Why Don't You Play in Hell? - Sion Sono

10 Japanese Movies About Moviemaking

Anyone who has ever stepped onto a film set can tell you that there is no shortage of drama to be found. So it is no surprise that there are plenty of movies that tackle the subject. But whilst every aspect of Hollywood filmmaking has been exhaustively explored, we rarely get to see what filmmaking means elsewhere.

So before you embark on your filmmaking journey in Japan, be sure to watch the films below… Just so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Here, in no particular order, are our top Japanese movies about Moviemaking!

1. The Magic Hour (Kōki Mitani, 2008)

It’s about…
A struggling actor thinks he’s landed the role of a lifetime – A gangster movie in which he plays a legendary assassin. The only problem is the movie isn’t real, whereas the gangsters very much are.

Why you should watch it…
It’s an intensely comedic farce about the moviemaking process that skewers plenty of gangster movie cliches in the process. It’s a lot of fun and truly captures the infectious magic of filmmaking.

2. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (Mami Sunada, 2013)

It’s about…
Go behind the curtains of Studio Ghibli as they work on their final(TBC) movies.

Why you should watch it…
Illuminating and frank, there’s plenty to unpack here for Ghibli aficionados or those just interested in the filmmaking process. A fitting tribute to a powerhouse of the animation industry.

3. The Woodsman and the Rain (Shuichi Okita, 2012)

It’s about…
A young, out-of-his-depth filmmaker gets taken under the wing of a lumberjack as a local community is co-opted into making a generic zombie horror.

Why you should watch it…
Anyone who has found themselves riddled with self doubt on a movie set will find a lot to identify with here. Bundle that with an uplifting message about filmmaking’s power to bring people together, and you have a film that will have you urging to get on set.

4. Lowlife Love (Eiji Uchida, 2015)

It’s about…
Tetsuo, the titular lowlife, struggles to get his second low-budget movie made without sacrificing his artistic vision.

Why you should watch it…
Most of the films on this list see the film industry through rose-tinted glasses. Lowlife Love takes the glasses off, hurls them to the floor and crushes them underfoot. Essential viewing if you want to know the kinds of people to avoid in the industry.

5. Rainbow Song (Naoto Kumazawa, 2006)

It’s about…
Put-upon TV runner Tomoya learns of the death of his friend and reflects on their relationship and their early filmmaking days

Why you should watch it…
A tearjerking romance about regrets and chances not taken. Film students will have a lot to identify with in this one – the short film they make is the stuff of a thousand student movies.

6. Glory to the Filmmaker! (Takeshi Kitano, 2007)

It’s about…
Your guess is as good as ours. Takeshi Kitano describes it as an extension of his stand-up comedy routine. An utterly insane and very Japanese celebration of filmmaking.

Why you should watch it…
Takeshi Kitano is better known in the west for his arthouse fare. If you haven’t seen any of the comedic work that helped make him a household name in Japan, you are sorely missing out.

7. After Life (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 1998)

It’s about…
Those that have recently died must choose one memory to have recreated and filmed to take with them to the afterlife.

Why you should watch it…
A touching and unique premise that will have you reflecting on your own life. There are also lessons in economical filmmaking to be learned from the filmed vignettes.

8. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Sion Sono, 2013)

It’s about…
A Yakuza boss desires to make his daughter a movie star to please his imprisoned wife. Fortunately a team of amateur filmmakers is on hand to make his dreams come true… in the most violent way possible.

Why you should watch it…
No one else makes films with the visceral, violent energy of Sion Sono. Despite the madness, it’s also a thoughtful examination of the relationship between the director and the producer (not that we’re comparing producers to Yakuza crime bosses or anything…)

9. Uzumasa Limelight (Ken Ochiai, 2014)

It’s about…
An actor whose speciality is being killed in Samurai movies sees his art left behind by the modern world.

Why you should watch it…
It’s a celebration of the background artistes and a reflection that sometimes the old ways are still the best.

10. Millennium Actress (Satoshi Kon, 2001)

It’s about…
Two documentary filmmakers take a tour through the life and memories of a retired actress.

Why you should watch it…
A wonderfully imaginative, visual exploration of multiple movie genres and a love letter to the glory days of Japanese studio filmmaking.

Have we missed any of your favourites? Let us know!