2022 saw Japan finally reopening to international visitors after COVID, and theaters in the country were also less subject to health restrictions.
You might then wonder: what were the Best Japanese Movies of 2022?
Cinema Escapist’s editors have selected 10 titles as 2022’s top Japanese films. Our choices include both indie and blockbuster movies, with genres like animation, comedy, action, romance, and more represented. While feature-length adaptations of popular anime and manga franchises continued to crowd Japan’s cinemas in 2022, we’ve tried to avoid them in favor of more original films—especially those with some degree of sociopolitical significance. We’ve also included streaming links for services like Netflix, when available.
Let’s take a gander through the top Japanese films of 2022!
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10. Drifting Home
Japanese title: 雨を告げる漂流団地 | Director: Hiroyasu Ishida | Starring: Asami Seto, Mutsumi Tamura, Ayumu Murase | Genre: Animated, Fantasy, Adventure
Drifting Home is a heartwarming and thought-provoking animated movie that explores the challenges of childhood friendships. Set in a town undergoing rapid change, the film follows two young elementary schoolers, Natsume and Kosuke. Their former apartment complex is slated for demolition, and their relationship is also in a state of decay.
When a storm hits, the pair get stranded on top of the apartment’s roof amidst floodwaters; they must rely on each other and learn to forgive in order to survive. While Drifting Home runs a bit long, the quality of its animation deserves praise and its themes should resonate broadly.
9. Hell Dogs
Japanese title: ヘルドッグス | Director: Masato Harada | Starring: Junichia Okada, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Mayu Matsuoka, Miyavi | Genre: Gangster, Crime, Thriller
Hell Dogs is a Japanese action film that follows the story of an undercover cop named Kanetaka Jyougo (played by Okada Junichi, Japan’s top action star) and a yakuza named Murouka Hideki (played by Sakaguchi Kentarou). The two team up and quickly rise through the ranks, becoming known as the “mad dog combo.”
The movie, directed by Masato Harada and based on a series of novels by Akio Fukamachi, is replete with action scenes. It also features references to classic films and boasts stylish settings, ranging from minimalist gang offices to an abandoned spa. Though its plot gets complex at times, Hell Dogs is a generally thrilling and visually impressive movie.
8. Wedding High
Japanese title: ウェディング・ハイ | Director: Akiko Ohku | Starring: Ryoko Shinohara, Tomoya Nakamura, Nagisa Sekimizu | Genre: Comedy
Wedding High is a comedy directed by Akiko Ohku and written by comic Hidetomo Masuno (aka Bakarhythm). This Japanese film follows the story of a wedding planner named Maho Nakagoshi (played by Ryoko Shinohara) and her team as they work to ensure that newlyweds Haruka Nitta (Nagisa Sekimizu) and Akihito Ishikawa (Tomoya Nakamura) have the perfect wedding.
However, when a variety of guests with their own motivations and backstories arrive, they threaten to derail the event and cause chaos. The film is full of laughs and will be particularly enjoyable for those familiar with Japanese weddings; for those who aren’t, the movie offers some amusing cultural education.
7. Fragments of the Last Will
Japanese title: いとみち | Director: Takahisa Zeze | Starring: Kenta Kiritani, Keiko Kitagawa, Tori Matsuzaka | Genre: War, Drama, Period
Fragments of the Last Will (also known as From Siberia with Love) is a Japanese movie inspired by the true story of Yamamoto Hatao, a prisoner of war detained in a Siberian gulag. For those without the historical context: over 625,000 Japanese soldiers were detained in harsh conditions by the Soviet Union after the end of WWII, and many did not get released until the mid-1950s.
The film follows Hatao’s (played by Kazunari Ninomiya) journey as he fights to keep hope alive for his fellow prisoners and reunite with his wife and children in Japan. While its settings are bleak, Fragments doesn’t get bogged down in misery; and instead rouses viewers to look at how the best of humanity can still persist in trying circumstances. Japanese WWII film buffs might find Fragments of the Last Will a more mainstream counterpart to The Human Condition, one of the most epic Japanese war movies of all time, whose third part also features Japanese in a Soviet POW camp.
6. A Man
Japanese title: ある男| Director: Kei Ishikawa | Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Sakura Ando, Masataka Kubota | Genre: Mystery, Drama
A Man is a thrilling mystery that explores the impact of socetal prejudice in Japan. When a former client asks a lawyer named Akira Kido to investigate the shady past of her deceased husband, Kido gets sucked into a web of intrigue.. As he uncovers the reasons behind the identity switch, Kido is faced with mixed feelings about love and his place in the world.
The film features a standout performance by Satoshi Tsumabuki as Kido, and also showcases the talents of Sakura Ando and Masataka Kubota. With its penetrating character studies and social consciousness, A Man is worth consideration for those who enjoy character-driven mysteries.
