20 Best Japanese Movies on Netflix to Watch in 2023
When I was growing up, Japanese horror movies were all the rage, with massive hits like “The Grudge” and “The Ring.” A lot of Japanese films have even become cult classics outside the country, including “Battle Royale.”
Watching Japanese movies immersed me in the language and culture and offered me an interesting perspective on how cinema differs between countries.
It’s no wonder that movie buffs and language learners alike turn to Netflix to check out Japanese movies.
So, here’s a list of some of my favorite Netflix movies that should keep you entertained for many hours to come!
- 1. “The Door into Summer”
- 2. “We Couldn’t Become Adults”
- 3. “Ride or Die” / “Kanojo”
- 4. “Call Me Chihiro”
- 5. “A Family”
- 6. “Re/Member”
- 7. “A Whisker Away”
- 8. “HiGH&LOW”
- 9. “Love Like the Falling Petals”
- 10. “Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop”
- 11. “Flavors of Youth”
- 12. “Mother”
- 13. “Asakusa Kid”
- 14. “Rurouni Kenshin: Origins”
- 15. “Hell Dogs – In the House of Bamboo”
- 16. “Hot Gimmick: Girl Meets Boy”
- 17. “Fullmetal Alchemist”
- 18. “River’s Edge”
- 19. “37 Seconds”
- 20. “The Forest of Love”
1. “The Door into Summer”
Japanese title: 夏への扉
This movie is an adaptation of an American sci-fi novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It revolves around Soichiro Takakura, who is played by popular Japanese actor Kento Yamazaki. After the loss of his company, Soichiro places himself in a “cold sleep,” then wakes up 30 years in the future.
The storyline explores interpersonal relationships through a slice-of-life setting with some sci-fi elements thrown in.
2. “We Couldn’t Become Adults”
Japanese title: ボクたちはみんな大人になれなかった
Genre: Drama, romance
Sato, a middle-aged graphic designer, finds himself becoming depressed after realizing he has become completely ordinary. But when he receives a message from an old flame, it triggers a series of nostalgic flashbacks about his past relationships. These force Sato to confront the growing pains of becoming an adult and the mistakes he has made along the way.
3. “Ride or Die” / “Kanojo”
Japanese title: 彼女
Genre: Drama, romance, thriller
Rei receives a call from Nanae, an old classmate that she hasn’t seen in ten years, and they decide to meet up again. She quickly remembers all the fond emotions she had towards Nanae and becomes enraged after noticing that Nanae’s body is covered in bruises because of her abusive husband.
To free Nanae, Rei kills Nanae’s husband. The two then find themselves caught in a whirlwind of emotions when they hit the road as fugitives.
4. “Call Me Chihiro”
Japanese title: ちひろさん
Chihiro takes up a job at a bento shop in a seaside town after falling in love with the food there. This job gives her the opportunity to strike up heartfelt conversations with all types of customers, which helps her feel less lonely in her everyday life. Unafraid to be herself and open up about her past, Chihiro connects deeply with many of the people she meets and changes their lives.
5. “A Family”
Japanese title: ヤクザと家族 The Family
Genre: Crime, drama
After his father dies, a young Kenji is taken by the Yakuza, and he develops a strong bond with the crime syndicate’s boss Hiroshi Shibasaki. The film follows the development of their father-son relationship, along with Kenji’s rise in the Yakuza and the changes in Japan following Yakuza exclusion ordinances passed in the early 2010s.
Japanese title: カラダ探し
Genre: Drama, horror, mystery
Asuka comes across the apparition of a murdered student named Haruka. She finds out Haruka’s dismembered body parts are scattered around the school’s campus, so she gets her friends to help her find them. The group of high school students then find themselves stuck in a time loop, where they are murdered and forced to repeat each day until they can find all the body parts.
7. “A Whisker Away”
Japanese title: 泣きたい私は猫をかぶる
Genre: Animation, adventure, drama, family, fantasy, romance
Miyo Sasaki harbors a crush on Kento Hinode, but all her advances are met with rejections. One day, she purchases a Noh mask from a mysterious merchant and discovers that this mask allows her to morph into a cat. Miyo uses this power to get closer to Kento.
Japanese title: HiGH&LOW〜THE STORY OF S.W.O.R.D.〜
The Mugen clan dominated a town in Japan until the Amamiya Brothers refused to submit to their rule. This created a split among the members, causing the town to be broken up into five districts run by different gangs. The five gangs, known by their acronym S.W.O.R.D., clash with each other in a tussle for power.
9. “Love Like the Falling Petals”
Japanese title: 桜のような僕の恋人
Genre: Drama; Romance
Haruto finds his hairdresser Misaki charming and asks her out on a date. The two hit it off well, and Misaki pushes Haruto to pursue his dreams of becoming a photographer. Their relationship continues to deepen until Misaki is diagnosed with a rare disease that leaves her with only one year to live.
