2015 is coming to a close. This year has brought us a lot of good films from Japan, and 2016 promises more to come.
So, we have collected our ten favorite Japanese films of 2015. Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily the best Japanese films of the year, and we couldn’t watch every single film to come out. But, from what we have seen, we can without a doubt say that these are our favorites.
Without further adieu, and in no particular order, let’s get things rolling!
10. Have a Song on Your Lips
Directed by Miki Takahiro, with a cast led by Aragaki Yui, Have a Song on Your Lips tells the story of a former musician who has lost her inspiration to play. She takes up a temporary gig in her hometown of being a substitute music teacher at the local middle school, which also puts her in charge of the chorus club. At her first, her unwillingness clashes with their enthusiasm, but it looks like their hard-working attitudes may be rubbing off on her.
A heartwarming story with plenty of tearjerking moments, Have a Song on Your Lips will make audiences fall in love with the characters, the scenery of the Goto Islands of Nagasaki, and Angela Aki’s song “Letter -A Greeting To Your 15 Year Old Self-“.
9. Deadman Inferno
Directed by comedian Shinagawa Hiroshi, with an ensemble cast of big names including Aikawa Sho and Kubozuka Yosuke, Deadman Inferno is a zombie film seasoned with comedy. The story centers on a gangster, recently released from jail, venturing to an island with his friends to reunite with his delinquent daughter. What greets everyone on the island is a horde of hungry zombies, eating everything in their path.
The film is one of the most fun Japanese cinematic experiences of the year. The energy doesn’t let up, and the comedic banter will have your guts hurting from laughter. Keeping with the tradition of zombie flicks, there is a whole motley crew of characters to pick favorites from, but we’re sure you’ll be bound to be entertained by them all.
For an in-depth take on the film, check out our review.
Directed by One Hitoshi, and featuring a cast of big names led by Satoh Takeru and Kamiki Ryunosuke, Bakuman is based on the hit manga of the same name. The story follows a pair of high school students who are inspired to make it big as manga artists. They work together to create the most popular for the renowned Jump magazine.
What makes this film special is that it gives the audience an inside look into the manga world, highlighting not only the creation process, but also the struggles that come with it. The film also adapts the 20-volume manga quite well. It’s notable that it doesn’t recreate the comic picture-perfectly, but rather reconstructs everything so that the movie tells its own unique story, while still keeping the spirit of the original intact.
Directed by Kobayashi Shotaro, Maestro! is led by Matsuzaka Tori, Nishida Toshiyuki, and singer-songwriter Miwa. The story follows an orchestra of professionals who were once disbanded because of economic recession. A number of them are called back to action under a mysterious conductor, whose eccentric personality rubs many people the wrong way.
Maestro! is a heartwarming story enhanced by the magic of classical music. The story, an adaptation of the manga of the same name, uses music as a way to tell the struggles and frustrations of the main characters. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself crying along, especially in the epic finale.
6. Kabukicho Love Hotel
Directed by Hiroki Ryuichi, the film’s ensemble cast is led by Sometani Shota as a worker in a love hotel in Tokyo’s famed Red Light District. The film follows a number of character’s stories over the course of one day, including a Korean call girl on her last day, and a worker who has been hiding her partner in her apartment for 15 years. The thing that connects them all together is the titular love hotel.
The story is full of touching drama and superb acting, Shot with expert camerawork against a great atmospheric backdrop, Kabukicho Love Hotel is a story that will definitely take audiences in.
5. The Boy and the Beast
Directed by famed animation director Hosoda Mamoru, this fantasy tale is led by the vocal talents of Yakusho Koji, Miyazaki Aoi, and Sometani Shota. The Boy and the Beast follows a young boy named Rin whose mother dies, escaping from the world to prevent being placed in a foster home. He finds himself in the Juutengai – The Beast World. He finds a mentor and father figure in Kumatetsu, a beastman, who raises him to be tough.
Fans of Hosoda’s other hits, like Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, will feel right at home with this film. Keeping the trend of his work, Hosoda combines fantastical elements with drama centered on human relationships. An exciting and heartwarming tale at the same time.
4. The Lion Standing in the Wind
This film based on a true story is directed by Miike Takashi, the master of the bizarre and horrifying. The cast is led by Osawa Takao, who stars as Dr. Shimada, who gets dispatched to a medical facility in war torn Kenya. While doctors normally dispatched to this hell on Earth are happy to leave once their time is up, Dr. Shimada decides to stay behind and help those hurt in the fighting.
As with many historical biopics of inspirational figures, there is bound to be many sad and moving moments. Osawa does a magnificent job portraying a doctor who refuses to be consumed by the hate surrounding him, keeping a positive attitude that rubs off on the people he helps.
3. Solomon’s Perjury
Split into two films, this long story is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by renowned author Miyabe Miyuki. Both films are directed by Narushima Izuru, and brought to life by young actors led by Fujino Ryoko and Itagaki Mizuki. This murder-mystery centers on the enigmatic death of a student on Christmas Day. Marked off as a suicide by the police, his unsatisfied schoolmates take it upon themselves to find the truth, creating their own courtroom trial with real witnesses.
The strongest point of Solomon’s Perjury is the strong acting by the young performers. They exude a level of maturity found in actors twice their age, so it would be easy to forget how young they are. Full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing, Solomon’s Perjury is a murder-mystery that will have everyone invested until the very end.
2. Flying Colors
Directed by Doi Nobuhiro, and starring upcoming starlet Arimura Kasumi and veteran actor Ito Atsushi, this film is an adaptation of the novel Gakunen Biri no Gyaru ga 1 nen de Hensachi o 40 Agete Keio Daigaku ni Geneki Gokaku Shita Hanashi. The novel itself is based on a true story. The story follows Sayaka, a dunce who likes to party with her friends and has no interest in pursuing any dreams. She gets placed in a cram school, where she meets Mr. Tsubota, a teacher who devotes himself to making his students find their true potential.
The story has the workings of an underdog tale, but what really makes this film shine is the charm of the two main characters. Arimura is adorable and spacey, and has perfect chemistry with the enthusiastic Ito. The film gives an insight on the stress Japanese students can go through, as well as ways it can be fun to learn. Predictable, but nonetheless super charming, the down-to-earth portrayals by the leads make the film very worth the watch.
1. Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen
Directed by Beat Takeshi and starring an ensemble of elderly gentlemen led by Fuji Tatsuya, Ryuzo is a dark comedy filled with despicable, yet lovable characters. The story follows a group of seven former yakuza, led by the titular Ryuzo. The old-time gangsters decide to form a yakuza family after numerous run-ins with a group of younger thugs.
The highlight of the story is the comedy born from generational differences between old and new types of hoodlums. It’s easy to laugh at all the awkward situations faced by the old timers, and easy to forget that they are actually just as horrible and dangerous as the young folk they clash with. Also featuring violence that’s right at home in a Beat Takeshi film, Ryuzo will have you in stitches until the very end.
For an in-depth take on the film, check out our review.
Making this list wasn’t easy; there were so many good films to come out this year. But what do you think? What are your favorite films of 2015? Let us know in the comments below!
(If you’re interested in Korean films, do check out our Korean list counterpart on our favorite 10 Korean movies of 2015.)