Are you looking for something to watch that will melt your hearts and put your eyes into tears? Or maybe you want a movie that relates to your own life story? Aside from popcorn and drinks, a handkerchief too, might get handy as you get to watch the best Japanese drama movies of all time.
1. Tokyo Story (1953)
The first movie to start off our list of best Japanese Drama Movies, is the film Tokyo Story. This movie is a 1953 movie based on the 1937 film by Leo McCarey entitled, “Make Way for Tomorrow”.
The film follows the story of a couple who travelled to Tokyo to visit their three children. Upon their visit, they have seen how much their children have grown apart from them. Each busy with their own lives and career, they barely have spent the time with their parents as they only see them as an additional burden.
However, their widowed daughter-in-law took the time to bond with them and take care of them during their stay in Tokyo.
This movie directed by Yasujiro Ozu, won the inaugural Sutherland Trophy after its 1957 screening in London. This movie was also well-acclaimed by U.S. film critics after its 1972 screening in New York City.
2. Black Rain (1989)
The 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing is a big part of Japan’s history. This movie depicted the life of the Japanese people who suffered as an aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing.
The film tackled Shizuma Shigematsu’s chronicles about Hiroshima, before, during and after the bombing. Shigematsu and his wife were compelled to take care of their niece and to help her find a husband. Having been declined three times because of the Black Rain fallout, Shigematsu continued the search. As the story progresses, the chances of his niece getting married are getting smaller.
This film was able to translate to its audiences the sufferings, uncertainty and the brevity of life during this time.
Black Rain received a lot of awards and nominations, both locally and internationally. It won several awards from the 1990 Japanese Academy Awards. It also won the Best Actress award from the 1990 Blue Ribbon Awards. Cannes Film Festival awarded this movie the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Special Mention and Technical Grand Prize in 1989. Aside from the mentioned awards here, this movie gained several more in various film festivals worldwide.
3. Twenty-Four Eyes (1954)
There is nothing that compares to a teacher’s dedication and love for her students. Next up on our list of best Japanese drama movies is a story of a teacher’s unrelenting commitment for her students that will surely melt your heart.
This movie was set in a remote island community dating back from 1928 until the Second World War. Through this film, director Keisuke Kinoshita gives us a nostalgic look at the beauty and harshness of life from the eyes of a teacher who watches out for her students as they grow.
This 1954 classic was included in the Criterion Collection list.
4. Tokyo Family (2013)
This movie directed by Yoji Yamada is a 2013 remake of the film “Tokyo Story” by Yasujiro Ozu.
The story is almost akin to the original one, however, the director made a few deviations from the first movie to make it more relevant to contemporary Japan.
Tokyo Family still adopts the same plot, where a couple decides to pay a visit to their children in the city, but neither of their children has time for them. Despite the same plot’s adaptation, Yamada’s movie was proved to be still relatable even to modern Japan.
This film grossed around US﹩15.2 million at the Japanese box office. Derek Elley of Film Business Asia gave the film a 4 out 10 ranking.
5. A Last Note (1995)
A story of betrayal and forgiveness in friendship, A Last Note will surely translate to many hearts of its audiences. A story of a widowed retired actress named Yoko decided to go back to her vacation house with her friends for a break.
However, what was thought to be a fun and relaxing vacation turned south when one of Yoko’s friends named Toyoko confessed to her that she and her late husband had an affair that bore a child. Still in the end, Yoko and Toyoko reconciled as they both moved forward and continued their lives.
This film was chosen as the Best Film, Best Director, and Best screenplay and Best Supporting actress at Japan Academy Prize 1996. Moreover, it received several awards and nominations from different award giving bodies in the same year.
6. Kabei: Our Mother (2008)
Next up on the list of best Japanese drama movies is definitely another tear jerker. Another classic film by director Yoji Yamada, this tells the story of a mother’s sacrifice and love for her children.
