(Studio Ghibli)

From Hayao Miyazaki to Hirokazu Koreeda: The 5 best Japanese films to watch on Netflix

Netflix has an eclectic range of East Asian films that include some of the very best Japanese, Korean and Cantonese productions among others. It’s a section of the site so rich, we suggest you begin working your way through them immediately.

After the recent Korean wave that has taken over the world and has sparked an interest in Korean, culture, language and more, due to the spike in popularity of K-Pop and Korean films and series, East Asian culture is slowly being validated and recognised on a global platform.

It is essential to note that the Japanese pop culture industry has always been rich in terms of multimedia productions but with streaming services like Netflix showcasing more films and series, their popularity levels are on the rise.

Netflix has also begun adapting live-action versions of popular anime albeit their quality being somewhat questionable. Instead, we’ll divert your attention to some of the best Japanese made films available t watch on Netflix.

Here are five such Japanese films that you can now watch on Netflix: 

The 5 best Japanese films to watch on Netflix

5. A Silent Voice (Naoko Yamada, 2016)

This coming-of-age anime deals with sensitive topics such as bullying, physical disabilities, failing mental health, depression and suicidal attempts. Despite the heavyweight themes, the blend of realism and fantasy embedded in the symbolic imagery of cherry blossoms, koi fish, carnivals and fated meetings, the film is heartbreakingly beautiful. It is a tale of love and redemption and is hugely relevant as it deals with ubiquitous issues plaguing adolescence.

A well-rounded and fulfilling film focuses on a class bully, Ishida, becoming an outcast after he crosses a line and compels the deaf yet amicable Shoko to transfer to another school. That’s all before reading her notebook and realising her true feelings, which brings about an epiphanic moment that causes him to change for the better.

4. The End of Evangelion (Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, 1997) 

Neon Genesis Evangelion was a defining show in the history of anime with the last two episodes playing on the psyche with abstract colours and important questions that were acted out in the subconscious of the pathetic protagonist, Shinji Ikari, who was dominated by self-loathing, self-doubt, despair and daddy issues. The open-ended, ambiguous ending led to fans expressing disappointment that led to the creation of this 1997 flick that would most likely bring closure to the events of the show. However, they were proved wrong yet again when The End of Evangelion hit the theatres that were dark, sinister, fatalistic and all-encompassing. 

Sanity and chaos butt heads in the film when Shinji is solely responsible for carrying the future of humanity on his shoulders. With a constant looming theme of life, death and rebirth, the film is a surreal, avant-garde exploration of an alternate ending where it leaves more questions than answers. Intense and brutal, it is a strange ending to a spectacular saga!

3. In this Corner of the World (Sunao Katabuchi, 2017)

Dark yet beautiful, this film records the life of common people in a war-plagued Japan during the Second World War. Suzu, an innocent young woman from Eba in Hiroshima, got married to a navy civilian, Shusaku. She moves to Kure, a port city around an hour away from Hiroshima. With the war reaching its pinnacle, Suzu has to battle personal losses and emotional trauma while shouldering her duties and also contend with the return of her childhood friend Tetsu.

Sunao Katabuchi paints the picture of war-ridden Japan with immense skill and sensitivity. It provides an insight into the lives of people living in rural Japan and their reaction to the harrowing tragedy. The deplorable conditions of the people, daily air raids and limited rations are painted with an innate sensibility; Katabuchi never loses sight of his main objective, portraying the horrors via masterly brush strokes. The film ends on a positive note where despite their immense loss, the family relocates to a new place in newborn Japan.

2. Shoplifters (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2018)

An oddball group of people become a strange family in Tokyo as they live in devastating poverty. They are not related to one another and the main patriarch and his wife end up adopting a girl who faces neglect and abuse at the hands of her parents. Due to the various precarious activities they take part in, including shoplifting, the group is on the brink of a discovery that pushes them to make some difficult decisions. 

Inspired by the Japanese recession that led to widespread unemployment, massive poverty and a sharp increase in shoplifting, Koreeda based his film in the heart of Tokyo and explored the meaning of family and the dynamics of a family. 

Deftly, he deals with human emotions and responses while exploring the position of the characters on the social ladder. Emotional and vulnerable, the Palme d’Or-winning, Oscar-nominated film is one of Koreeda’s best, besides his 2004 flick, Nobody Knows, and deserves immense appreciation and recognition. 

1. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)

In inarguably one of the most brilliant, surreal and spectacular Studio Ghibli productions, the strong ten-year-old female protagonist, Chihiro, embarks on a quest to save her parents, who have been turned into pigs as a punishment for their gluttony, from the curse of a witch named Yubaba, with the help of her guide, Haku.

Having overtaken Titanic’s record at the box office, it is needless to say that Spirited Away is the highest-grossing film in the history of Japanese cinema. At the 75th Academy Awards, it was the only hand-drawn and non-English language animated film to win the Best Animated Feature, among other global awards.

Miyazaki’s work is a visual delight for the audience. Abound in detailed backgrounds, rich colours and fantasy elements, the Miyazakian realm serves as an escape from the drudgery of everyday life. He indulges in shooting the smallest of details that add beauty to the film.

Providing the audience with a variety of perspectives, Miyazaki lets them choose their preferred lens. Chihiro is the epitome of innocence at the beginning, and courage, in the end. The underlying message of the film puts children’s imagination on the pedestal via Chihiro’s character, who despite all odds, achieves the impossible with unwavering faith and determination.

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