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 platforms like Netflix, you have access not only to enjoyable Japanese cinema and entertainment but also the opportunity to practice both your listening and reading skills.
In this post, you'll discover the 9 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®.
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Tips For Learning With Japanese Movies On Netflix
For many learners, the best way to learn Japanese watching 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 movie 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 some of the top Japanese movies on Netflix in the infographic below. And keep scrolling for a sample of each movie and some more of the best Japanese movies in the post.
9 Movies To Watch On Netflix To Improve Your Japanese
#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 school student and 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 title may appear at first to refer to Shoya’s deaf companion. But viewers may find that it has other interpretations too.
This movie is one of the best Japanese films on Netflix 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 films 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 Japanese Netflix movie 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 what 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 a rural Japanese town while their mother is being treated for an illness in the hospital, “My Neighbour Totoro” is an sweet story and 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 popular manga 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.
This movie is not only a great anime movie but an amazing 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.
#6 A Whisker Away
Miyo Sasaki is a Japanese middle school student unhappy with her life, her high school crush ignores her and she doesn't get on well with her stepmother.
Then one day, she receives a cat-shaped noh mask from a stranger which gives her the power to transform into a cat. She uses her transformation to spend time with her crush who falls in love with the cat. Things don't go to plan as the mystery and mishaps unfold.
While there is a lot of drama in the movie, it's great for learning Japanese slang and understanding how young speak to one another.
Definitely one to add to your list of anime films to watch.
#7 The Forest Of Love
This is a dark one and not for the faint-hearted. It's an ultra-violent crime movie directed by Sion Sono.
The plot follows some Japanese school girls who get seduced and manipulated by an older man. The movie was inspired by real-life events that occurred in the mid-90s until the early 2000s in Kyushu – namely murders, torture, and extortion.
While the language in the movie is more geared toward advanced-level Japanese speakers, the movie tells you a little about a historic crime that happened in Japan.
#8 Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal The Movie
If you're looking for something a little lighter to help you on your Japanese learning journey, why not check out an anime movie? The Sailor Moon series has dozens of movies, all great for brushing up on your Japanese skills!
This movie follows the sailor guardians trying to bring light back to the earth after a full solar eclipse. Adventure and excitement follow as the superheroine tries to fulfill her task.
This movie is dubbed into English, so make sure you watch the original version if you want to brush up on your Japanese skills.
Learning Japanese using anime movies is a great way to immerse yourself in the language and pick up vocabulary you may not otherwise come across. So check out one of the movies from the Sailor Moon series!
Not to be confused with other movies with the same name, this is a film about a young single mother and her relationship with her son. This movie is a difficult watch. The main character tries to get the world to give her money as she does not want to work, and the movie follows the way her actions make her relationship with her son more complex.
The acting is compelling and makes you want to keep watching, despite the sensitive topics handled.
You can use this movie to understand more about Japanese society, as well as to learn some informal Japanese and how families speak to one another.
Pick Japanese Netflix Movies That Interest You!
While there are a wide variety of good 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 phrases that may not be as relevant to you.
Imagine all of the vocabulary 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 if you wish to learn Japanese with movies. 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 Netflix movies 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.