5. Love Life
Japanese title: LOVE LIFE | Director: Koji Fukuda | Starring: Fumino Kimura, Tetta Shimada | Genre: Melodrama, Family
Love Life is a poignant melodrama about the distance between people who struggle to cope after tragedy. Its story follows Taeko, her husband Jiro, and her six-year-old son Keita. When Keita accidentally drowns in the bathtub, the family is left devastated—and must grapple with the difficult decision of whether to focus on the future, or find comfort in the past.
The movie explores themes of love, loss, and the importance of human connection. It features a subtle, muted performance by Fumino Kimura as Taeko, and a touching portrayal of a mother-child bond. Love LIfe is a moving, beautifully crafted film that will leave a lasting impression on viewers.
4. Shin Ultraman
Japanese title: シン・ウルトラマン | Director: Shinji Higuchi | Starring: Takumi Saitoh, Masami Nagasawa, Daiki Arioka, Akari Hayami | Genre: Action, Superhero, Tokusatsu
Shin Ultraman is a reimagining of the famous 1960s Ultraman tokusatsu (special effects-heavy action) franchise. The franchise, and Shin Ultraman, tell the story of an alien named Ultraman who comes to Earth to defend the planet from cosmic threats and kaiju (giant monsters). Working alongside Ultraman are human agents of the SSSP (S-Class Species Suppression Protocol), who must coordinate with Ultraman and get crash-courses in extraterrestrial affairs.
Director Shinji Higuchi and writer Hideaki Anno made Shin Ultraman as the second in a trilogy of tokusatsu reboots, with the first being 2016’s Shin Godzilla. While Shin Godzilla was a stronger film given its effective social commentary about Japan’s politics after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, Shin Ultraman is still decently entertaining for those who simply want a somewhat campy action movie.
3. My Small Land
Japanese title: マイスモールランド | Director: Emma Kawawada | Starring: Lina Arashi, Daiken Okudaira, Arashi Kahafizadeh, Lily Kahafizadeh | Genre: Drama
My Small Land focuses on a community at the margins of Japanese society: Kurdish refugees. Its protagonist is Sarya, a Kurdish teenager living in Japan who speaks fluent Japanese but cannot find acceptance among peers. To make matters worse, her family lives in a precarious legal limbo, as Japan rarely grants formal refugee asylum requests.
With its authentic and heartbreaking portrayal of identity crises and the travails of human migration, My Small Land helps audiences empathize with not only Japan’s ~2,000 strong Kurdish community, but also refugees at large. The movie never sensationalizes or becomes a pity party; it’s a beautifully authentic story that will hopefully get more people thinking about what Japan’s national identity ought to look like as the nation depopulates.
2. Plan 75
Japanese title: PLAN 75 | Director: Chie Hayakawa | Starring: Chieko Baisho, Hayato Isomura, Stefanie Arianne | Genre: Drama, Social Issue
Adapted from an eponymous short in the anthology Ten Years Japan, Plan 75 is a feature film about a hypothetical government program in which elderly citizens are compensated to end their lives in order to reduce strain on society. The movie follows the story of various elderly characters who are faced with this decision, including Michi, a 78-year-old woman struggling to find a job and a place to live, and Yukio, a widowed man ready to join his wife in death.
Plan 75 also explores the impact that such a program would have on the people who work in the “death-with-dignity” industry, as well as the ethical implications of deciding when it is acceptable to end a person’s life. Overall, Plan 75 is a thought-provoking movie that has huge social relevance given Japan’s rapidly aging population, one that we don’t mind being Japan’s 2023 nominee for the Best International Feature Oscar.
Japanese title: すずめの戸締まり| Director: Makoto Shinkai | Starring: Nanoka Hara, Hokuto Matsumura, Eri Fukatsu, Shota Sometani | Genre: Disaster, Animation, Coming-of-Age
Our choice for the #1 Japanese movie of 2022 is Suzume. The film is a production of Makoto Shinkai, who’s become one of Japan’s most celebrated anime feature directors thanks to hits like Weathering with You and Your Name. Shinkai fans will find that the director still has his magic with Suzume, which continues the director’s penchant for gorgeous imagery.
Suzume follows a high school student named Suzume Iwato, who lives in rural Miyazaki prefecture on the island of Kyushu. After meeting a mysterious young man, Suzume ends up stumbling upon “Doors of Disaster”—which she learns she has to journey around Japan and close one by one in order to prevent natural disasters from devastating the country.
Besides stunning animations of natural scenery, Suzume explores (as other Shinkai films have) Japan’s tumultuous relationship with nature in a way that even non-Japanese can find emotional appeal from. Suzume also touches upon themes regarding centers and peripheries, which is particularly relevant as Japan’s small towns (like the one Suzume lives in) are crumbling in the face of rapid rural depopulation. If you want a movie with eye candy, an easily accessible yet poignant plot, as well as some social consciousness about Japan, Suzume should be your pick.
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