Foreign movies set in Japan
It is certainly no mystery that, especially in the 2000s, many people became passionate about Japan after seeing Western movies set in the Rising Sun. Some of these have become real cult over time, fueling literary cases or real fashions.
After all, Japan has always had a unique charm that has also attracted those who have never been interested in this beautiful country. Between paradoxes, distortions and questionable cultural interpretations, Western cinema has tried over the years to restore a more or less faithful image of Japan.
Here I wanted to collect some of the movies set in Japan but not Japanese that I liked the most, that go through different historical moments and that I found pleasant or significant for some specific reason. I hope you like them too, enjoy!
by Ridley Scott (1989)
Lovers of 80s thrillers, this movie is just for you!
Two New York cops in Tokyo, the yakuza and the underworld of Osaka underworld. An action-packed film that had earned two Academy Award nominations for Best Sound and Best Sound Editing at the time.
Enter the Void
by Gaspar Noè (2009)
If you have followed me for long enough you will certainly know of my visceral and boundless love for director Gaspar Noè: the union of his fierce and psychedelic directing technique with Japan is certainly something unmissable, but not suitable for the most impressionable.
Oscar, the protagonist, is a drug dealer who lives in Tokyo with his stripper sister Linda. Discovered by the police due to a betrayal, he is killed and embarks on a long out-of-body journey between the past and the future - in a fluctuating, mesmerizing and cruel narrative that only Noah can deliver.
Hiroshima mon amour
by Alain Resnais (1959)
Written by Marguerite Duras (in 1961 nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay), Hiroshima mon amour is to be counted among one of the very first works of the Nouvelle Vague.
The film deals with the passion and love between a Japanese architect and a French actress through a skilful use of flashbacks, in the background France of the Second World War and Japan of the nuclear bomb disaster.
I racconti del cuscino
The pillow book by Peter Greenaway (1996)
Nagiko, a Japanese model who lives in Hong Kong, takes pleasure in being written on her body by her lovers, as a reminder of the birthday wishes that her father painted on her face.
This plot is inspired by the work Note del guanciale (枕 草 子 Makura no Sōshi, year 1000), by the Japanese writer Sei Shōnagon, companion of the Empress Teishi.
Lost in translation
by Sofia Coppola (2003)
Sofia Coppola is one of my great loves in life: I love all of her, absolutely all films. Lost in translation in a particular way, of course. I have seen and reviewed it so many times over time that I have learned the lines by heart! I know I'm not the only one who loves this movie, after all it's just gorgeous and timeless.
The plot revolves around the relationship that gradually develops between the actor Bob Harris and the newly graduated Charlotte in the beautiful Park Hyatt in Tokyo (I obviously went there and asked to be seated right where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson were sitting.)
Equip yourself with handkerchiefs before the vision because she makes you cry every time you look at it!
The last samurai
The last samurai by Edward Zwick (2003)
Set in Japan during the Satsuma Rebellion, it sees a former US war veteran (Tom Cruise) embrace the samurai cause against the young Meiji government - which will open Japan's doors to the West after 200 years of total closure.
Memorie di una geisha
Memoirs of a geisha by Rob Marshall (2005)
Is there a film that has brought the general public closer to Japan than Memoirs of a Geisha? I don't think so (I don't think Hachiko - which I didn't like anything about - and Lost in translation - probably too sophisticated - were not that effective either).
Although I consider it full of historical inaccuracies and questionable from many technical points of view, this film is in fact a real cult (as was Arthur Golden's novel).
In my opinion it is to be "seen with a grain of salt", as a starting point to then deepen the historical and social question of the geisha. The settings are wonderful: if you have already been to Japan you will be captivated by melancholy, if you have never been there you will not wait to leave for Kyoto!
by Gualtiero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi (1962)
Documentary film forefather of the "world-movies" with shocking and at the same time anthropological tones, it shows habits and customs of various parts of the world. It was this film that made the myth of Kobe beef hydrated in beer famous all over the world, as it is shown.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
by Justin Lin (2006)
Sean Boswell, a fan of underground car racing, is sent by his mother from Arizona to his father in Tokyo, hoping that he will settle down. He meets Neela and falls in love with her. The girl is with "D.K." (Drift King), driving champion and grandson of a mighty yakuza boss.
It is a film with all (but absolutely all) the American stereotypes of those years, you watch it for drifting, in fact, the sporting practice born in the 90s and which in Japan has depopulated thanks to the road acrobatics of Keiichi Tsuchiya (today considered the best drifter in the world).
The rallies, the modifications to the cars, the colors and the races are all part of a great subculture that in Japan, especially at the beginning of the millennium, has depopulated.
The ramen girl
by Robert Allan Ackerman (2008)
A little fairy tale, a little reality: a young student who embodies USA, finds herself in Tokyo where she decides to learn the art of ramen from the surly chef Maezumi, who in contrast represents conservative Japan. Will the light-headed and good-hearted Abby survive the hard life of ramen-ya?
A light film, without big pretensions but that will put you in a good mood as well as very hungry! Perfect for people like me who love Japanese food movies and series.
by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Bong Joon-ho (2008)
Tokyo! is a particular three-episode collective film set in Tokyo and made by three non-Japanese directors. The fil rouge is certainly the surrealist style that permeates them: the first tells the story of a young couple who have just arrived in the capital, the second deals with the appearance of a singular specimen a little bit human monster, the third brings to the big screen the problem of hikikomori.
by Wim Wenders (1985)
Documentary set in Tokyo and dedicated to the great Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu.
by Gérard Krawczyk, Luc Besson (2001)
Hubert Fiorentini (Jean Reno) and Yumi (Ryōko Hirosue) are the stars of this fun and fast-paced action film and a bit of a comedy set in Tokyo.
The title refers to the famous very spicy Japanese horseradish of which the French police commissioner is greedy and which he eats in large quantities without suffering.
Agente 007 - Si vive solo due volte
You Only Live Twice by Lewis Gilbert (1967)
Of all the places where James Bond, the mythical character born from the creative genius of Ian Fleming, could he miss Japan? Obviously not, in fact here is our hero grappling with a dangerous international crisis in the middle of the Cold War in the shadow of the threat of a Third World War.
A film that is certainly affected by the years (just look at the archaic special effects) but which is still worth watching. Certain jokes that in my opinion are decidedly misogynistic that today make us pale - after all, cinema is also a mirror that crystallizes a society and its prejudices.
Stupeur et tremblements
by Alain Corneau (2003)
Film based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Amélie Nothomb, published in 1999.
A Belgian employee, with an excellent command of French and Japanese, returns to Japan to work. Waiting for her in the office, however, humiliations and mobbing.
(This article contains affiliate links)