The 10 Best Japanese Shows on Netflix Right Now: TV & Movies
Ah, Netflix, the destroyer of time due to days of binge-fests and hours upon hours of endless entertainment. Truly, nothing gives me more pleasure than ignoring reality while I guzzle wine and zip through an entire season of Anne with an E (you 80’s babies will know the nostalgia this show brought to the table).
Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed a sharp, welcomed influx of Japanese programming on the streaming service. This has brought me nothing but joy. I used to have to scour the internet for sites that streamed my favorite Japanese shows in poor quality while sketchy ads popped up on my screen (right as a parent would happen to be walking by, it always seemed).
Gone are the days of watching popular Japanese TV shows and movies in their grainy, slow-to-load forms. The age of Netflix is upon us! But with so many options, where to start? Well, you’re in luck. Below, I’ve prepared what I feel are the 10 best Japanese shows and movies on Netflix currently (and I say currently, since it changes month to month). These shows are a great way to study and learn Japanese too.
Get a glass of wine, settle in, and prepare yourself for the 10 best Japanese shows on Netflix.
1. Terrace House/Terrace House: Aloha State
Like someone who enjoys beginning their meals with dessert, I shall first divulge my favorite on this list in an attempt to get you to watch it as soon as physically possible.
Terrace House is a reality show that follows the lives of 6 young people, 3 men and 3 women, all strangers, as they live together and weave their way through house rules and, of course, love. As my boyfriend so succinctly described Terrace House after watching the premiere together, this show is like The Real World…on Ambien. Don’t worry, there are fights! Just, very quiet, soft fights.
Fights such as, “Who ate the meat out of the refrigerator?!” or “If we’re holding hands on a first date, we’re definitely in a relationship now, right?” Or how about, “Hi, it’s been three minutes since we met, what are all of your hopes, dreams, and aspirations? If you have none, I will judge you for the rest of the season.” And much more!
A panel of six well-known comedians and actors gather ‘round to act as our Greek chorus (and are, in my opinion, the best part of the show), popping up throughout the episode and commenting on the goings-on.
They act as a conduit for the audience, expressing disbelief over cast mate’s choices and poking fun at their blunders. Western reality shows should be taking notes from this formatting if they want a fresher way of engaging with their audiences.
After parts 1 and 2 of Terrace House (set in Tokyo) end, fear not! The show moves onto Hawaii, where you have four parts of the Aloha State waiting for you.
All of the drama, awkward dates, and hilarious commentary march on, even in paradise.
Get ready to binge!
2. Mifune: The Last Samurai
I’m a big film history nerd, and if you, too, share this passion that none of your relatives seem to understand, then the documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai is for you.
You will learn about the life and works of legendary actor Toshiro Mifune and the ripple effects his movies had on both Japanese and western films. Try your hardest not to develop a crush on a man who was equal parts grizzly, handsome, and, apparently, kind of a wreck, both on-screen and off. But in a good way?
OH ALSO, let yourself be swayed by the soothing voice of Keanu Reeves (?!) as he narrates Mifune’s journey from a young man who fought in WWII and then into the film world- a world he never intended to dwell in as an actor, but as a cameraman (trivia!).
Mifune came to be one of the most influential Japanese performers of all time, bringing an intensity to the screen that has long been said to be unmatched.
But then again, maybe whoever said that has never seen Vin Diesel’s groundbreaking performances in the Fast & Furious saga…
3. Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories
Now here’s another gem. Previously presented to Japanese audiences as a manga, a TV show, and then a movie, Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories is the compilation of stories revolving around the owner of a small, cozy, late-night diner and the customers that step through its doors.
The restaurant is only open from midnight and through the early hours of the morning. The stories are about the people who come in, regulars and newbies alike, and a specific dish made by the diner owner (or master, as he’s called) is usually in the center of their tales.
With each passing episode, you as the viewer come to feel as another patron, returning each night to the familiar, warm glow of the diner and the sage advice of the master behind the bar. Midnight Diner is definitely for those ready for some late night, feel-good warmth (that sounded way too suggestive- or maybe I meant it to be? Japanese dramas get me emotional and needy, I’M SORRY).
4. The Birth of Saké
One of the things I love most about Japan is how dearly tradition is still held there. The Birth of Saké focuses on one example of that: the love of alcohol!
I kid, I kid. Well, sort of. This beautifully shot documentary spotlights the 144-year-old Yoshida Saké Brewery in northern Japan and the people who work tirelessly to keep it running. But even in Japan, a country where people honor tradition and hone their craft to meticulous perfection, classic saké production has faced a decline.
There is a beauty to be appreciated as you watch these workers, who sacrifice six months every year of their lives (families, holidays, any sense of free time) to produce the best saké they can. Working around the clock, they sweat, lose sleep, eat together, drink together, and, in one heart-wrenching scene, bear the loss of one of their own workers together.
Just as the slow, six-month-long process of saké production brings its rewards, the slow, intentional pace of the film is worth it in the end.
Best watched with -you guessed it- a chilled or warmed glass of saké.
5. Tokyo Fiancée
Now this one, I was surprised at myself for liking. I don’t like to judge a book by its cover, but alas, I’m human, just like you (unless it’s 1,000 years in the future, and you’re an android reading this- hi, android! Please don’t kill my fellow humans. I know we’re dummies, but we just can’t help ourselves).
