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10 Films To Watch Before Your Trip To Japan

Make sure you get yourself cultured during the Ja-planning phase.

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1. Godzilla


Let's kick it off with an obvious one. Godzilla is one of the most iconic creations that has come out of Japan and since the first instalment back in 1954, 28 more films have been released by Toho productions (making it the longest film franchise).

The original film saw Godzilla created thanks to an atomic bomb incident, playing into some of the political undertones that were at large in Japan during that time. Not all the movies have featured political messages though, with some serving merely as simple action scores. The franchise will also see Godzilla painted as a destructive monster in some films, whilst being a protector of humans in others, all the while being represented through suit-mation (some guy wearing a Godzilla suit and wrecking up mini cities).

2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi


No doubt that any foodie with a Netflix login has seen this one. It's a beautiful documentary exploring the work of famous sushi chef Jiro. It serves an effective introduction to the painfully dedicated work ethics of the Japanese people, and their desire to perfect their craft (as opposed to achieving fame and glory or simply growing). It also gives the viewer some appreciation for the complicated art that is sushi-making (that is not applied to your teriyaki chicken or California rolls back home) and the Japanese tradition of passing on skills/businesses through the family.

3. Battle Royale


You may have thought that the idea behind the Hunger Games was pretty original...well Battle Royale came up with the idea of throwing a bunch of adolescents into a wild arena filled with potential weapons with the instruction to battle to the death 17 years ago. Suzanne Collins merely added a bunch of political undertones. The film was rife with controversy, being banned in many countries or excluded from distribution lists. Despite this, it has become one of Japan's most famous films and is amongst the ten highest grossing Japanese films of all time. Even Quentin Tarantino lists it as one of his favourite films (unsurprisingly).

4. Akira


Released in 1988, Akira has helped to shape the scene for modern anime, providing a benchmark not only for plot line but also symbolism and production. It also helped to promote anime outside of Japan, becoming a cult classic movie worldwide. It is set in a dystopian Tokyo following WWIII. Rebels and resistance terrorists run wild with the Japanese Self Defence Force using excessive means to control the chaos. A gang of delinquent bike riders meet with these groups after one of them gets in an accident and develops psychic powers as a result. It's anime, it's action, it's sci-fi and thriller all in one and as a landmark of the Japanese film industry, you're bound to see it referenced throughout Japanese pop culture.

5. Ring


When it comes to unsettling and pure horror, Japan has you covered. Equal parts suspense, gore, motifs and classic scares, J-horror has it all, and, after the American adaption (which was done surprisingly well), The Ring helped to get the message out to the rest of the world. Focusing around a video that initiates an untimely deaths for each of its viewers at the hands of some supernatural swap girl that will haunt your dreams forever. At a time when the horror genre was dominated by b-grade slasher films fresh out of Hollywood, The Ring introduced us to another world of refreshingly classic horror films.

6. Spirited Away


No list would be complete without a Studio Ghibli masterpiece. Spirited Away may seem a boringly predictable choice, but not only is it one of the best films from the production company and one that you are bound to see all over Japan, but it also introduces a lot of scenery and customs that you are likely to meet with in your trip. The cute and traditional back streets, the picturesque country side, the artistic bathhouses and the mouth-watering food. Spirited Away also carries a powerful warning against human greed and the influence of the west on Japan's capitalism throughout the 80s.

7. Ichi The Killer


Another strike on the list for controversial films banned abroad, Ichi The Killer focuses on Yakuza gang violence with one gang member psychologically damaged and made to kill rival gang members. High impact violence features throughout, but some claim that the film actually aims to question our consumption of violence.

8. Seven Samurai


I put this on the list knowing that many won't make it through the 207 minute runtime (and hey, over theee hours of black and white 1954 goodness isn't exactly easy), but it's a pillar of Japanese cinema that cannot be ignored. Taking place during the Sengoku period of Japanese history, Seven Samurai is the story of a farming village that hires seven ronin to protect them from bandits. Although over 60 years old, it remains influential and heavily referenced to this day.

9. Tampopo


Dubbed a "ramen-western", Tampopo is a comedy about a pair of truck drivers who make a stop at a run down roadside ramen shop. After a series of events, the two end up mentoring the shop owner, helping to reinvent the tired noodle stand, re-naming it Tampopo. With a solid 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, this is a comedy that shows one hilarious situation flow into another and although the "LOL"'a are not constant, they are there.

10. Zatoichi


Zatoichi is a film about a blind Samurai protecting a small town from Yakuza gang warfare. After befriending two geisha sisters who lost their parents in a massacre he vows to seek revenge on their behalf which sees him take out the Yakuza members one by one in a memorable action sequence. And you thought you would get away with only one Samurai film in this list!

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