From Akira Kurosawa, to Godzilla and Studio Ghibli, Japan has given the world some of its most iconic titles in cinema.
To mark the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games taking place in Tokyo, we took a retrospective look at a selection of films which hold a lasting influence on cinema and popular culture, as well as those from filmmakers whose influences can be seen in modern Japanese cinema.
The 2020 Olympics – which, in the landmark cyberpunk anime Akira (1988), were actually predicted to take place in Tokyo – would see celebrations of Japanese culture take place across the UK and around the world.
With the games now postponed, we still wanted to celebrate cinema at a time when audiences look to discover (and re-discover) new and classic titles
– click on the film title to see our review.
> My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Seen by many as the gateway film into Studio Ghibli, the work of director Hayao Miyazaki, even Japanese animation itself.
> Godzilla (1954)
A film with a powerful message around mankind’s destructive nature, Godzilla is perhaps one of Japan’s most iconic and important films of the 20th Century.
> RAN (1985)
From a master of cinema, RAN from director Akira Kurosawa is considered his last true epic.
> Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
A film often compared to the works of David Lynch and David Cronenberg, but so unique it’s almost beyond categorisation.
> Shogun Assassin (1980)
The kind of bloody, balletic Samurai film you rarely see made anymore, Shogun Assassin stands as perhaps one of the finest examples of the genre.
> Battle Royale (2000)
Immediately gaining a cult status upon its release and smashing its way into popular culture, Battle Royale tells the story of what happens when a high school class is set loose on an island and told only one will leave alive.
> Seven Samurai (1954)
Considered by many to be the greatest film of all time, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a milestone in cinema, influencing generations of countless filmmakers.
> Tekkonkinkreet (2006)
A standout anime feature based on the popular Japanese manga.
> Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
A favourite among Studio Ghibli fans, following a young woman as she embarks on a journey with a wizard in an enormous walking castle.
> Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
An enchanting tale following a young witch as she moves to a small seaside town with her talking cat and opens a delivery service.
> Spirited Away (2001)
A truly original tale of magic and adventure, and listed by many as one of the best films of all time.
> Princess Mononoke (1997)
A story of conflict and the search for peace between humans and nature.
> Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2018)
A film which will feel familiar to Studio Ghibli fans, and one to be enjoyed by all. An enchanting world and a heartfelt story.
> The Boy and the Beast (2015)
A touching story, telling a tale of an unlikely friendship and how we find strength in one another.
> Shoplifters (2018)
An exploration of relationships and belonging, in an understated but powerful social drama from director Hirokazu Kore-eda.
> Our Little Sister (2015)
A sincere and charming portrait of family life.
The BFI has launched its Japan 2020 season, presenting Japanese film in new collections each month.
See a range of iconic Japanese titles via the BFI Player:
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