10 Best Japanese War Movies

The best Japanese war movies tell stories of World Wars and samurai during the Japanese feudal period. Filmmakers as varied as Clint Eastwood and Akira Kurosawa directed these war movies. Many of these Japanese war movies focused on the anti-war sentiments while others remained brutally realistic.

  1. “Letters From Iwo Jima” Clint Eastwood made “Letters From Iwo Jima” as a companion piece to his American film “Flags of Our Fathers.” Both movies tell the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima from differing points of view. “Letters From Iwo Jima” tells the story from the perspective of Japanese soldiers and received an Oscar nomination.
  2. “Fires on the Plain” “Fires on the Plain” is a dark, bleak Japanese anti-war movie following the remainders of a Japanese Imperial Army group left in the jungles of the Philippines. Critics gave the movie poor reviews for its bleak atmosphere, but the film has since become more respected as a realist film, earning a Criterion release in 2007.
  3. “Grave of the Fireflies” “Grave of the Fireflies” is an animated film released by Studios Ghibli in 1988. It tells of the life and death of a young fourteen-year old boy orphaned during World War II. The movie tells his story with flashbacks detailing the protagonist growing up and his protective relationship with his younger sister.
  4. “The Burmese Harp” “The Burmese Harp” is another Japanese anti-war movie about a soldier devastated by the sight of a dead Japanese soldier at the conclusion of the war. The Academy Awards nominated the film for Best Foreign Film in the first year it was a category.
  5. “Black Rain” “Black Rain” is a Japanese war movie examining the after effects of the bombing of Hiroshima. The movie adapts the Masuji Ibuse novel by the same name. The movie’s title references the radiation sickness caused by the fallout.
  6. “The Hidden Fortress” This legacy of this Japanese war movie is being the movie George Lucas based “Star Wars” on. The movie by Akira Kurosawa tells the story of a war general that transports a princess to safety. The technique of telling the story from the point of view of the lesser characters comes directly from this movie.
  7. “Kagemusha” Another Akira Kurosawa movie on the list is a Japanese war movie based in feudal Japan concerning the civil wars in the capital city of Kyoto. The movie received an Oscar nomination and showed Japan’s change from samurai fighting skills to the use of firearms.
  8. “Ran” Based on the Shakespeare classic “King Lear,” this Japanese war movie was Akira Kurosawa’s final epic film. The movie was the most expensive Japanese film ever made when released in 1985. The movie tells the story of greed and lustful power that led the characters into wars that destroyed them all.
  9. “Hotaru” This Japanese war movie tells the story of two Japanese kamikaze pilots who survive the war while their third comrade dies in the suicide attack. The 2001 movie received thirteen Japanese Academy Award nominations but did not win one.
  10. “Sea Without Exit” This Japanese war movie, released in 2006, centers on the kamikaze submarine attacks in World War II. When a United States Battleship attacks the main characters submarine, the crew must remain silent to avoid further detection. The movie then focuses on flashbacks to the crews' college days leading to their current situation.
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