The 10 Best Japanese Movies of 2023

Discover the top Japanese movies of 2023 across genres like anime, comedy, action, romance, and more—streaming links included when possible.

By , 24 Dec 23 02:27 GMT

Though Japan’s 2023 box office revenue still mostly came from humdrum sequels of anime and manga franchises, there were still many gems from Japanese filmmakers.

So, what are the Best Japanese Movies of 2023 then?

This list aims to give an answer. Here, Cinema Escapist’s editors have curated the top 10 Japanese films of 2023. Our choices include both blockbuster and indie movies, spanning genres like animation, samurai, comedy, action, romance, and more. In line with our editorial philosophies, we’ve also tried to find movies that have some deeper social and political meaning.

Let’s look through the top Japanese movies of 2023! When available, we’ve also included links to stream these films on services like Netflix (region-dependent).

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10. (Ab)normal Desire

Japanese Title: 正欲 | Director: Yoshiyuki Kishi | Starring: Goro Inagaki, Yui Aragaki, Hayato Isomura, Shohei Uno | Genre(s): Drama

(Ab)normal Desire is a thought-provoking drama that centers around a set of individuals who become connected through a fetish for spouting water. As unusual as that premise sounds, the film is relatively tame and sympathetic; it never resorts to titillation throughout its two hour runtime.

Instead, the main appeal of (Ab)normal Desire comes through its nuanced exploration of what is considered “normal” versus “abnormal” in Japanese society, which is often not particularly tolerant of diversity. The movie challenges societal taboos, though never in a way that seems overly shrill.

9. Best Regards to All

Japanese Title: みなに幸あれ | Director: Yuta Shimotsu | Starring: Kotone Furukawa | Genre(s): Horror

Horror movie fans—especially those who enjoyed the Ju-On (i.e. The Grudge) franchise—might want to check out Best Regards to All. Takashi Shimizu, the creator of Ju-On, executive produced this movie, which is the feature debut of director Yuta Shimotsu.

Best Regards to All follows a nursing school student who starts noticing some frightening phenomenon when she visits her grandparents in the countryside. With its contrast between young versus old and urban versus rural, the film highlights issues like Japan’s aging population and the stagnation of small towns in its countryside. There’s a sense of futility that runs throughout the film and, despite differences in genre, Best Regards to All evokes 2022’s Plan 75 (#2 on our 2022 top Japanese movies list) given similar themes around age dynamics.

8. Great Absence

Japanese Title: 大いなる不在 | Director: Kei Chika-ura | Starring: Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani | Genre(s): Drama

Great Absence focuses on an actor named Takashi who has to return home from Tokyo when he learns that his estranged father Yohji is suffering from dementia. When Takashi returns home, he discovers a series of mysteries that he must unravel, including the fact that his father’s second wife is missing and potentially dead.

Given Japan’s aging society, Great Absence’s meditations on dementia and the relationship between old and young strikes a resonant chord. The film also aptly integrates flashbacks to provide an artistic exploration about the concept of lost memories, to heart-wrenching effect.

7. Shadow of Fire

Japanese Title: 火影 | Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto | Starring: Shuri, Mirai Moriyama, Ouga Tsukao, Hiroki Kono | Genre(s): Drama, History, Mystery, Thriller

Shadow of Fire tells a poignant story centered around an orphan who struggles to survive in the aftermath of WWII. When the orphan tries stealing food from a derelict restaurant, his life ends up intersecting with a ex-soldier and a destitute woman who both hold traumas from the war as well.

Besides holding a compelling anti-war message, Shadow of Fire also deserves praise for its cinematography. Director Tsukamoto chooses to emphasize contrasts between light and darkness, bringing life to the film’s title around “shadows” and the moral ambiguities around survival in the aftermath of war. It’s no wonder that Shadow of Fire won slots at prestigious international festivals like Toronto and Venice.

6. Kubi

Japanese Title: 首 | Director: Takeshi Kitano | Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Ryo Kase | Genre(s): Historical, Samurai, Drama

Fans of samurai films and works from Takeshi Kitano should check out Kubi. Directed by Kitano, the film dramatizes events surrounding the 1582 Honno-ji Incident, in which Akechi Mitsuhide assassinated Oda Nobunaga, and paved the way for Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s rise to power and unification of Japan.

Suffice to say, those with knowledge about Japanese history will probably enjoy Kubi the most. However, even if you aren’t a Japanese history expert, Kubi is still filled with slick action scenes and dramatic twists. The movie also offers some intriguing metacommentary on the samurai film genre, offering a satirical take on rituals like seppuku. Anyone who wants some samurai action, or a deeper understanding of an important period of medieval Japanese history, ought to check out Kubi.

