Learning Japanese is about more than just studying vocabulary lists and filling in blanks on a worksheet. If you'd like greater fluency, you'll need to include listening to spoken Japanese too.
Thanks to streaming services like Netflix, you have access not only to enjoyable Japanese entertainment, but also the opportunity to practice both your listening and reading skills.
In this post, you'll discover the 5 best Japanese movies on Netflix for learners. Plus some tips to choose the right films for you. And the best way to watch them as a learner.
By the way, if you want to learn Japanese fast and have fun while doing it, my top recommendation is Japanese Uncovered which teaches you through StoryLearning®.
If you’re ready to get started, click here for a 7-day FREE trial.
Tips For Learning With Japanese Movies On Netflix
For many learners, the best way to learn from Japanese movies on Netflix is to turn on subtitles. But try not to read them. In fact, depending on your level, you may opt to watch an entire move without subs first. And then watch it again to see how much you understood.
But if you're just getting started, there's no shame in watching with subtitles to engage the connection between what you hear and what it means.
Also if a Japanese movie is on Netflix, that likely means it has Japanese subtitles too. So you can try reading what you see aloud. You can use this exercise to match your pronunciation with the dialogue. And test your speed and kanji reading abilities.
That said, not every Japanese movie on Netflix is going to be suitable for you.
Some types of content can be particularly challenging or contain a lot of uncommon words, leaving you feeling like you know absolutely nothing. But in fact, even in English, the movie would still be pretty technical in its terminology.
If you’re wondering which movies are good to start out with, consider these 5 as some of the best Japanese movies on Netflix right now!
Check out a preview of the recommended Japanese movies on Netflix in the infographic below. And keep scrolling for a sample of each movie in the post.
#1 A Silent Voice (聲の形, Koe no Katachi)
When it comes to emotional investment, this piece by Naoko Yamada and Reiko Yoshida hits the nail right on the head.
“A Silent Voice” is a movie following the life—and perhaps atonement—of Shoya Ishida, a bully who had been responsible for being cruel to a deaf girl who transferred to his school.
Years later, he attempts to reconnect and right his wrongs; together, they begin to learn to value both themselves and each other. The titular “silent voice” may appear at first to refer to Shoya’s deaf companion. But viewers may find that it has other interpretations too.
“A Silent Voice” is an excellent film with which to begin building Japanese competency.
Because Shoya does not know sign language and Shoko, his deaf friend, often struggles to express herself using her voice, beginners in Japanese may find that their simple and slow conversations are accessible and valuable for learning.
Like Shoko and Shoya, viewers are able to engage with people who are struggling to learn how to speak Japanese to each other, making this a good place to start watching Japanese movies on Netflix.
#2 Mirai (未来のミライ, Mirai no Mirai)
Director Mamoru Hosoda has continued to create movies that many believe have come to rival the likes of Studio Ghibli in quality. And “Mirai” is no exception.
This movie, which focuses on a young boy named Kun, who becomes jealous and upset when his family must pay attention to his new baby sister instead of devoting all of their attention to him.
Feeling forgotten, he runs away and discovers a magical garden that allows him to see the members of his family at different points in their lives, opening up his perspective on them as people and why they behave the way they do.
Seen through the view of a child, “Mirai” is an accessible film that tackles both complex themes and simple emotions. This makes it a worthwhile watch no matter your level of Japanese. That's because any type of learner has something to gain from the contents of this film.
Hosoda’s films in general are very accessible and meant for a wide audience. So if “Mirai” is not available on Netflix when you look, give his other films a try. “Wolf Children”, “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”, “The Boy and the Beast”, and “Summer Wars” are all excellent.
#3 My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ, Tonari no Totoro)
Most people are aware of this not-so-hidden gem from Studio Ghibli. While the Ghibli films are now widely accessible on the platform thanks to a partnership with Netflix, few options are as viable for new learners as “My Neighbour Totoro”.
Focusing on the story of two young girls who move to the countryside while their mother is being treated for an illness in the hospital, “My Neighbour Totoro” is an endearing movie with bite-sized language nuggets ready for the taking.
Since the two main characters are children, their language never evolves into highly complex matters, making the film a solid choice for learning common Japanese phrases.
#4 The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ, Kaze Tachinu)
On the other side of the spectrum, few Ghibli movies will challenge more experienced learners like “The Wind Rises” will.
This film, which follows aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi as he develops fighter planes for Japanese forces in World War II, is full of both nuanced and technical language that is best suited for advanced learners.
However, those who find movies such as Totoro too simple will appreciate the challenge that “The Wind Rises” poses while still enjoying the classic Studio Ghibli appeal.
#5 Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師, Hagane no Renkinjutsushi)
For those who would like to branch into the anime world, try out the movie add-on for the Fullmetal Alchemist series.
While this film may, at first glance, seem to contain a wide variety of very specific (and unusual) terms such as “alchemy” and “transmutation,” these words become easy to understand very quickly.
So this turns the movie into a great opportunity to view the language shifts among people of different ranks, stations, and skill levels.
There’s a little bit here for everyone in this story about two brothers who are so heartbroken over the death of their mother that they try to use alchemy to bring her back—to catastrophic results.
With one brother’s soul temporarily sealed inside a suit of armour, the two quest to bring back his body and restore what was lost to them.
Pick Japanese Movies On Netflix That Actually Interest You!
While there are a wide variety of Japanese movies on Netflix, what’s most important is that you select a film that interests you. This list is just meant to be a starting point.
It's no good to watch movies that are outside of your areas of enjoyment. This is not only because you’re less likely to pay attention and have a good time, but also because you’ll be learning words and turns of phrase that may not be as relevant to you.
Imagine all of the language you could pick up if you’re a sports fan watching a movie about a volleyball team! The things you learn would actually be immediately useful if you choose something that interests you.
The good news is that Netflix is constantly expanding its selection, which means that now more than ever, you have a wide variety of choices available. Give some things a try and see what sticks. You can even try some Japanese TV shows on Netflix too.
And you can use Japanese movies on Netflix as both listening and reading practice!
If you really want to go all out on using Netflix to supplement your Japanese, try watching some of your favourite movies with Japanese subtitles. You may find that you pick up a lot more, because you know what the story is about!
Above all, remember that learning Japanese is a practice in immersion. It's important that you expose yourself to all types of language: speaking, writing, listening, and more. Immersion through stories is the core of the StoryLearning® method.
Without doing this, you may find that your Japanese skills fall flat when you’re trying to get your point across. Communicate with real Japanese speakers to round out your vocabulary and give you a comprehensive understanding of how the language works.