Hello! It’s Yutaro.
How is your Japanese learning going?
Learning Japanese is not just remembering the words and grammar rules, but also their unique cultural norms and social systems. Textbooks allow you to learn all the basic Japanese vocabulary and phrases. However, they do not teach those cultural contexts and linguistic principles of Japanese culture which are crucial to understanding Japanese effectively.
In my opinion, watching movies and tv shows is a great way to gain those cultural experiences even though you are 5,000 miles away from Japan.
So, in today’s post, I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite movies where you can learn a lot about Japanese cultures!
- 『モテキ』”Love Strikes!”
- 『ぼくたちと駐在さんの700日戦争』(700 Days of Battle: Us vs. the Police)
- 『時をかける少女』(The Girl Who Leapt Through Time)
- 『ビリギャル』(Flying Colors)
- 『ピンポン』(Ping Pong)
- 『スウィングガールズ』(Swing Girls)
『ウォーターボーイズ』is a Japanese comedy film released in 2001 about 5 high-school students who started a synchronized swimming team. These 5 boys were mocked by other students at the beginning given the fact that they are men and doing synchronized swimming which is usually performed by women.
This movie was such a success in Japan and was nominated for the 8 Japan Academy Prize which is the biggest film award in Japan. It resulted in winning 2 awards; Best Newcomer and Best Music Score.
The Plot of 『ウォーターボーイズ』
The main character Suzuki is a normal high-school student who is eager to become an excellent swimmer. However, in his high school, he is the only member of the swimming team.
Shortly after a beautiful swimming teacher is hired, almost all the entire male students decide to join the swimming team. However, the new teacher is revealed to be a synchronizing swimming coach, then almost all of them choose to leave the team. Only Suzuki (original member) and 4 other students stay in the team. Soon the beautiful teacher realizes that she is pregnant, the 5 boys are left and forced to take a break from the synchronized swimming.
Despite all the difficulties and hurdles, these 5 boys find their way to keep practicing, gaining more team members, and performing at the summer school festival.
This movie is my childhood memory with high-school romance and friendship. Whenever I watch it, I feel nostalgic and reminds me of my high school days where I played baseball every day with my teammates. You can relate to our high school days by watching this movie. Although it seems a lot different from the one in the US or any other country, this is a great way to know Japanese culture and how they spend their time in summer as teenagers.
You can watch it for free with English subtitles on Youtube.
『モテキ』is a live-action film of Japanese manga series. This movie is every guy’s fantasy, being very popular with many girls at once. There is a say that every person on this earth has Motoki (Love Strikes) three times in their lifetime. How many times have you had already?
The Plot of 『モテキ』
This movie is the story of Yukiyo who has Moteki for the second time one year after his first Moteki which was featured in the TV series “Moteki”.
In the tv series, Yukiyo Fujimoto was a 29-years old man who had never had a steady job and had never been in a romantic relationship with a woman before until he had his first Moteki. All of a sudden, Yukiyo had become irresistibly attractive to 4 beautiful women, what is called “Moteki” (a Japanese slang term for a period where one becomes popular with women and men). Moteki is composed of two Japanese words; Moteru (being attractively popular) and Ki (period).
In the movie, after his first Moteki with 4 other women, he was living with his family, but moved to Tokyo and work as a writer. As he fights every day to make a living out of his new job, he meets one of the magazine directors Miyuki, and they get along. They start dating, however, Miyuki has a boyfriend so Yukiyo cannot make a move to be more romantic with her. At the same time, Yukiyo is asked out by one of Miyuki’s friends, Rumiko and they end up sleeping together. Yukiyo once tries to have a feeling for Rumiko but ends their relationship because he still has feelings for Miyuki. There are other 2 women Ai and Motoko are involved in his Moteki and Yukiyo struggles among these 4 different and beautiful women.
I love this movie as it just makes me feel wild. Although I like the TV series Moteki more than Moteki The Movie, this movie still is one of my favorites. If you come across the TV series Moteki with English subtitles, please watch it. Hikaru Mitsushima is incredibly cute.
“Moteki” was on Netflix in Oct 2021.
『ぼくたちと駐在さんの700日戦争』(700 Days of Battle: Us vs. the Police)
『ぼくたちと駐在さんの700日戦争』is a blog novel released in 2006 and the film is based on one of 15 episodes of the blog novel. This film is known to be half-real and half-fictional, however, no one knows except for the writer that how much of it is a real story.
After releasing the movie, the blog novel was a huge hit among the internet people and deceived well over 100 million views in August 2012. This blog novel was novelized and converted into a comic book and sold a million copies.
