(Photo by Walt Disney Pictures, Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Japan rose to almost immediate cinematic prominence with the one-two punch of Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 Tokyo Story and Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai, part of a creatively fertile post-war period that saw similar artistic strides in Italy, France, and Sweden. Ozu’s deeply human drama and Kurosawa’s action-genre big bang are both Certified Fresh, meaning they’ve maintained a 75% after at least 40 critics reviews. That’s the only Ozu movie on our guide to Japanese Certified Fresh films (though plenty of his movies are currently 100%, they don’t meet the minimum reviews threshold), while Kurosawa appears five more times with Rashomon, Ikiru, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, and Ran.
Others director featured in our guide to Certified Fresh films produced in Japan include Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters), genre icon Takeshi Kitano (Zatoichi), Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno (Shin Godzilla), the impossibly prolific Takashi Miike (Audition, 13 Assassins), and Yojiro Takita, whose Departures took home the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award in 2008, a first for Japan.
Anime has been one of Japan’s greatest entertainment exports, with Hayao Miyazaki’s films (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) at the forefront. Other prominent animation directors include Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, The Tale of Princess Kaguya), Makoto Shinkai (Your Name, Weathering With You), Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue), and Mamoru Hosada (Mirai).
Read on for our guide to 61 Certified Fresh Japanese movies! And let us know your favorite films from Japan (Certified Fresh or not!) in the comments.
Adjusted Score: 75.763%
Critics Consensus: Norwegian Wood is a poetic adaptation of the Haruki Murakami novel that uses rapturous visuals to draw viewers in its exploration of young love and lasting death.
Adjusted Score: 76.758%
Critics Consensus: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai adds an atypically restrained entry to the Takashi Miike filmography that loses little impact in favoring human drama over action.
Adjusted Score: 80.473%
Critics Consensus: A whimsically engaging sex comedy.
Adjusted Score: 81.253%
Critics Consensus: Perfect Blue is overstylized, but its core mystery is always compelling, as are the visual theatrics.
Adjusted Score: 80.648%
Critics Consensus: Outrage packs enough violent impact to satisfy – even if fans of writer-director Takeshi Kitano will find themselves familiar with many of its ingredients.
Adjusted Score: 82.981%
Critics Consensus: If slow and predictable, Departures is a quiet, life affirming story.
Adjusted Score: 83.573%
Critics Consensus: Dragon Ball Super: Broly may seem like colorful chaos to newcomers, but for longtime fans, it represents this long-running franchise near its action-packed apogee.
Adjusted Score: 84.993%
Critics Consensus: An audacious, unsettling Japanese horror film from director Takashi Miike, Audition entertains as both a grisly shocker and a psychological drama.
Adjusted Score: 86.561%
Critics Consensus: Sweet Bean’s deliberate pace demands patience, but the satisfying simplicity of its story — and Kirin Kiki’s absorbing performance — yield an array of riches well worth the wait.
Adjusted Score: 87.554%
Critics Consensus: Following its own brand of logic, Paprika is an eye-opening mind trip that is difficult to follow but never fails to dazzle.
Adjusted Score: 87.209%
Critics Consensus: A remarkable technical achievement, Metropolis’ eye-popping visuals more than compensate for its relatively routine story.
Adjusted Score: 88.116%
Critics Consensus: Godzilla Resurgence offers a refreshingly low-fi — and altogether entertaining — return to the monster’s classic creature-feature roots.
Adjusted Score: 88.799%
Critics Consensus: Gentle and nostalgic, From Up on Poppy Hill is one of Studio Ghibli’s sweeter efforts — and if it doesn’t push the boundaries of the genre, it remains as engagingly lovely as Ghibli fans have come to expect.
Adjusted Score: 89.819%
Critics Consensus: The Third Murder makes satisfying work of its weighty themes, even if it doesn’t quite stand with writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda’s best efforts.
Adjusted Score: 90.281%
Critics Consensus: Blade of the Immortal highlights Takashi Miike’s flair for balletic violence, making up what it lacks in strict originality with rich characterizations and kinetic thrills.
