Believe it or not, they’re not all from Studio Ghibli.
When it comes to media, Japan is one of the greatest exporters of creative content. Whether it's films, video games, anime, or novels, the country consistently delivers quality storytelling combined with its own unique sense of style.
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 ten highest-rated on IMDb.
Animation house Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki possess a filmography that rivals anyone, but Spirited Away stands as their masterpiece. 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.
Spirited Away is available to stream on HBO Max.
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.
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.
Seven Samurai is available to stream on HBO Max.
Your Name is a romantic 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.
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. The movie 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.
High and Lowis available to stream on HBO Max.
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. The movie also touches on topics such as feminism and ageism, offering thoughtful messages beyond its stunning visuals.
Howl's Moving Castle is available to stream on HBO Max.
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.
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.
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.
Harakiri is available to stream on The Criterion Channel.
The third Hayao Miyazaki film on this list, and the fourth 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.
Princess Mononoke is available to stream on HBO Max.
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.
Ikiru is available to stream on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.
NEXT: The 9 Best Anime Films That Aren't From Studio Ghibli
Ty is an Australian writer, based in sunny Queensland. He is a massive movie buff, seeing most new releases at the cinema, and in particular loves the horror genre. Ty also loves live music, videogames, and all the dogs.
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10 Greatest Japanese Movies of All Time, According to IMDb – Collider
Believe it or not, they’re not all from Studio Ghibli.