Have you had anyone who’s older than you as a child who you could mess with but he/she was adult enough to treat you both in a childish way and adult way? like Tom and Jerry. This movie is exactly like that. If you have forgotten how reckless and adventurous you were as a teenager, you must see it!
The Plot of『ぼくたちと駐在さんの700日戦争』
In the countryside of Yamagata, Japan in 1970, there is this war called the “Prank war” between a group of high-school students and a police officer (駐在さん means local police officer).
The leader of this group is Mama-Chari (bicycles that mothers prefer to ride) and 6 other high-school students make every effort to do pranks and practical jokes every day. Every person in the town knows about them due to their daily pranks to the people. They have done so many pranks including throwing wax over a hallway of their high school and cutting the wire connected to the Barbar’s electric sign to spell out Baba (which means grandma in a very rude way).
They are living their life, but all of a sudden, the biggest opponent appears and stands in their way, the Police Officer. After he comes to the town, he starts arresting the members of the prank group. The first victim is Saijo for speeding when he was riding a scooter. Saijo is not happy with being arrested since he had not been exceeding the speed limit until he was driving down a steep hill and that caused his scooter to speed up. So Saijo and the other member of the prank group decide to avenge the Police Officer by exceeding the speed limit by riding a bicycle (they thought they could not get arrested if it was a bicycle). However, they get arrested by the Police Officer because bicycles are a type of vehicle. This is the begging of their “prank war”…
This movie is set in 1970 and the actual people who were being portrayed in the movie are older than my parents in real life, given the fact that they were teenagers in 1970, making them around 70 at the moment. Things have changed a lot since then, however, I can still relate to many of the movie scenes, and the movie makes me realize how much fun I had when I was a child and how much I have forgotten. This is not only fun to watch their “prank war”, but also a great movie to learn the beauty of the countryside of Japan and culture.
You can watch it for free with English subtitles on YouTube.
『時をかける少女』(The Girl Who Leapt Through Time)
『時をかける少女』is a Japanese-animated romance film released in 2006. This movie is about a young girl who happens to obtains a special power to time travel and repeats the same day over and over.
This film received very positive reviews and won quite a few awards including the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year.
The Plot of『時をかける少女』
A 17-year-old high school student named Makoto Konno thinks she is unlucky. She starts her typical day and runs into many troubles like usual. But one day she goes into one of the classrooms after hearing a weird noise and finds out a walnut-shaped object lying on the floor. Then she notices someone is in the room and falls over the walnut and she experiences the time roop which she’s just had it early in the morning.
She tells her friends about the time travel, but nobody believes. When she goes to her uncle’s house, suddenly, her bicycle breaks don’t work, and she gets hit by a train. However, Makoto travels back in time to before the accident and finds out she is totally fine.
Makoto goes to a woman working at an art museum and talks about what happened to her and she tells her that that is a time roop. She goes to a river and starts running towards the river and leaping into the water. When she jumps, she experiences the same feeling and it leads through time. After Makoto knows how to time travel, she uses her power to enjoy her high school life. One day, one of her best friends Chiaki tells her that he likes her. Makoto notices that something has changed and goes back in time so that nothing happens between Makoto and Chiaki. After Makoto starts using her power, everything starts changing and she tries to fix things…
This movie is one of the best-animated movies. It has a great story with Makoto’s romantic story which makes my heart skips a beat. Every time I watch it, I wail up and get emotional and nostalgic at the same time even though I do not have that kind of memory in high school.
『ビリギャル』is a Japanese youth comedy-drama film released in 2015. This movie is based on a true story 『学年ビリのギャルが1年で偏差値を40上げて慶應大学に現役合格した話』(the lowest-scoring girl’s story to be qualified for the prestigious Keio University in just 1 year) and this novel has sold over 1 million copies.
The Plot of 『ビリギャル』
A junior-high school student Sayaka is a typical young girl in Japan who never studies in school and just hangs out with her friends. She never changes and does the same thing with her friends. She is even suspended from school for carrying things to school which is not allowed.
When she is in the second year of high school period, she starts going to one of the cram schools which her mom suggested. As Sayaka meets her passionate teachers and her classmates who treat and help her as their friends and study together, she starts to change. She decides to enter one of the hardest universities in Japan, Keio University.
