With the Pride Parade finally returning to Shibuya and Harajuku this weekend and the Tokyo Government committed to the recognition of same-sex partnerships, there’s a lot to celebrate this Pride. To help celebrate, we’ve put together a list of ten of our favorite Japanese LGBTQ-themed films that have gained attention both in Japan and abroad for their nuanced and honest representations of Japan’s LGBTQ community. From Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s portrayal of a transgender woman in Midnight Swan to a gay lawyer’s battle with love and self-resentment in Three Stories of Love, these Japanese LGBTQ films have helped shaped Japan’s modern film industry and the country’s attitudes towards LGBTQ people. Check out our top ten favorite Japanese LGBTQ films below and plan ahead for what to watch after heading to the pride parade this weekend.
High Heels Revolution (2016)
Director: Yo Kohatsu
High Heels Revolution is a 2016 docudrama that tells the story of actress Natsuki Majikina’s gender transition. Set primarily throughout Majinika’s high school years and featuring interviews with those that supported her throughout her transition (and others that didn’t), this revealing film documents the difficulties Majinika faced during her transition throughout the 90s and offers some insight into how attitudes towards gender identity have changed (or not) in Japan over the past two decades.
DVD available on Amazon
The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese (2020)
Director: Isao Yukisada
Based on the popular manga series of the same name, The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese is a gritty portrayal of sexuality, infidelity and romance in contemporary Japan. Released in 2020, the live-action film centers on Kyouichi Ootomo, an unfaithful office worker, under investigation by a private investigator hired by his wife. Things get interesting when it’s revealed that the P.I., Wataru Imagase, is a high school colleague of Ootomo’s who also happens to be in love with him.
Watch now on Amazon
Director: Rikiya Imaizumki
Written and directed by Rikiya Imaizumki, known for his honest and complex portrayals of romance and love, his depicts the relationship between Shun and Nagisa over the span of nearly two decades. After falling in love in high school, the pair decide to go their separate ways towards the end of college. Then, after nearly 13 years of living in Australia, Nagisa seeks out Shun, bringing his young daughter along to meet him.
Watch now on Amazon
Midnight swan (2020)
Director: Eiji Uchida
Midnight Swan shook the Japanese film industry when it took the Japan Academy’s best picture and best actor awards in 2020. Directed by indie filmmaker Eiji Uchida and starring former SMAP member Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, the film tackles many of the issues that transgender people still face in contemporary Japan including employment discrimination and gender identity recognition. Kusanagi stars as Nagisa, a nightclub worker who takes in her teenage niece after the girl’s alcoholic mother is reported for abuse and the film centers burgeoning relationship between the two as they discover shared passions and forms of expression.
Watch now on Amazon
Kakera: A Piece of Our Life (2009)
Director: Momoko Ando
Director Momoko Ando’s first feature film, A Piece of Our Life, got audiences talking in 2009 for its portrayal of same-sex relationships and unorthodox cinematography. With stunning performances from Hikari Mitsushima and Erika Nakamura, the film features Mitsushima as Haru, a quiet and reserved student experiencing boyfriend troubles and Nakamura as the brash, outspoken prosthetist, Riko. Also featuring a brooding and atmospheric soundtrack by James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins fame, A Piece of Our Life is a subtle and bittersweet indie film that has unfortunately mostly fallen under the radar for the past decade or so.
Watch now on Amazon
Director: Naoko Ogigami
Straying from her preference for emotionally healing movies — or iyashikei eiga in Japanese — screenwriter and director Naoko Ogigami drew inspiration for Close-Knit from her visit to the U.S., where she witnessed the evident social issues faced by LGBTQ minorities. Close-Knit depicts the story of a young girl, Tomo (Rinka Kakihara), who gradually finds solace in her uncle, Makio (Kenta Kiritani) and his girlfriend Rinko (Toma Ikuta), a transgender woman, after being neglected and abandoned by her mother. Through Rinko’s apathetic (yet somewhat optimistic) character, Ogigami’s Close-Knit encapsulates the irrational fear and resentment against LGBTQ minorities in modern Japan without being heavy-handed.
Watch now on Youtube Movies or Amazon
Three Stories of Love (2015)
Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi
Known for his groundbreaking projects centered around LGBTQ issues, award-winning director Ryosuke Hashiguchi spent eight months perfecting his script for Three Stories of Love (Koibitotachi in Japanese). The film examines themes of love, abandonment and heartbreak from three polar-opposite characters: Shinomiya (Ryo Ikdea), a closeted gay lawyer with a self-inflicted emotional wound, Atsushi (Atsushi Shinohara), a bridge inspector grieving his late wife and Toko (Toko Narushima), a housewife who has an affair with a scam artist. Much like Hashiguchi’s previous works, such as A Touch of Fever and Hush — both of which featured gay men — the film weaves the loneliness and fragility of each character through their muted desperation.
Watch now on Youtube Movies or Hulu
Get even more involved with the LGBTQ community in Japan:
This Monk Wears Heels – Kodo Nishimura shares his fairy godmother spirit in new book
Japan in Love: Same-Sex Couples in Tokyo on Love, Marriage and Equality
New Documentary Highlights Trans Youth in Japan
Coming to Terms with Your Sexuality in Japan
Paul Saviano: Embracing Transgender and Nonconformity
Kalanchoe no Hana (2018)
Director: Shun Nakagawa
Independent film director Shun Nakagawa snatched 13 awards at various Japanese film festivals thanks to his latest Japanese LGBTQ film, Kalanchoe no Hana. After a group of high school sophomores take an LGBTQ awareness course in school, the students grow suspicious of their classmates’ sexuality. Within the span of 39 minutes, Nakagawa illustrates the complex and varying attitudes of each of his characters, depicting just how difficult it can be to break down peer pressure.
Watch now on Youtube Movie or Amazon Prime
House of Himiko (2005)
Director: Isshin Inudo
Acclaimed director Isshin Inudo juggles themes of drama and comedy in House of Himiko, also known internationally as La Maison de Himiko. The film follows Saori (Ko Shibasaki), a young woman struggling with her father’s abandonment. When her father’s young lover, Haruhiko (Jo Odagiri), shows up to tell Saori that her father is dying, Saori must overcome her pain and resentment to take care of him. They reunite at House of Himiko, a nursing home founded by her father for gay men. Inudo tackles the sensibilities of coming out in Japan and reforging relationships within Japan’s LGBTQ families through Saori’s rediscovery of liberation.
※English subtitles not available
Buy DVD to watch now on YEASIA or CDJapan
Queer Japan (2019)
Director: Graham Kolbeins
Queer Japan begins with Graham Kolbein’s humble visit to Japan, where he works closely with Japanese LGBTQ artists and feminists through Massive Goods, his manga publishing and fashion brand company. The LGBTQ documentary — or a “series of character studies,” as the director prefers to call it — features activists, academics and artists from Japan’s LGBTQ community who identify as a kaleidoscope of gender and sexual identities. From drag queen Vivienne Sato to Tokyo municipal officer Aya Kamikawa, Queer Japan compiles 100 interviews conducted over three years to celebrate the triumphs and unconventional lives of Japan’s LGBTQ community.
Watch now on Vimeo, Amazon or AppleTV