I took one look at the title and wrote this movie off as a silly, low-budget production made to serve some foreigner’s narrow-minded perspective of what it would be like to be engaged to a Japanese person and all the “wacky” things that came with it.
Well, was I pleasantly wrong.
As charming as it was relatable, Tokyo Fiancée is a coming-of-age story about a young Belgian woman trying to find her place in Japanese society.
After being born in Japan and leaving with her family at age 5, the protagonist returns at age 20 to try to reconnect with the country. We see Tokyo through her eyes, and follow her during her engagement to a young Japanese pupil she tutors in French.
If you’re in the mood to watch something that carries the tone of Amélie-meets-Lost in Translation, this movie is perfect to steep yourself into for a couple of well-spent hours.
6. Japanese Style Originator
Do you like lists? Do you like commentators who remark on said lists? Do you like hours and hours of interesting footage that has no end in sight? Great! Now come over, I’m settling in for 5 hours on the couch during which I will learn all about the top 50 best things to eat in Japan during the fall season.
This show is from 2008, but the episodes are timeless in their telling of traditional Japanese culture, food, arts, and the people who have made it their life’s goal to perfect them.
Warning: watching this on an empty stomach may cause you to despair over not having access to any of the amazing food they show. Just whip up some fluffy white rice and some simple miso soup, and the pain should be whittled down to a dull ache.
7. Chef’s Table: Season 1, Episode 4 (Niki Nakayama)
Yes, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is great. It’s a rare glimpse into the world of sushi-making tradition and the years of strict discipline required to achieve greatness in it.
But for something a little bit more raw (pun alert!), check out the episode of Chef’s Table that features Niki Nakayama, owner of LA restaurant n/naka,and one of the few female chefs prominent in traditional kaiseki cuisine.
Episodes of Chef’s Table always make me feel inspired by the passion each featured chef has for their craft, and Niki Nakayama’s episode is no exception.
Besides a glimpse into a hard-working chef’s everyday life, you can gain an understanding for kaiseki cuisine- the traditional Japanese style of a multi-course meal aimed at honoring the foods that are in season at a specific time of year.
Also, it’s just kickass to watch a woman not only work hard, but thrive in a world- particularly in the realm of Japanese cuisine- which is usually dominated by men.
Take that, Jiro.
8. Sweet Bean
Sometimes, you just need to watch a movie to have a good, quiet cry. I’m not saying I do that- I’m tough as nails. I don’t cry tears- I laugh in the face of emotion, ha! See? I’m laughing! Ha-ha, ha….ha….
Ok, so fine. I like sappy movies. We all need them. Sweet Bean provides a couple of hours of escape for the viewer in order to “feel all the feels,” as the kids like to say.
A sweet, old woman (played by the incredible actress Kirin Kiki) begins working at a small dorayaki stand with a grumpy, middle-aged man, much to his chagrin. She, of course, wins him over with her charm and skill at making the sweet red bean paste filling for the dorayaki.
The last portion of the film takes a bit of a dark, turn, though, as we find out the state of health Kiki’s character is in, and that’s when you should get the tissues ready.
Embrace the pain! Life is pain, but also, endlessly sweet.
I once watched the first ten minutes of this movie and immediately said “Nope! Not watching this movie, byeee.” I mean, the main chick is running away from…a lethal invisible wind (as opposed to a visible one?).
But then I watched Terrace House, fell in love with Reina Triendl, one of the main commentators on it and the star of Tag, and gave it a second chance.
While the first third of the movie seemed to drag on with the same incessant, B-movie style of violence that seems to be leading nowhere, the buildup in the second act and the payoff towards the end that reveals the larger scope of things was quite a surprise.
The film ended up being notably feminist in tone (despite all of the unnecessarily short school uniform skirts and the low angles taken during chase scenes- but it’s justified in the end when you figure out what’s going on).
If you’re a fan of grindhouse and want to watch Reina Triendl really sell being terrified out of her mind (all the more appreciated after watching her be silly and lighthearted on Terrace House), give this one a shot.
10. Samurai Gourmet
Oh boy. Now this one is a bit hokey. I’m not going to lie, I almost didn’t include it on this list. But damnit, I just can’t get away from my love for Naoto Takenaka (ever see 1997’s Shall We Dance?? Please go watch that movie now, he is a comedic revelation in that movie).
We follow the culinary tales of Takeshi Kasumi (Takenaka), a recently retired salaryman who has suddenly found himself with an inordinate amount of free time.
During each episode, he travels to an eatery of some sort and finds himself in some sort of pickle (alright, my pun quota has been met). His samurai alter-ego comes bursting onto the scene to assist him.
Sounds crazy? It is. But it’s a feast for the eyes for anyone with a love for Japanese food, and it ends up being a surprisingly sweet story to watch unfold.
With a finale episode titled “A Memory of Hashed Beef and Rice,” how could this not be an amazing show?
Hope you enjoyed this list of the 10 best Japanese shows on Netflix right now. If you’re using these shows to study Japanese, another great resource for learning Japanese is the lesson at Japanesepd101. Do you have any recommendations? Drop us a comment below!