Set in 1940’s Tokyo, the Nogami family’s quiet life was disturbed after the head of the family, Shigeru, was arrested and indicted for being a comunist. Since his arrest, Kayo, his wife worked day in and day out to be able to provide for their children.
7. Letter from the mountain (2002)
A doctor named Michiko finds herself suffering from panic attacks, then decides to take off from the city life and go back to her husband’s ancestral home.
In their return, the couple met a lot of people living in the village, and some old friends from the past. They also enjoyed nature trips as they lived a simple life away from the busy city. Soon, Michiko recovered and decided to continue her research work at the hospital and her husband Takao gave another shot at writing.
This film was directed by Takashi Koizumi inspired from a novel written by Keishi Nagi.
8. 1 Litre of Tears (2005)
This film did not just make it to the list of best Japanese drama movies, but it also inspired a drama series remake both in Japan and Korea.
1 Litre of Tears is directed by Riki Okamura. It is based on a published diary entitled, “1 Litre no Namida” written by Aya Kito who suffered and died from Spinocerebellar degeneration. The movie mainly talked about her real life experiences, as she fought her battle with the disease.
9. Postcard (2010)
A night before going to the battlefield, 100 soldiers are chosen to be sent out to the battle frontlines by casting lots. During the same night, a soldier expecting his death during the war asked Keita Matusuyama, another soldier at war to tell his wife that he read the postcard he sent her.
Soon after the war ended, only six soldiers went back alive and among them was Keita. When he returned home, his wife and his whole family were gone. With no one to go home to, he goes to Tomoko, the wife of his co-soldier who sent the postcard.
This film was written and directed by Kaneto Shino. Postcard was chosen as Japan’s entry for the Best Foreign Language film category at the 84th Academy Awards.
10. Departures (2008)
If you are a movie goer that is also into music, this film from our roster of best Japanese drama movies could be the one you are looking for!
The story revolves around the life of Daigo Kobayashi, a newly-hired aspiring cellist. However, he lost his job right away when the orchestra disbanded. With his newly bought expensive cello that cost him his future, Daigo and her wife decided to go back to his hometown.
Daigo, after a long search, seeks to find a new job. Expecting to work as a travel agent, he landed as an encoffiner (“Nokanshi”). In Japan, being an encoffiner is not accepted in the society, and people tend to look down at people with this type of job.
He accepted the job nevertheless, but when his wife learned about his new job, he was forced to choose between his job and his wife.
Departures got the best picture award at the 32nd Japan academy awards as well as the Best Foreign Language Film for the 81st Academy awards.
11. Still Walking (2008)
Still Walking is a 2008 drama film written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. This movie was widely accepted by critics and was awarded the Golden Astor for Best Film at Mar del Plata International film festival in 2008.
The story features a grieving Yokoyama family, who was reunited to commemorate the 12th year death anniversary of their eldest son, Junpei. Ryota, the younger brother, was jealous of the older brother which happens to be their parents’ favorite son.
This film will certainly break your hearts as it shows the brokenness of a family from the death of a loved one. Definitely, this is among the greatest Japanese drama movies that you should go and see as a family.
12. Our little sister (2015)
Second to the last from our best Japanese drama movies list is another family movie about sisterhood.
It’s about three sisters who were left by their father after their parents’ divorce. 15 years later, they learned about their father’s demise. The sisters went off to attend their father’s funeral. At the wake, they met their orphaned step-sister.
This film was also directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda and was based on a manga series entitled, “Umimachi Diary” by Akimi Yoshida.
13. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Last movie to top off our list of best Japanese drama movies, is a Hayao Miyazaki classic. If you are a studio ghibli fanatic, this might spark your interest.
The story took place at the end of World War II in Japan, where two siblings were orphaned after losing their parents during the World War. Together, they continue to survive in the midst of a rampant famine and unacceptance from their relatives.
In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Second World War NTV produced a live action of this movie.
So there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the list! All the way towards the end of any of these best Japanese drama movies will surely prick and touch your hearts as you get to enjoy and watch these films with your friends and families!