Her father who calls Sayaka “air-head” thinks it is impossible for Sayaka to enter Keio University, and so do other teachers at her high school. Sayaka is committed to studying extra hard to prove them wrong. She improves a lot throughout the rest of her high school days by spending her time diligently working on her study without sleep. Her academic deviation value goes up from around 30 to 70. Even though with the 70 academic deviation value, it is still difficult to enter Keio University, Sayaka has to face many difficulties along the way which almost makes her give up. But now her whole family and the cram school teacher support her to achieve the goal together…
The greatest thing about this movie is that it is all a true story. It shows whatever hardships you are confronted with, as long as you are consistent and committed you can achieve anything you desire. Especially, at the end when her father drives Sayaka to the test center, that touches my heart.
You can watch it for free with English subtitles on YouTube.
『ピンポン』is a sports film released in 2002. It is based on manga version of『ピンポン』and is about two friends who have completely opposite personality but, plays Ping Pong together. This movie focuses mainly on these two high school tennis players and their coaches, and their opponents.
『ピンポン』was nominated for 8 Japanese Academy Awards and one of the casts, Shido Nakamura, who portrayed the biggest opponent received Newcomer of the Year.
The Plot of『ピンポン』
The main characters are Peco and his best friend and his rival, Smile. They both belong to a table tennis club at their high school. Peco is very charismatic and great at Ping Pong but, excessively proud of his talent and does not make any efforts to be better. On the other hand, Smile (even though his nickname is smile) never smiles and has a very introverted personality. These two have known each other since elementary school and Peco has been Smile’s hero since Peco helped him a lot from bullies. Smile is also a good table tennis player, but he sees it as one of the ways to pass the time and let Peco win every time they play Ping Pong.
After Peco loses at an inter-school competition (the biggest table tennis competition for high school students, only held once a year ), he is devastated and decides to quit playing Ping Pong. However, Sakuma who beat Peco tells him to continue Ping Pong. Peco rises and starts practicing hard at his table tennis school with Smile for the next year’s inter-school competition…
It is just fun to watch. It shows how much Peco means to Smile and why Smile let him win the games. All the friendships and passion for Ping Pong you can find in this movie.
You may be able to find it on Netflix.
『スウィングガールズ』is a Japanese teen comedy film released in 2004. This movie is directed and co-written by Shinobu Yaguchi who also directed 『ウォーターボーイズ』. The story is about a big band group of unskilled high school students who play jazz and try to be the best version of themselves.
The movie won 7 awards at Japan Academy Prize and was a huge success. As the director and co-writer of this movie is the same as『ウォーターボーイズ』, these two movies have a lot of resemblance such as rising-from-failure storyline.
The Plot of『スウィングガールズ』
A high school student Tomoko Suzuki who lives in a local area of Yamagata. She comes to school to attend her make-up class during a very hot summer. After the school brass band leaves the school for performing at a baseball game, Tomoko and other make-up classmates realize that the school brass band forgot their bento (lunch box). *Brass band and cheerleading at The National High School Baseball Championship or Invitational Tournaments or any other high school sports events is a traditional thing in Japan.
Tomoko and the other girls convince their teacher to let them deliver the bento because they don’t want to attend the make-up class. On their way to the baseball park, they miss the train stop and end up walking back to the station with the bento. However, because of the summer heat, they ruin the bento and give food poisoning to all the brass band members.
Despite the fact all the brass band members cannot play for the baseball team, they keep winning the game. Tomoko and three other girls are convinced to join the brass band by an only male original member, Takuo, who did not eat bento.
Just because there are only 5 people in the band, Takuo decides to turn the band into a big band and play swing jazz (the title Swing Girls). The girls and Takuo practice hard and are getting better, but the day before the game the original brass band members recover from the food poisoning and take over the band. Once the girls are shattered and stop playing jazz, but they cannot forget the feeling when they were playing their instruments. They decide to gather the members and start earning money to buy the instruments. They slowly improve their swing jazz and play their public show…
This movie is just as good as 『ウォーターボーイズ』. It was a tough decision for me to place here at 7, this could have been no.1. I love this movie for the same reason as the other movies. It just brings back memories.
You can watch it on Netflix (Sep, 2021)
Did you like today’s post?
These seven movies are my list of recommendations for you to learn about my culture.
Have you seen any movies? Coincidentally, 6 out of 7 recommended movies are movies that take place in a high school setting. I probably want to go back in these days…
There are more movies that I would like to introduce, but let’s do that next time! If you liked the post and have friends who are interested in Japanese culture and movies or the Japanese language, please take a moment and share this post with them. That means a lot to me.
If you are interested in learning Japanese, please check these blog posts too!
Let me know what you think about my post in the comment below or you can reach out to me on my Twitter account. Thank you!