When it comes to media and entertainment, Japan is best known for anime. However, there are also a lot of good Japanese movies that veer away from the anime format and let you immerse in more realistic depictions of Japanese society and culture. So, in this article, we’ll introduce you to the best non-anime movies that will surely tug at your heartstrings. If you’re an avid anime fan, we’ve got a dedicated list of tearjerking anime movies too.
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There’s no better way to start the list than with an award-winning Japanese film: Departures. It has won several awards in various local and international festivals and award shows, most notably the 2009 Oscar for best foreign-language film.
The film boldly, beautifully tackles the taboo around working with the dead. It is about a young failed cellist who finds an unlikely passion in working as a mortician for funerals, a job that most of society deems not proper or clean.
Another internationally acclaimed Japanese movie that’s sure to touch your heart is Shoplifters, which won the Palme d’Or in the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. The film is about a Japanese family, composed of a couple and two children, that scrapes by on shoplifting. They take in an abandoned little girl, which becomes the catalyst for the revelation of the family’s deeper secrets. While the conditions may be disturbing, the film evokes reflection on what truly makes a family as well as the realities of poverty in a wealthy society.
Like Father, Like Son (2013)
From the same award-winning director of Shoplifters, Hirokazu Koreeda, Like Father, Like Son also explores the theme of family. In the film, two couples are faced with a dilemma after learning that their sons had been switched after birth. One may think that it’s an easy decision to make—but there’s something in the bond between a parent and a child that may be thicker than blood.
37 Seconds (2019)
Offering a unique perspective on living with a disability, 37 Seconds takes you along the journey of an aspiring manga artist with cerebral palsy named Yuma. As she breaks free of her overprotective mother, Yuma bravely ventures into the outside world to chase her dream and attain independence. Beyond her disability, Yuma is much like any of us and her struggles and adventures are very relatable in the modern world.
Crying Out Love in the Center of the World (2004)
This film is an older Japanese classic that inspired a South Korean remake titled My Girl and I starring Song Hye-kyo and Cha Tae-hyun. Crying Out Love in the Center of the World follows a couple who uncovers an old cassette tape, which prompts them to go back to their hometown and relive their past. Lost memories and feelings of grief resurface as they listen to the voice of an old friend and lover who has long departed.
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