Adjusted Score: 90.483%
Critics Consensus: Sensitively written, smartly directed, and powerfully performed, Like Father, Like Son uses familiar-seeming elements to tell a thought-provoking story.
Adjusted Score: 90.278%
Critics Consensus: Colorful, rich with action and wonderfully choreographed, Takeshi Kitano takes on the classic samurai character with his own brand of cinematic flair.
Adjusted Score: 92.987%
Critics Consensus: Exquisitely illustrated by master animator Miyazaki, Howl’s Moving Castle will delight children with its fantastical story and touch the hearts and minds of older viewers as well.
Adjusted Score: 88.996%
Critics Consensus: Battle Royale is a controversial and violent parable of adolescence, heightening teenage melodrama with life-or-death stakes.
Adjusted Score: 89.945%
Critics Consensus: The Boy and the Beast combines familiar parts to create a gripping, beautifully animated adventure with inventive storytelling to match its visual appeal.
Adjusted Score: 94.824%
Critics Consensus: The Wind Rises is a fittingly bittersweet swan song for director Hayao Miyazaki.
Adjusted Score: 92.141%
Critics Consensus: Mary and the Witch’s Flower honors its creator’s Studio Ghibli roots with a gentle, beautifully animated story whose simplicity is rounded out by its entrancing visuals.
Adjusted Score: 90.857%
Critics Consensus: True Mothers uses an intractable conflict to explore the bonds of parenthood with director/co-writer Naomi Kawase’s usual sensitivity and grace.
Adjusted Score: 90.857%
Critics Consensus: My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising sends fans of the saga on an exhilarating adventure that ends the series on a beautifully animated high note.
Adjusted Score: 93.699%
Critics Consensus: Belladonna of Sadness has more than enough brilliant visual artistry to keep audiences enraptured even as the film’s narrative reach slightly exceeds its grasp.
Adjusted Score: 91.368%
Critics Consensus: Akira is strikingly bloody and violent, but its phenomenal animation and sheer kinetic energy helped set the standard for modern anime.
Adjusted Score: 92.865%
Critics Consensus: The simplicity and colorful warmth of Mirai’s animation is underscored by a story with surprising – and deeply affecting – depth and emotional resonance.
Adjusted Score: 96.34%
Critics Consensus: While not Miyazaki’s best film, Ponyo is a visually stunning fairy tale that’s a sweetly poetic treat for children of all ages.
Adjusted Score: 94.176%
Critics Consensus: When Marnie Was There is still blessed with enough visual and narrative beauty to recommend, even if it isn’t quite as magical as Studio Ghibli’s greatest works.
Adjusted Score: 95.411%
Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated and narratively engaging, Weathering with You further establishes writer-director Makoto Shinkai as a singularly talented filmmaker.
Adjusted Score: 94.198%
Critics Consensus: The story of an aging movie actress’ complicated personal saga unfolds in this sophisticated anime film that deftly blurs memory and make-believe into a meditation on the nature of cinema itself.
Adjusted Score: 101.13%
Critics Consensus: More than straight monster-movie fare, Gojira offers potent, sobering postwar commentary.
Adjusted Score: 95.112%
Critics Consensus: Tragic and haunting, a beautifully heart-wrenching portrait of child abandonment.
Adjusted Score: 97.682%
Critics Consensus: With its epic story and breathtaking visuals, Princess Mononoke is a landmark in the world of animation.
Adjusted Score: 97.624%
Critics Consensus: My Neighbor Totoro is a heartwarming, sentimental masterpiece that captures the simple grace of childhood.
Adjusted Score: 96.223%
Critics Consensus: Elliptical and deliberately paced yet steadily absorbing, I Wish presents a beguiling portrait of childhood that grounds its sweetly nostalgic glow with well-rounded characters and attention to detail.
Adjusted Score: 96.28%
Critics Consensus: J-Horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa turns successfully to dramedy and gives a unique (and specifically national) perspective to the universal subjects of family and identity.
Adjusted Score: 100.71%
Critics Consensus: A career high point for Akira Kurosawa — and one of the best film adaptations of a Shakespeare play.
