The 10 Best Japanese Movies Of 2022: Saying the contribution of Japan to World cinema is immense would be an understatement. The country has always given us visionary directors with unique, original visions and ambitions to go far beyond the usual. From Kurosawa to Satoshi Kon to Miyazaki to Kore-eda, the Japanese directors have continued to hypnotize us with their works.

That is why the assignment of picking the ten best Japanese movies from a single year was particularly difficult. Because almost every year, there are a lot of genuinely great Japanese movies. There is a lot to watch, a lot to explore, and a lot to research about. And 2022 is not different, either. So, in the end, what I have focused on is the diversity of the movies; in genres, storytelling and themes.

The result is what you are about to read. Here is a list of the best Japanese movies of 2022 that involve a murder mystery, surrealist tales, science fiction, social drama, and even the Kaiju genre and a Shinkai movie, which is a genre itself. I hope you all find something for yourself here.

10. Lesson in Murder

The 10 Best Japanese Movies Of 2022 - Lesson In Murder

Kazuya Shiraishi, who has established quite a name for himself in the crime thriller genre, has delivered yet again with “Lesson in Murder.” Based on a novel written by Riu Kushiki, the movie tells the story of a socially awkward law student Masaya, who is unhappy with both his family and non-existent romantic life.

Masaya’s one-dimensional, uneventful life turns when he receives a letter from a convicted serial killer Yamato who has acknowledged all his killings except one which he didn’t commit. In his letter to Masaya, he shares his desire for Masaya to investigate that one unsolved murder mystery. The catch; Yamato used to work in a bakery once upon a time which Masaya used to visit when he was a kid frequently.

While the premise is very much “Silence of the Lamb” like, the movie is superbly crafted, thanks to which it comes off as a very thrilling viewing experience for the audience. Along with the main “whodunit” story, it also focuses on the “coming-of-age” aspect as we get to see Masaya transforming into a much more confident, new person over the course of it.

Kenshi Okada has done a great job playing Masaya, but the real star here is Sadao Abe, of course. As the menacing serial killer Yamato, Abe gives a fittingly chilling performance that effectively gets under your skin and absolutely creeps you out, which was probably the director’s intention.

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9. Missing

Missing, aka “Sagasu” in Japanese, is another serial killer movie on the list, but as different as chalk and cheese from the last one. Director Shinzo Katayama, who shocked and enthralled the audience with the terrific, twisted drama ‘Siblings of the Cape” (2018) about a disabled brother using his autistic sister to make ends meet, comes back with another equally twisted tale, only in a much bigger scale. And also in a different, more accessible genre.

In “Missing,” a widowed man suddenly goes missing, and his daughter keeps searching for him. She receives a text message asking him not to worry, which only frustrates her further. The real shock comes when her search leads her to a stranger who is eventually revealed as a serial killer with a huge bounty on head.

The sharply constructed movie wraps the thrilling story in a social-economic mould, which only makes the audience feel the same urgency as its characters. Given Katayama has worked as an assistant of South Korean master Bong Joon-Ho, this is very much evident as the structure of Missing does feel like most of Joon-Ho’s movies, which only works in its favor.

8. Small, Slow But Steady

The 10 Best Japanese Movies Of 2022 - Small, Slow But Steady

A deaf boxer fighting in a silent ring during the Covid-19 pandemic. She is supported by her mentor, with failing eyesight and health of his own. And this happens to be a true story.

With this source material in hand, a movie could easily follow a certain template of an inspirational sports biopic. But director Sho Miyake had other plans. Instead of churning out a usual, dramatic fare, he decided to make something that is very restrained, absolutely unsentimental, and absolutely does not rely on ending line glory. In fact, instead of building things towards a big, glorious climax, the movie rather focuses on the everyday life of the protagonist and the struggle that surrounds it.

Real-life boxer Keiko Ogasawara and her memoir “Makenaide!” (which translates to “Do Not Lose”) becomes the foundation of “Small, Slow but Steady” in which actor Yukino Kishii portrays a stern, intense semi-fictional version of the boxer, named Keiko Ogawa in the movie. A brilliant Tomokazu Miura compliments Kishii’s performance as her mentor Mr. Sasaki.

The biggest possible triumph the movie could possibly achieve is being compared to the silent masterpiece “The Ring,” made by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock way back in 1927. That is why the more takers this movie finds, the chances of a revitalization of the worn-out sports biopic genre increases.

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7. Plan 75

The 10 Best Japanese Movies Of 2022 - Plan 75

The genre-mixing of social drama and science-fiction can be considered a pretty rare thing. Chie Hayakawa’s debut, Plan 75, which is based on her own short of the same name, falls under that rare category. The science fiction angle solely comes from one single premise, where the government in the near future Japanese society aids the old to euthanize themselves, with a small financial help to pass on to their living families.

The chilling idea is built upon a society that has a huge surge of old people and not many babies. There is a scarcity of jobs and impending economic doom. Hence, the idea is to remove the “burden,” i.e., the old. At the center of this world, Hayakawa has put four very different characters.

One 75-plus woman is having a really difficult time surviving. Her much younger nurse, an old widowed man who is happy enough to go through the government-set process of saying goodbye as he has lived a life fulfilling enough, and his processing agent, who also happens to be his nephew, makes it a point to get his uncle out of this thing.

The best part about the movie is instead of taking a side or reaching any indirect conclusion that society should be like this, it raises the question and looks into that in a rather pragmatic way. That is why, in the end, the audience keeps pondering over the idea. That is not exactly a happy thought, but art is not always responsible for how you feel.