10. “Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop”
Japanese title: サイダーのように言葉が湧き上がる
Genre: Animation; Drama; Music; Romance
Kouichi “Cherry” Sakura accidentally swaps phones with Smile, a popular social media influencer, during a chaotic mall chase. A friendship begins to blossom between the two after they return each others’ phones, and the pair decides to help vintage record shop owner Fujiyama find a record of “Yamazakura.” The hunt for the record takes the two on a journey that brings them closer together.
11. “Flavors of Youth”
Japanese title: 詩季織々
Genre: Animation; Drama; Romance
This movie uses three stories to highlight the notion of “four basic needs”—clothing, food, shelter and transportation—and uses three stories to highlight each aspect.
The first focuses on a San Xian noodle dish that the protagonist links to his childhood and love for his grandmother. The second storyline revolves around the struggles of a model to stay relevant in the fashion world. The third storyline focuses on a romance between two high school students that may be cut short by having to relocate for school.
Japanese title: マザー
Genre: Drama, thriller
Akiko is a single mother who lives in poverty while trying to raise her son, Shuhei. She leads her son along an unconventional lifestyle on the streets of Japan and exposes him to the darker sides of life. This movie portrays a chilling tale of how an emotionally unstable mother affects her child.
13. “Asakusa Kid”
Japanese title: 浅草キッド
Genre: Biography, drama
Before he became a comedy legend in Japan, Takeshi Kitano got his start as an apprentice to Fukami of Asakusa, another big name in Japan’s comedy world. Asakusa Kid tells the story of Takeshi’s youth and the strong bond he shared with his master before the two had to part ways.
14. “Rurouni Kenshin: Origins”
Japanese title: るろうに剣心
Genre: Action, adventure, drama, history, war
Kenshin Himura was a legendary assassin during the Shogunate era, but vows to never take another life after the Meiji government is instated. Ten years later, Kenshin seeks to help Kaoru Kamiya fend off a powerful drug lord and his gangsters, only to find his determination to not kill put to the test.
15. “Hell Dogs – In the House of Bamboo”
Japanese title: ヘルドッグス
Genre: Action, crime, drama
Shogo Kanetaka is an ex-police officer who’s consumed with the thought of revenge for the murder of his lover. He spends years cultivating his skills as a fighter and killer before being recruited to go undercover and infiltrate the Toshokai, a Yakuza gang.
16. “Hot Gimmick: Girl Meets Boy”
Japanese title: ホットギミック ガールミーツボーイ
Hatsumi Narita lived life as an ordinary high school girl until she got involved with Ryoki Tachibana, a tenant in her apartment building. Her life takes a turn for the worse as she finds herself being blackmailed and bullied by Ryoki.
17. “Fullmetal Alchemist”
Japanese title: 鋼の錬金術師
Genre: Action, adventure, fantasy, sci-fi
Based on the manga and anime series with the same name, Fullmetal Alchemist follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric on their quest for the Philosopher’s Stone, which can restore bodies. They’d attempted to use alchemy to resurrect their mother, but this cost Edward his right arm and leg and Alphonse his entire body.
18. “River’s Edge”
Japanese title: リバーズ・エッジ
Genre: Crime, drama
High school student Haruna Wakagusa grows close to Ichiro Yamada after telling off her ex-boyfriend, Kannonzaki, for bullying him. Ichiro decides to take Haruna to a river’s edge to share a secret with her — a dead body. Rather than reporting it to the police, Haruna confides in her best friend Kanna about the situation, and this incident unites the three in a peculiar friendship.
19. “37 Seconds”
Japanese title: 37セカンズ
Yuma is a 23-year-old woman who is disabled because she lost consciousness for 37 seconds when she was born. She has great aspirations to become a manga artist, but her editor believes she lacks worldly experience and implores her to lose her virginity so she can breathe life into her depictions of sex. Yuma decides to embark on a journey of sexual exploration to better understand her subject matter.
20. “The Forest of Love”
Japanese title: 愛なき森で叫べ
Genre: Crime, drama
Joe Murata, a manipulative conman, exploits the vulnerabilities of Mitsuko and Taeko, two girls dealing with the trauma of a group suicide pact from their high school years.
An aspiring film crew starts documenting Murata’s eerie exploits, which eventually spiral into violence and madness as Murata takes control of the film.
These Japanese Netflix movies cover a wide range of genres, plus their plots can be wildly original and unpredictable, so you’re in for a ride!
If you’re a Japanese learner who wants to practice with shorter clips, there’s also FluentU. Its Japanese lessons are based on video content from Japanese movies, TV series and other media, and they include study tools like interactive subtitles and flashcards.
Now it’s time for you to get cozy, grab your favorite snacks and binge-watch some great Japanese movies!