Real-world romance might be on the decline in Japan, but there’s still an abundance of Japanese romance films that cater to a variety of situations. Whether you need a date night movie or something to get over a breakup, Cinema Escapist has compiled this list (updated for 2018) of the top 16 Japanese romance movies for your consideration.
While many have common tropes, Japanese romance movies aren’t completely homogeneous — there are animations, live-action films quirky stories, tearjerkers, and more. The list below attempts to represent that diversity, so you can find a suitable movie regardless of your personal tastes. Want to find a movie that came out recently? You’re in the right place. Want to watch a more timeless love story? We’ve got those too.
Finally, given romance films often reflect a society’s values, we’ll also offer some insights into how these movies can help you learn more about life in Japan. Warm your heart, and maybe warm your brain as well — take a look through this list and find a movie you like!
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16. My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday
Year: 2016| Japanese title: ぼくは明日、昨日のきみとデートする (Boku wa ashita, kinō no kimi to dēto suru) | Starring: Sota Fukushi, Nana Komatsu
My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, as the title suggests, is a romance movie set in the context of time travel. 20-year-old Takatoshi (Fukushi) meets Emi on the train (Komatsu) one day and falls in love at first sight. However, Takatoshi quickly finds Emi to be strange—Emi seems to be able to predict everything about their future. This is because Emi is actually traveling backwards in time: Takatoshi’s timeline is reversed from Emi’s, making his tomorrow her yesterday—and her tomorrow his yesterday.
There is always a first “yesterday” and a “last tomorrow”—My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday takes a fresh twist on the classic Asian romance trope of the amnesiac lover and painfully drives home a tear-jerking question: what if tomorrow was the last day you would see the love of your life?
15. Norwegian Wood
Year: 2010| Japanese title: ノルウェイの森 (Noruwei no mori) | Starring: Kenichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi, Kiko Mizuhara
If you’re a Haruki Murakami fan: yes, Norwegian Wood is a movie adaptation of his famous novel of the same name. Set in 1960s Japan, the film explores college student Toru Watanabe’s relationships with two women: Naoko and Midori. In the process, it offers a stirring meditation on youth, loss, and budding romance. If you’re looking for a movie to spark meaningful conversations with a partner or process a breakup, Norwegian Wood might help.
Admittedly, the movie probably goes best with the novel. We recommend reading it either right before or right after watching the movie (you can read more about why in our review). As a standalone piece, the film is probably fine, but maybe not as great. If you’re going to emotionally invest in the story, you might as well go for the written form as well!
Year: 2013| Japanese title: ジンクス!!! (Jinkusu!!!) | Starring: Hyomin, Kurumi Shimizu, Kento Yamazaki
Jinx!!! might be a Japanese romance movie — but it’s probably best known for having a K-pop star as its lead. In the film, Hyomin of girl group T-ara plays a South Korean exchange student who tries to get her uptight Japanese classmates to get their romantic game on.
Filled with cute and melodramatic moments, Jinx!!! provides plenty of light entertainment. It also might provide an interesting sociological mirror to Japanese and Korean national characters.
In the film, Hyomin’s character teaches her Japanese classmates “romance, Korean-style”. This basically means teaching her Japanese friends to act more assertive. Apparently Japanese girls have trouble playing hard-to-get, and Japanese guys… well… let me just link to this article about “herbivore men” here.
Year: 2015| Japanese title: オレンジ (Orenji) | Starring: Tao Tsuchiya, Kento Yamazaki, Ryô Ryûsei
Based on a popular slice-of-life manga series, Orange offers a pretty standard Japanese teen romance storyline. The film’s protagonist is a 16 year-old high school student named Naho Takamiya. One day, Naho starts receiving letters from her future self, which starts shaping her interactions with friends and classmates.
With time travel, transfer students from Tokyo, and characters at risk of being hit by vehicles, Orange crafts familiar territory for those interested in a comfortable, escapist Japanese youth romances. When the premiered, it rose to #1 at the Japanese box office; perhaps many Japanese found it a familiar escape.
12. From Me to You
Year: 2010 | Japanese title: 君に届け (Kimi ni Todoke) | Starring: Mikako Tabe, Haruma Miura
This Japanese romance film’s plot references a renowned Japanese horror movie: The Ring. Don’t worry, From Me To You isn’t scary at all. Instead, its main character Sawako Kuronuma has the misfortune of having a name that sounds like “Sadako”, The Ring‘s famous female ghoul.
