trip to japan

5 Movies to Watch Before You Make Your Trip to Japan

Japan is a fascinating country with an extremely rich culture and history. Therefore, it can be incredibly rewarding to get familiar with some aspects of Japanese society prior to visiting, allowing you to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the places you visit. One entertaining and insightful way to do this is through cinema. In this blog post, we will explore five movies that provide a glimpse into different aspects of Japanese life and culture. So, grab some popcorn and let’s dive in!

The Significance of Movies in Understanding Cultural Context

Movies are not just a source of entertainment. They are also a reflection of the societies they come from, representing their values, norms, and relationships. By watching movies from a particular country, we can gain insights into its culture, history, and social dynamics. This is especially true for Japanese cinema, which has a long history and is known for its unique aesthetic, storytelling style, and thematic depth.

Importance of Watching Japanese Movies Before Visiting Japan

Watching Japanese movies before visiting Japan can significantly enhance your travel experience. Through these films, you can get a sense of the country’s atmosphere, explore its cities and landscapes, understand its social norms and etiquettes, and learn about its historical events and cultural traditions. This can allow you to connect more deeply with the places you visit and the people you meet during your trip.

Movie 1: Lost in Translation

Overview of the Movie

Directed by Sofia Coppola, “Lost in Translation” is a 2003 American romantic comedy-drama film. It tells the story of a faded movie star named Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and a young woman named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo. The film beautifully captures their experiences of alienation and cultural shock, and the deep connection they form amidst the bustling city life.

Important Themes and Locations

“Lost in Translation” explores several themes such as loneliness, existential crisis, and the complexities of interpersonal communication. The film takes viewers on a journey through several iconic locations in Tokyo, like the neon-lit Shibuya district, the serene Meiji Shrine, and the luxurious Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel. These settings not only capture the city’s vibrancy and diversity but also reflect the characters’ inner states and their evolving relationship.

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How it Contributes to Understanding of Japanese Culture

“Lost in Translation” provides a nuanced portrayal of the clash between Western and Eastern cultures, highlighting the challenges of understanding and adapting to a radically different environment. The film shows how the characters navigate the intricate social customs, language barriers, and fast-paced lifestyle of Tokyo, which can shed light on some aspects of Japanese society and etiquette. Watching this film can give you an understanding of the cultural nuances that you may encounter during your trip.

Movie 2: Spirited Away

Overview of the Movie

“Spirited Away” is a 2001 Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The film follows a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro, who enters the world of spirits and takes on a job at a bathhouse for gods and spirits to free herself and her parents from the spell of a witch. The film is celebrated for its stunning animation, imaginative plot, and profound themes.

Important Themes and Locations

The film explores themes like greed, environmentalism, identity, and the transition from childhood to adulthood. It features various fantastical locations, including a magical bathhouse, a ghostly train running through water, and a bustling market street filled with strange creatures. These scenes offer a glimpse into the rich folklore and mythology of Japan, as well as its traditional aesthetics and values.

How it Contributes to Understanding of Japanese Culture

“Spirited Away” is steeped in Japanese Shinto and Buddhist beliefs, presenting a universe where gods, spirits, and humans interact with each other. It reflects the Japanese reverence for nature, the idea of purification, and the belief in the existence of spirits in all things. By watching this film, you can gain a deeper understanding of these spiritual and philosophical aspects of Japanese culture.

Movie 3: Tokyo Story

Overview of the Movie

“Tokyo Story” is a 1953 Japanese drama film directed by Yasujirō Ozu. The film tells the story of an aging couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children, only to find that their children are too busy to spend much time with them. The film is renowned for its poignant exploration of family relationships, generational conflict, and the pace of modern life.

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Important Themes and Locations

“Tokyo Story” delves into themes like familial duty, old age, and the disconnect between traditional and modern values. The film presents various views of Tokyo and other parts of Japan in the post-war era, capturing the rapid changes occurring in Japanese society at the time.

How it Contributes to Understanding of Japanese Culture

“Tokyo Story” offers a profound insight into the Japanese ethos of respect towards elders, the importance of family, and the concept of mono no aware – the awareness of the impermanence of things and the bittersweet feelings associated with it. These are key aspects of Japanese culture that still resonate today, making the film a timeless classic that can enrich your understanding of Japanese society.

Movie 4: Shoplifters

Overview of the Movie

“Shoplifters” is a 2018 Japanesefilm directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. The movie follows a family of petty thieves who take in a young girl they find on the streets and raise her as their own. As their unconventional family dynamics are put to the test, the film explores themes of poverty, love, and the meaning of family.

Important Themes and Locations

The film is set in the outskirts of Tokyo, depicting the everyday struggles of a working-class family. It showcases the contrast between the bustling cityscape and the modest living conditions of the characters. The locations chosen reflect the director’s intention to portray the reality of marginalized individuals and shed light on economic disparities within Japanese society.

How it Contributes to Understanding of Japanese Culture

“Shoplifters” provides a thought-provoking commentary on social issues such as poverty and the structural challenges faced by disadvantaged communities in Japan. By examining the lives and relationships of the characters, the film prompts viewers to question societal expectations and norms surrounding family, compassion, and morality.

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Movie 5: Your Name

Overview of the Movie

“Your Name” is a 2016 Japanese animated romantic fantasy film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. The story revolves around two teenagers, Mitsuha and Taki, who mysteriously swap bodies and form a connection across time and space. As they navigate this extraordinary situation, they discover a deeper bond that transcends the physical realm.

Important Themes and Locations

The film showcases both urban and rural settings, with Tokyo representing the modern and fast-paced world, while the fictional town of Itomori embodies the tranquility and traditional beauty of the countryside. These locations play a significant role in the plot, symbolizing the contrasts and interconnectedness of different aspects of Japanese life.

How it Contributes to Understanding of Japanese Culture

“Your Name” explores themes of fate, love, and the transient nature of time. It incorporates elements of Japanese folklore, highlighting the belief in the red string of fate and the concept of musubi, which refers to the interweaving of destinies. Through its heartfelt storytelling and stunning animation, the film captures the essence of Japanese aesthetics and spirituality.

Summarizing the Importance of These Movies

Watching these five movies before your trip to Japan can greatly enhance your understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture. Each film offers a unique perspective on different aspects of Japanese society, history, and values. From the exploration of cross-cultural communication in “Lost in Translation” to the examination of family dynamics in “Tokyo Story,” these movies provide valuable insights into the complexities and nuances of Japanese life.

Final Thoughts on Preparing for a Trip to Japan Through Film

Movies have the power to transport us to different worlds and open our minds to new experiences. By immersing yourself in these carefully selected Japanese films, you can gain a deeper understanding of the country’s culture, traditions, and societal issues. While nothing can replace the firsthand experience of visiting Japan, watching these movies will undoubtedly enrich your journey and allow you to engage more meaningfully with the people and places you encounter along the way.

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