Adjusted Score: 99.032%
Critics Consensus: As effortlessly engaging as it is widely influential, Yojimbo represents Kurosawa at the peak of his powers — and lays the groundwork for the modern American western.
Adjusted Score: 98.73%
Critics Consensus: Takashi Miike’s electric remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 period action film is a wild spectacle executed with killer, dizzying panache.
Adjusted Score: 100.321%
Critics Consensus: Visually lush, refreshingly free of family-friendly clatter, and anchored with soulful depth, The Secret World of Arrietty lives up to Studio Ghibli’s reputation.
Adjusted Score: 98.826%
Critics Consensus: A stunning feat of modern animation, Ghost in the Shell offers a thoughtful, complex treat for anime fans, as well as a perfect introduction for viewers new to the medium.
Adjusted Score: 102.779%
Critics Consensus: Akira Kurosawa’s sprawling, epic take on King Lear should be required viewing for fans of westerns, war movies, or period films in general.
Adjusted Score: 101.285%
Critics Consensus: After the Storm crosses cultural lines to offer timeless observations about parental responsibilities, personal bonds, and the capacity for forgiveness.
Adjusted Score: 101.375%
Critics Consensus: First Love’s blend of violence, comedy, and romance might seem disparate — but for director Takashi Miike, it’s just another wildly entertaining entry in a filmography full of them.
Adjusted Score: 102.359%
Critics Consensus: Spirited Away is a dazzling, enchanting, and gorgeously drawn fairy tale that will leave viewers a little more curious and fascinated by the world around them.
Adjusted Score: 98.787%
Critics Consensus: Demon Slayer’s visually stunning animation and masterful action set pieces serve a heartfelt plot that is sure to satisfy fans.
Adjusted Score: 100.703%
Critics Consensus: Kiki’s Delivery Service is a heartwarming, gorgeously-rendered tale of a young witch discovering her place in the world.
Adjusted Score: 103.683%
Critics Consensus: Ikiru is a well-acted and deeply moving humanist tale about a man facing his own mortality, one of legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s most intimate films.
Adjusted Score: 106.612%
Critics Consensus: One of legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s most acclaimed films, Rashomon features an innovative narrative structure, brilliant acting, and a thoughtful exploration of reality versus perception.
Adjusted Score: 102.283%
Critics Consensus: As beautifully animated as it is emotionally satisfying, Your Name adds another outstanding chapter to writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s filmography.
Adjusted Score: 101.977%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful, thoughtful, and engrossing, Jiro Dreams of Sushi should prove satisfying even for filmgoers who don’t care for the cuisine.
Adjusted Score: 108.4%
Critics Consensus: Understated yet ultimately deeply affecting, Shoplifters adds another powerful chapter to director Hirokazu Koreeda’s richly humanistic filmography.
Adjusted Score: 102.489%
Critics Consensus: An achingly sad anti-war film, Grave of the Fireflies is one of Studio Ghibli’s most profoundly beautiful, haunting works.
Adjusted Score: 106.536%
Critics Consensus: Tokyo Story is a Yasujiro Ozu masterpiece whose rewarding complexity has lost none of its power more than half a century on.
Adjusted Score: 103.807%
Critics Consensus: Thanks to director Juzo Itami’s offbeat humor and sharp satirical edge, Tampopo is a funny, sexy, affectionate celebration of food and its broad influence on Japanese culture.
Adjusted Score: 103.804%
Critics Consensus: Only Yesterday’s long-delayed U.S. debut fills a frustrating gap for American Ghibli fans while offering further proof of the studio’s incredibly consistent commitment to quality.
Adjusted Score: 101.734%
Critics Consensus: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film may seem modest at first, but this family drama casts a delicate, entrancing spell.
Adjusted Score: 111.639%
Critics Consensus: Arguably Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, The Seven Samurai is an epic adventure classic with an engrossing story, memorable characters, and stunning action sequences that make it one of the most influential films ever made.
Adjusted Score: 103.219%
Critics Consensus: Boasting narrative depth, frank honesty, and exquisite visual beauty, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a modern animated treasure with timeless appeal.