As a result, Sawako’s classmates shun her… except pretty-boy Shota Kazehaya. Touched by Shota’s kindness, Sawako starts growing closer to him. The movie does a good job at showing each characters’ emotions, as well as how they mature over time. If you’re looking for an easy-going Japanese romance, From Me To You is a good choice — don’t let The Ring relationship deter you!
11. One Week Friends
Year: 2017 | Japanese title: 一週間フレンズ (Isshūkan Furenzu) | Starring: Haruna Kawaguchi, Kento Yamazaki
Also based on a manga, One Week Friends has a pretty descriptive title (compared with other movies on this list). The film’s protagonists are high school students Yuki Hase and Kaori Fujiyama.
By happenstance, Yuki bumps into and befriends Kaori. However, a week later, Kaori forgets him. Yuki discovers Kaori has a special form of amnesia through which memories of anyone other than her parents will get suppressed after a week. Nevertheless, Yuki besolves to keep befriending Kaori over and over, week after week. You can probably figure out where things go from there!
10. I Give My First Love to You
Year: 2009 | Japanese title: 僕の初恋をキミに捧ぐ (Boku no Hatsukoi o Kimi ni Sasagu) | Starring: Mao Inoue, Masaki Okada
I Give My First Love To You also has a somewhat descriptive title. The story starts with a youthful romance, where two star-crossed lovers are brought together by… heart disease!
Our protagonists are Mayu and Takuma. Takuma has a heart condition, and Mayu happens to be his cardiologist’s daughter. Due to Takuma’s frequent checkups, the two become friends starting from eight years old. As the grow older, feelings start to develop, and… well, what do you expect?
However, there’s a catch: Takuma’s heart condition means he probably won’t live past 20. I won’t give away too much, but this is a very emotionally poignant movie. The film contains many bittersweetly beautiful tearjerking moments. Therefore, consider this movie if you’re looking for something to induce crying in your significant other.
9. The 100th Love With You
Year: 2017 | Japanese title: 君と100回目の恋 (Kimi to 100 Kaime no Koi) | Starring: Miwa, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Ryo Ryusei, Erina Mano
If you want a bit of music to go with your romance, check out The 100th Love With You. The film stars singer Miwa and model Kentaro Sakaguchi as college classmates named Aoi and Riku, respectively.
The two play together in a band; whilst preparing for their last performance, Riku reveals that he has time travel powers. This revelation kicks off a whirlwind romance that may or may not have an expiry date. As you can probably tell, The 100th Love With You has pretty standard Japanese youth romance elements. If you want those elements presented in a dreamy, musical form — watch this movie.
8. Heavenly Forest
Year: 2006 | Japanese title: ただ、君を愛してる (Tada, Kimi o Aishiteru) | Starring: Aoi Miyazaki, Hiroshi Tamaki, Meisa Kuroki
Adapted from a popular novel, Heavenly Forest is a movie that looks at romance from a more artistic perspective. The film centers around a college student named Makoto and his relationships with two girls: Shizuru and Miyuki. This might sound a bit like Norwegian Wood, but the two moves have rather different tones.
Heavenly Forest takes a meditative view of romance, but presents it through the dimension of meaningful happiness rather than melancholy. Furthermore, Makoto is a photographer. He likes practicing his craft in idyllic settings, meaning the movie contains ample footage of Japan’s beautiful natural scenery. If you’re looking for a movie that evokes the nostalgia of youth amidst striking visuals of nature, look no further than Heavenly Forest.
7. Our Meal for Tomorrow
Year: 2017 | Japanese title: Bokura no Gohan wa Ashita de Matteru (僕らのごはんは明日で待ってる) | Starring: Yuto Nakajima, Yuko Araki
Our Meal for Tomorrow offers a female-first vision of romance. High school student Koharu Uemura (Yuko Araki) sets her eyes on quiet loner Ryota Hayama (Yuto Nakajima) — and takes the lead by asking him out.
The film follows Koharu and Ryota over seven years, tracing their gradual maturation. Together, the pair explore traumas and dreams on rather equal footing. Rather than expecting Ryota to only comfort her, Koharu strives to share her thoughts both dark and light. In a country where women often contend with entrenched gender expectations, Our Meal for Tomorrow offers a refreshing respite.
6. 1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife
Year: 2011 | Japanese title: 僕と妻の1778の物語 (Boku to tsuma no 1778 no monogatari) | Starring: Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Yuko Takeuchi
1,778 Stories for Me and My Wife is based on the true story of science fiction writer Tayu Mayumura. When Mayumura’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, he decided to write a short story every day to cheer her up. He wrote for 1,778 days before she passed away.
