Big in Japan: All the best movies set in Japan
Japan is no slouch in the film industry, with annual profits of $2 billion, Japan is the world’s fourth-largest film market after the United States/Canada, China, and the UK. There’s no doubt that Hollywood directly contributes to those numbers, as US audiences are borderline obsessed with the landscape and culture of Japan.
There are dozens of movies that feature Japan in a starring role, making us want to up and move to the streets of Tokyo. We’ll have to settle for immersing ourselves in all things Japan. Pardon us while we load up on goodies at the local Asian market, hit up a Japanese online casino or two, pour ourselves some tea and then curl up with the five best movies set in Japan.
Memoirs of a Geisha
Based on Arthur Golden’s novel of the same name, the 2005 epic drama, Memoirs of a Geisha was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning three. Featuring stunning acting, visuals, sets, and costumes, Memoirs of a Geisha had us falling deeply in love with 1920’s Japan.
Telling the story of Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo), Memoirs of a Geisha begins as Chiyo is sold to a geisha house at the age of nine. There, she is forced into servitude, nothing more than a slave until the house’s ruling hierarchy determines if she is of high enough quality to service the clientele, men who visit and pay for conversation, dance, and song.
After rigorous years of training, Chiyo, whose strikingly bluish-gray eyes help elevate her status as she becomes Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), a geisha of incredible beauty and influence. Her new life breaks apart World War 2 breaks out and she has to give up all she loves.
Lost in Translation
Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is a 2003 comedy-drama that was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning Coppola the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Tokoyo’s role in Lost in Translation is thought to be an audiovisual metaphor for the contrasting world views of the main characters, reflecting both the energetic streets and the serene space of the hotel.
Lost in Translation follows a lonely, aging movie star named Bob Harris (Bill Murray) who meets a conflicted newlywed, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in a Tokyo hotel. Bob is there to film a Japanese whiskey commercial; Charlotte is accompanying her celebrity-photographer husband.
Both unsure of their current relationships, the two find welcome distraction and understanding amidst the streets of Tokyo as they bond over their shared need for connection in a foreign land.
The Last Samurai
The 2003 action period drama The Last Samurai takes place in 19th century Japan and takes on the broader theme of the westernization of Japan through war. The high-grossing film was nominated for four Academy Awards, standing out for its acting, writing, directing, score, visuals, costumes, and messages.
The Last Samurai tells the story of Capt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), an American military officer hired by the Emperor of Japan to train the country’s first army in the art of modern warfare.
As the government attempts to eradicate the ancient Samurai warrior class in preparation for more Westernized and trade-friendly policies, Algren finds himself unexpectedly affected by his encounters with the Samurai, which places him at the center of a struggle between two eras and cultures.
Kill Bill: Volume 1
Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 martial arts film was Tarantino’s highest-grossing film up to that point. Kill Bill: Volume 1 was conceived as an homage to grindhouse cinema, including martial arts films, samurai cinema, blaxploitation films, and spaghetti Westerns. As a nod to Japanese culture, it even features an anime sequence by Production I.G.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 takes place as a former assassin, known as The Bride (Uma Thurman), wakes from a coma four years after her jealous ex-lover Bill (David Carradine) attempts to murder her on her wedding day.
Fueled by an insatiable desire for revenge, she vows to get even with every person who contributed to the loss of her unborn child, her entire wedding party, and four years of her life. After devising a hit list, The Bride sets off on her quest, facing each of her ruthless enemies head-on.
The 2013 Marvel Comic’s superhero film, Wolverine is the sixth movie in the X-Men franchise. Based on the comic book character, Wolverine, the film picks up the Japanese arc of the mutant’s origin story. The overwhelming theme of the film follows Wolverine, an anarchic character, trying to negotiate his way through a world full of honor, traditions, and customs.
When lured to a Japan he hasn’t seen since World War II, the century-old mutant Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) finds himself in a shadowy realm of yakuza and samurai. Wolverine is pushed to his physical and emotional brink when he is forced to go on the run with a powerful industrialist’s daughter (Tao Okamoto) and is confronted with the prospect of death. As he navigates his way through his haunted past, he finds a new version of himself.