd Emerson, Walton Goggins, Wesley Dowdell, William Lucking

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rating: PG-13