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good: Japanese

Shoplifters is the Winner of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival from Japan. It's about a poor family made of small-time outlaws who live from shoplifting amongst other petty crimes. They take in a new girl they find outside in the cold and introduce her to their otherwise happy family. But when the second-youngest member of the family finds himself teaching her how to shoplift, he faces a moral dilemma that threatens the fabric of the family. From renown director Hirokazu Koreeda, and if you don't know who that is - I really recommend checking out his other movies. Namely, Still Walking, Like Father, Like Son and After the Storm. Koreeda is often referred to as the best Japenese filmmaker alive, and Shoplifters is solid proof that he deserves that title. Its affecting story and slow-burning nature are sure to stay with you for a long time.

9.1

This is director Hayao Miyazaki and producers Studio Ghibli at their best. On the surface level, it's a film about a young girl who stumbles into an abandoned theme park with her parents. She accidentally finds herself in a creepy spiritual world wherein she must find a way to save her parents and escape. More broadly, however, this is a film about the struggle for Japanese cultural identity in the wake of the economic crisis of the early 90's. A deep and deeply hypnotizing movie about a little girl's journey.

9

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.

7.8

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 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.

9

Death is a weird and scary concept. Ironically, the only way movies have been successful in covering it is through humor (Sunshine Cleaning and Beginners are other great examples). Departures gives this trend a new home, Japan. This film almost never saw the light of day, since at first many distributors refused to release it given the taboos against people who deal with death. Eventually, it received the credit it was due, including an Academy Award. It’s one of those rare movies that will take you on a journey through all of your emotions: it will move from making you laugh, to making you cry, then happy, and finally highly engaged in its subject matter. It’s a beautiful, funny, and compelling movie.

9

A fantastic animated period piece set during the Muromachi era in Japanese history. It follows a young man who is looking for a cure for his curse from a demon before he dies. At the same time, the film explores environmental issues, showing the effects of a brutal war between the nature gods and humans. The story is action packed and fast paced, drawing freely from Japanese mythology and modern hot topic political issues. Similarly, the renowned animation is a combination of classic hand drawn animation and pioneering 3-D rendering.

9

When asked about this film, Quentin Tarantino goes so far as to say, “If there’s any movie that’s been made since I’ve been making movies that I wish I had made, it’s that one.” Kinji Fukasaku’s cult classic follows an alternative reality set in Japan, where a random high school class is forced onto a remote island to fight to the death. While it does follow the quintessential ‘only one shall leave’ scenario (complete with over-the-top, almost comedic murder scenes), the raw emotion and character depth cuts far deeper than traditional action thrillers. The film will leave you out of breath but still satisfied with how the narrative plays out.

9

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.

8.8