6. A Man

The 10 Best Japanese Movies Of 2022 - A Man

In “A Man,” a woman meets a man years after her divorce. With the man, she finds love. They get married, and she experiences happiness again with her new family. Until the man suddenly dies after his death, the woman discovers something about him (which I am not going to reveal) that prompts her to hire a lawyer to look into the dead man and unmask the real truth.

With a plot as bizarre as this, you can expect a movie to be a really great mystery thriller; in able hands. And director Kei Ishikawa delivers on that premise. But instead of just doing that, he also makes a very potent human drama about it. In fact, it might sound strange, but “A Man,” in the end, is more of a human drama than a mystery thriller; simply because of the treatment it receives from the director.

The amount of detailing the movie offers you, along with focusing on grave matters like ethnicity and the death penalty, is absolutely brilliant. Deservingly, it has received high praise from critics for being an incredible human movie with a very high rewatchability factor.

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5. New Religion

The 10 Best Japanese Movies Of 2022 - New Religion

The name “New Religion” is probably the most deceiving movie title of the year. Especially when you consider the fact that this movie is about a single mother, Miyabi, who has lost her young daughter in an accident and to retain her lifestyle, working as a call girl, but that is not the hook here.

The real deal is when Miyabi takes on a new customer Oka from one of her sick workers, and Oka doesn’t show any interest in having sex. Instead, he wants to take a picture of her spine. Then, another part of her body the next time. But with each picture taken, Miyabi starts to feel the spirit of her dead daughter more vividly.

Roaming around a very Lynchian territory, “New Religion” has emerged as an excellent debut feature based on a brilliant, original idea from director Keishi Kondo, who is now being hailed as the new face of Japanese horror. Words like hypnotic, mesmerizing, and haunting have been used by critics who have managed to experience the movie.

4. Shin Ultraman

The 10 Best Japanese Movies Of 2022 - Shin Ultraman

For the fans of the Japanese Superhero, “Shin Ultraman” appeared as a gigantic bonanza. But even if you do not have a single clue about the character or the Kaiju genre, you would not have any trouble enjoying director Shinji Higuji’s fantastic reboot of the popular character. For the uninitiated, Kaiju is a particular Japanese media genre involving giant monsters; for e.g., Godzilla.

As “Shin” means new, the movie serves as a reintroduction of the character from a modern world perspective, which will eventually ensure a new fandom. It is the second installment of the “Shin” trilogy, which started with the absolutely fantastic “Shin Godzilla” back in 2016, which also had the same writer-director duo behind it.

In this movie, we have an organization that specifically fights several Kaijus. But one of the members of the organization accidentally gets killed by the extraterrestrial Ultraman while fighting a Kaiju, and the alien takes the form of a dead human. What follows is an enthralling, supremely engaging story that will keep you hooked till the end and leave you very much satisfied.

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3. My Small Land

The 10 Best Japanese Movies Of 2022 - My Small Land

Emma Kawawada, a protege of the legendary Hirokazu Kore-eda, makes her debut with the beautifully made “My Small Land,” which does bear a certain amount of similarities with the work of the legendary in terms of style and the overall vibe. With Kore-eda-san on board as an executive producer, Kawadawa builds her movie about a seventeen-year-old girl named Sarya, a Kurdish refugee who has lived in Japan since she was very young.

For her, Japan is her home, unlike her other family members who still hold on to their Kurdish roots, understandably. Trouble begins when the family loses their refugee status and falls into a limbo of uncertainty. Their rights are evoked, and their days in the country are numbered.

Kawadawa has handled the subject matter with the utmost sensitivity and a lot of care. Her efforts in the research of it and understanding things from the perspective of Kurdish refugees living in Japan is clearly visible in the narrative. What further elevates the movie is probably Kawadawa, who was born to a British mother, and the movie’s lead star, Arashi Lina, ‘s own experience of being called “gaijin” several times in their lives.

2. The Fish Tale

“The Fish Tale” has a protagonist who can as well be called a “fish-holic,”; and the movie tells the story about her love for fish, doing absolute justice to the title of it. Director Shuichi Okita, who is famous for his distinctively original works featuring very oddball characters, is back with his latest with all the charms and the same quirks which you would expect from him if you are familiar with his work.

Interestingly though, the movie happens to fall in the biopic genre. That is because the character of the fish-obsessed Meebo is actually based on celebrity ichthyologist Sakana-Kun. In fact, Kun’s autobiography is the base of the movie. But instead of following the usual tropes of the biopic, Okita takes a lot of creative liberties and infuses elements of surrealism and fantasy into the story. Thanks to this treatment, the movie automatically becomes a much more engaging watch.

The most significant change Okita makes is possibly changing the lead character from a boy in real to a girl in the reel. Actress Non plays the character with an infinite amount of quirkiness and warmth, which only makes Meebo more likable to the audience.

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1. Suzume

In Suzume, the seventeen-year-old lead meets a mysterious, strange man and points him toward a town in the mountains to find a door. The same man happens to be someone who regularly comes into her dream. And he is looking to close down many similar doors all over Japan to stop a potential evil from getting into the realm.

Here is some confession; it makes me really happy to put a Makoto Shinkai movie on the top spot of the list. The animator-turned-director, who can as well be termed a magician, has been wowing us with his awe-inspiring animations and stories that are so emotionally dense that they make us cry our hearts out but also put big smiles on our faces; for more than two decades now.

His latest, Suzume, does follow the staple Shikai structure where the movie is a coming-of-age story of a teen while potentially fatal weather disasters are thrown around in the mix. In fact, the movie does feel like a retelling of Shinkai’s last two movies; the absolutely terrific Your Name (2016) and the mostly underwhelming Weathering with You (2019).

But thanks to a much more focused, compelling narrative and a very interesting spin (which you will see while watching) to the usual formula, Suzume reminds you more of the former and very less of the latter.


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