10 Best Japanese Movies of All Time, According to IMDb


When it comes to media, Japan is one of the greatest exporters of creative content. Whether it’s Japanese films, video games, anime, or novels, the country consistently delivers quality storytelling combined with its own unique sense of style.


RELATED: Studio Ghibli Movies Ranked from Worst to Best

In the realm of film, Japan has an abundance of great movies. Whether it’s animated films that commentate on the triumphs and failures of humanity, or sweeping epics set in feudal times, the country is host to a legion of talented filmmakers. While there are more fantastic Japanese films than one list can cover, here are the top ten Japanese movies on IMDb.

Updated on January 6th, 2023, by Hannah Saab:

The list of the best Japanese movies of all time on IMDb’s Top 250 rarely changes, and for a good reason. While the scores may slightly shift every now and then, there’s no denying that there are some beloved Japanese movies that have become classics and are irreplaceable on the platform.

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10/10 ‘Ran’ (1985) – 8.2

Available to rent on Apple iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play Movies.

An army positioned in a field in Ran

Released towards the end of his career, Akira Kurosawa‘s Ran holds a place as one of his finest films, as well as standing amongst the greatest movies ever made. Influenced by Shakespeare‘s King Lear, the story follows an aging warlord who attempts to pass his kingdom to his three sons.

The final epic of his career, Ran is a culmination of all the themes and techniques Kurosawa expressed throughout his filmography. The film earned him his only nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director.

9/10 ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (2004) – 8.2

Available to stream on HBO Max.

Howl's Moving Castle

Another classic from Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, Howl’s Moving Castle is set in a fictional kingdom where magic exists. When a young girl is transformed into an old woman by a witch, she finds herself befriending a wizard named Howl and travels with him aboard his titular moving castle in an effort to break the spell.

Miyazaki has claimed that Howl’s is his favorite creation, and he made it as a way to express his disdain for America’s invasion of Iraq. Howl’s Moving Castle also touches on feminism and ageism, offering thoughtful messages beyond its stunning visuals.

8/10 ‘Ikiru’ (1952) – 8.3

Available to stream on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.

Watanabe sitting on a swing in Ikiru
Image via Toho

Akira Kurosawa’s 13th film, Ikiru provides one of his most understated stories. When an aged man nearing retirement discovers he is terminally ill, he attempts to make the most of his final days. Despite a strained relationship with his son, he vows to make a mark on the world through the happiness he can leave with others.

Commentating on the purpose of life and the acceptance of death, Ikiru explores themes that everyone will find relatable. The film is also Kurosawa’s examination of what he considered to be a period where Japanese family life was falling apart.

7/10 ‘High and Low’ (1963) – 8.4

Available to stream on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.

Toshiro Mifune in High and Low
Image via Toho

Wealthy Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is a company executive, who is secretly attempting to stage a company buyout. However, when he receives a call claiming his son has been kidnaped, and he needs to pay a ransom to see him again, Gondo finds himself in a precarious situation.

What begins as a tense drama soon turns into a police procedural, as detectives become involved in the search for the perpetrator. High and Low mostly serves as an examination of Gondo’s character, as he is forced to balance his desire to achieve success with that of being a good person.

6/10 ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997) – 8.4

Available to stream on HBO Max.

A young girl has blood on her mouth while a large white wolf stands behind her
Image via Studio Ghibli

The fourth creature-filled film from Studio Ghibli, Princess Mononoke helped establish both of their names internationally. The film follows a young prince who finds himself in a war between the spirits of a forest and the humans harvesting it for resources.

A portrayal of humanity’s negative effect on the environment, the film refuses to paint a clear villain. Both the gods of the forest and the humans have understandable reasons for their side of the conflict, and Princess Mononoke presents the ideal solution as a middle ground between mankind and nature.

5/10 ‘Your Name’ (2016) – 8.4

Available to rent on Apple iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play Movies.

Mitsuha and Taki sitting together in Your Name

Worthy of a spot among the top Japanese movies, Your Name is a romantic body swap anime film that tells the story of two teenagers living in modern Japan. The pair begin to swap bodies and are forced to live each other’s lives for periods of time. In an effort to solve their dilemma, the teens decide to meet for the first time.

The film was a major success at release and was praised by critics, both within Japan and overseas. Your Name is beautifully animated, while the story does a fine job of portraying the earnestness of young love and the awkwardness of trying to navigate your teenage years.

4/10 ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ (1988) – 8.5

Available to rent on Apple iTunes.

Brother and sister surrounded by Grave of the Fireflies

Easily the most depressing film on this list, Grave of the Fireflies tells the story of a teenage boy and his younger sister. Set during the final months of World War II, the film follows the sibling’s desperate attempt to survive as the war finds its way to their home.

Animated by Studio Ghibli, the film is as beautiful as it is haunting. Grave of the Fireflies does not shy away from the harsh realities of war and its impact on civilians. The movie is one of the greatest war films of all time, and a milestone in Japanese animation.

3/10 ‘Harakiri’ (1962) – 8.6

Available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Hanshiro ready to fight in Harakiri

One of the best samurai films of all time, if not the best, Harakiri begins with an elder samurai arriving at the estate of a feudal lord. The samurai asks the lord if he may commit seppuku within his manor, causing the samurai to explain the events that led him here.

An anti-samurai film, Harakiri criticizes the failings the samurai code held for its followers. When wars had been won and peace enveloped the land, samurai often found themselves without purpose, choosing to take their own lives by performing “harakiri,” resulting in a tragic waste of life.

2/10 ‘Seven Samurai’ (1954) – 8.6

Available to stream on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.

The cast of Seven Samurai

Directed by legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai tells the tale of seven samurai who band together to protect a village from the bandits who threaten it. Each of the samurai comes from a different background, but they all find meaning in protecting those that cannot protect themselves.

Often cited among the most influential and best Japanese films of all time, Seven Samurai was adapted in America and released as The Magnificent Seven, placing it in a Western setting. The movie’s storyline and concept of “getting a team together” can be felt in media everywhere, with the film’s influence being felt in The Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan, and even Avengers: Endgame.

1/10 ‘Spirited Away’ (2001) – 8.6

Available to stream on HBO Max.

Chihiro in 'Spirited Away'

Animation house Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki possess a filmography that rivals anyone, but Spirited Away stands as their masterpiece (and continues to be one of the most famous Japanese movies). When ten-year-old Chihiro witnesses her parents being turned into pigs by a witch, she must work in the witch’s bathhouse to earn her parents’ freedom.

What follows is an amazing display of animation and imagination as Chihiro finds herself in a wondrous world parallel to our own, full of quirky characters and bizarre creations. Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, making it the first, and only, non-English language film to do so.

NEXT: The Best Anime Films That Aren’t From Studio Ghibli



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