So you’re in Tokyo and want to see the sights? Fantastic! But you’ve already gone up the Skytree, you’ve already taken the obligatory scramble crossing photo, and you’ve eaten as much ramen and sushi as you can handle. Now you find yourself with a cinephilic itch that demands to be scratched! So where do you go for that? Read on!
National Film Archive of Japan
Learn about the history of Japanese film and geek out over the displays of vintage film equipment. Here you can watch some of the earliest Japanese movies. In addition to the main exhibit, they have themed poster exhibits that change every few months. The cinema on the lower floors screens a wide range of films, from Hollywood blockbusters to Japanese classics and world cinema.
Visit the National Film Archive of Japan
Tora-San Museum / Yoji Yamada Museum
The Tora-San film series (or Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo) is not one that is all that well known in the west. A shame as from the moment you enter the museum, you can feel that you’re in the presence of a cultural phenomenon. If you have an interest in film history, Japanese history, or you’re just a fan of cute dioramas, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit. The Yamada Yoji (director of the Tora-San series, and much more) Museum next door, though smaller, is still a wonderful slice of film history.
NHK Museum of Broadcasting
Do you like to look at old cameras? Are you fascinated by the history of broadcasting technology? If, like me, your answer is a resounding yes then the NHK Museum of Broadcasting is the place for you! Entry is free, and there is plenty of information available in English.
Visit the NHK Museum of Broadcasting
No film lovers trip to Tokyo would be complete without a trip to the Ghibli museum. Getting tickets will involve battling Lawson’s hostile ticket machines, but it’s worth the fight. Enjoy exploring the nooks and crannies of the museum but make sure you don’t miss the film screening. The short films shown at the museum cannot be seen anywhere else. There’s plenty to enjoy here for grown-up fans and kids alike. Though the bad news is that if you are old enough to read this, then you are probably too old to play on the catbus.
Visit the Ghibli Museum
Unfortunately you cannot venture inside Toho Studios and they offer no tours. That said, it is still worth making the trip to take a picture with the Godzilla statue out front, or the giant Seven Samurai mural, and to know that you are standing so very close to film history.
This Godzilla statue towers over Shinjuku’s Toho cinema. Be sure to be there on the hour when the head lights up, breathes smoke and roars. Best seen at night for the full effect.
Live Action Locations
Lost in Translation
Perhaps the best known Tokyo set movie in the west, the movie’s locations have been extensively documented. Here’s a great guide on where to find all the Lost in Translation locations.
You Only Live Twice
The fifth James Bond film and one of the first big International productions to use Tokyo as a setting. Here’s a guide on where to find You Only Live Twice Locations.
Not a real location from the film but reportedly the inspiration for it, Gonpachi restaurant in Nishiazabu formed the basis of The Bride’s battle with the Crazy 88 at the end of Kill Bill Volume 1.
Visit Gonpachi Restaurant
Womb nightclub is one of the largest and most popular clubs in Tokyo. It was also in a scene from a movie. If clubs are your thing, you should check it out!
Visit Womb Nightclub
Believe it or not a lot of the locations that crop up in anime movies are taken more or less directly from real life locations. This is by no means an exhaustive list. We’ll be sticking to some of the better known.
Whisper of the Heart
This Ghibli Classic largely takes place in the Tama hills west of Tokyo. Head to Seiseki-Sakuragaoka station where a helpful map will show you where to go. The films gorgeous antique shop is, unfortunately, imaginary. See here for a pretty exhaustive guide to Whisper of the Heart locations.
The most financially successful anime film of all time, Your Name was a global phenomenon. Half of the film is Tokyo set and it covers a lot of ground, so there is no shortage of locations to check out. Take a look at this incredibly detailed guide to Your Name locations that even has Google map pins, to make your obsessive movie pilgrimage that much easier.
There are probably more film festivals in Tokyo than anywhere else in the world. It doesn’t matter when you go there is sure to be something on. Here are some of the biggest.
One of the most celebrated festivals in the world for short films, Short Shorts Film Festival screens short films from around the world at venues all across the city. And the best part is, it’s free!
Tokyo International Film Festival
Tokyo’s biggest and most glamorous festival. Tickets can sell out fast so make sure you’re ready when the program is announced.
Tokyo has a multitude of tiny independent cinemas. What they might lack in screen size they more than make up for in eclectic programming and indie charm. See here for a good breakdown of Tokyo Independent Cinemas.
Book Off / Tsutaya
DVD shops are a dying breed in the west. Head into Tsutaya or Book Off and step back a decade into a time when the silver disk was king. Once you’re done head on over to Book Off’s used books section and browse the stacks of old cinema programs – you’ll be amazed at the long forgotten Hollywood fluff that turns up.
Food & Drink
A David Lynch themed coffee shop serving David Lynch brand coffee? I am so there! The Lynchian theme mostly manifests itself through the aesthetic rather than via anything macabre. So rest assured that you will be able to kick back and relax. Don’t forget to try the cake.
Visit Cafe Monochrome
The Whales of August
The Whales of August (named after Whales of August, 1987), located in the heart of Shibuya, is a cocktail bar in which every drink is based on a movie. Want to know what a particular movie tastes like? If it’s not on the menu then they are happy to create it for you. Just name a movie! This writer can testify that Seven Samurai packs quite a punch.
And last, but by no means least, us! Your friendly, local, English Language Film School. See what’s on and pay us a visit!
Have I missed anywhere? Let me know in the comments below. I need to make a list for my next trip!