5. Perfect Days

Japanese Title: パーフェクト・デイズ  | Director: Wim Wenders | Starring: Koji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Yumi Aso | Genre(s): Drama

Despite having a German director with Wim Wnders, Perfect Days is a thoroughly Japanese story that’s set in Japan, in Japanese, and even Japan’s selection for the US’s 96th Academy Awards. This humanistic drama centers on Hirayama, a toilet cleaner in Tokyo who lives a structured and simple life. Hirayama loves music and books, and also spends his time photographing trees. However, when certain intrusions occur to Hirayama’s meticulous routine, we get to learn more about his past and self.

Empathetic and neat, Perfect Days was one of 2023’s favorites Japanese movies among Western critics and art house circles. The film screened at Cannes and won multiple prizes, and garnered slots at the Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival as well.

4. Godzilla Minus One

Japanese Title: ゴジラ-1.0 | Director: Takashi Yamazaki | Starring: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Yuki Yamada, Munetaka Aoki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Sakura Ando, Kuranosuke Sasaki | Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

Godzilla Minus One is the latest live-action film of the Godzilla franchise, and it’s become one of the most critically acclaimed and financially successful. This film goes back to the origins of Godzilla, with a plot set in postwar Japan during the 1950s.

Similar to director Takashi Yamazaki’s The Great War of Archimedes and previous 2016 Godzilla franchise film Shin Godzilla, Godzilla Minus One touches on anxieties around the ineffectiveness of bureaucracies and governments at dealing with disasters. Thus, the film contains a poignant layer of modern relevance upon its incisive depiction of a devastated postwar Japan, and is more societally significant as a result.

Those who just want an action-packed monster movie should enjoy Godzilla Minus One as well. The film contains all the dazzling action sequences you’d expect from a major action flick; city-destruction and heat rays abound. Along with the action, the film’s characters are well-developed, and their emotional arcs help round out the explosions to make Godzilla Minus One an altogether worthwhile film.

3. Evil Does Not Exist

Japanese Title: 悪は存在しない | Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi | Starring: Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani | Genre(s): Drama

Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car topped our list of 2021’s Japanese movies. In 2023, Hamaguchi returned with another excellent film, Evil Does Not Exist.

Evil Does Not Exist takes place in a small village outside of Tokyo, centering on a single parent named Takumi and his young daughter Hana. The two enjoy an idyllic existence—but that starts to change when a Tokyo-based company decides they want to build a glamping site for tourists around their village.

Those who enjoy works from classic Japanese filmmakers like Yasujiro Ozu will deeply enjoy Evil Does Not Exist. The movie has numerous wide shots and an unhurried directing style, and spends ample time showcasing the wonders of nature. Evil Does Not Exist is not boring though; the movie sprinkles in moments of action and tension, which serve to highlight complex issues around development, capitalism, and resource exploitation.

Learn more about Evil Does Not Exist in our full-length review.

2. Monster

Japanese Title: 怪物 | Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda | Starring: Sakura Ando, Eita Nagayama, Soya Kurokawa, Hinata Hiiragi, Yuko Tanaka | Genre(s): Drama

After a brief sojourn to Korea with 2022’s Broker, famed live-action director Hirokazu Kore-eda returned to Japan in 2023 to make Monster. As with other Kore-eda movies, Monster delves into the concept of family—but also layers on explorations of coming-of-age and homophobia.

Monster focuses on events surrounding a young boy named Minato, who begins to behave strangely. Minato’s mother Saori begins to worry, and the movie becomes a journey to uncover what exactly is causing Minato’s consternation. The journey unfolds in a Kafkaesque manner, and feels almost creepy at times. However, the accumulated tension in Monster pays off in a captivating manner if you watch all the way to the end.

With its humanistic exploration of morals and human relationships, Monster forces viewers to examine the monsters in us all—and will leave a lasting emotional impact.

Learn more about Monster in our full-length review.

1. The Boy and the Heron

Japanese Title: 君たちはどう生きるか | Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Starring: Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Aimyon, Yoshino Kimura | Genre(s): Animated, Drama

Famed Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement in 2013. However, to the delight of Ghibli aficionados, he decided to make another film with 2023’s The Boy and The Heron.

With themes around flight and childhood that evoke Miyazaki movies like The Wind Rises, The Boy and the Heron focuses on a boy named Mahito who moves to the countryside after Tokyo is firebombed during WWII, and encounters a strange heron that ushers him into a whirlwind adventure.

As with other Ghibli movies, The Boy and the Heron paints a gorgeously imaginative world that captivates viewers in both visual and emotional senses. The film is a touching farewell from Miyazaki, widely regarded as one of the best animators—and perhaps best filmmakers—of all time.

Learn more about The Boy and the Heron in our full review.

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