If you’re looking for a touching story about the persistence of love against trying circumstances, this film might be for you. The “significant others afflicted with cancer” trope isn’t uncommon in Asian cinema, but the fact 1,778 Stories has a real-life inspiration makes the narrative more inspiring and empowering.
5. The Liar and His Lover
Year: 2013 | Japanese title: カノジョは嘘を愛しすぎてる (Kanojo wa Uso o Aishisugiteru) | Starring: Takeru Satoh, Sakurako Ohara
The film centers on a successful but reclusive musician named Aki Ogasawara, who uses music as a salve for depression. He mets Riko Koeda, a high school student with a beautiful voice. Aki gets involved with Riko, but lies about his identity ( thus “liar”). As the two grow closer, Aki must contend with the implications of this lie.
4. My Girlfriend Is a Cyborg (2008)
Year: 2008 | Japanese title: 僕の彼女はサイボーグ (Boku no Kanojo wa Saibōgu) | Starring:
To nobody’s surprise, My Girlfriend Is a Cyborg (also known as Cyborg She) features a guy whose girlfriend is… a cyborg. This may sound like an underwhelming premise, but the movie actually has a richer than expected story.
On his 20th birthday, our protagonist Jiro Kitamura spots a cute girl in a mall, who takes an interest in him as well. Later, he discovers that she’s a cyborg — with an interesting backstory that we won’t give away; let’s just say there’s time travel involved. What results is a captivating and heartwarming story that touches upon not only love but what it means to be human.
This movie is particularly interesting to think about given Japan’s social context. In an increasingly sexless and lonesome society, some Japanese really are turning to virtual partners instead of real ones.
3. Crying Out Love in the Center of the World
Year: 2004 | Japanese title: 世界の中心で、愛をさけぶ (Sekai no Chūshin de, Ai o Sakebu) | Starring: Mirai Moriyama, Masami Nagasawa
Crying Out For Love in the Center of the World is one of Japan’s most popular melodrama romances in recent memory. The film is based on a novel called Socrates in Love, which actually sold more copies than Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood in Japan.
Many staple tropes of Japanese romance got popularized as a result of this movie. Its plot proceeds as follows: after his fiancee runs away, a man named Sakutaro returns to his hometown and listens to audiotapes that take him back to an old flame. Without giving too much away, the film progresses through a series of flashbacks. Along the way we’re treated to (with no particular ordering) nostalgia, cancer, dreams of exotic overseas locales, and more.
If you want to quickly get a firm grasp of the “Japanese melodrama romance template”, you must watch Crying Out For Love in the Center of the World. It also has good acting and cinematography, so much so that it won a couple Japan Academy Awards.
2. Your Name.
Year: 2016 | Japanese title: 君の名は。(Kimi no Na wa.) | Starring: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Etsuko Ichihara
As Japan’s fourth-highest-grossing movie of all time, Your Name became such a cultural phenomenon that it inspired a matchmaking event. The film’s plot feels deceptively simple: a girl in rural Japan swaps bodies with a boy in Tokyo; despite a separation of time and space, they gradually develop a special connection.
Body swapping? Japanese high school kids? Don’t worry, Your Name offers more than your average seishun eiga (Japanese youth drama). Directed by Makoto Shinkai (known as the “next Hayao Miyazaki”), the film offers a visually stunning portrait of Japan’s landscape — and social realities.
It’s this latter point that might’ve made Your Name so resonant in Japan. The film touches upon trauma leftover from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, and also highlight’s the country’s withering rural communities. Its youth drama format is simply an accessible container for an emotional exploration of such issues that haunt Japanese today.
1. Whisper of the Heart
Year: 1995 | Japanese title: 耳をすませば (Mimi o Sumaseba)| Starring: Yōko Honna, Issei Takahashi, Takashi Tachibana, Shigeru Muroi
An under-appreciated Studio Ghibli classic, Whisper of the Heart tells a pure and touching story of young love. Our two protagonists are Shizuku and Seiji, a budding writer and violin maker, respectively. In the most delightful way possible, the two meet after realizing they’re checking out the same library books; things develop ever-so-gently from that point forwards.
What sets Whisper of the Heart apart from many other Japanese films is its sheer degree of humanity combined with accessible artistry. As both our protagonists are artists in one form or another, the film weaves the innocence of childhood with the vicissitudes of creative process — to elegant effect. Follow your dreams, and follow your heart, it beseeches us. Beautiful things will come.
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