Ahhh, the age-old justification that watching Netflix can indeed be classed as studying if the language is Japanese. But we know the feeling. It’s 8:30pm. There’s nothing to watch. You’ve been scrolling through Netflix for 20 minutes already. Your dinner is going cold so you, defeated, resort to sticking on any old crap that looks not-even-mildly interesting. The good news is that Netflix has recently released a bunch of binge-worthy Japanese gems with English subtitles. Read on for our top picks of eight Japanese-language Netflix shows and movies with English subtitles.
If you need slightly more justification that you’re absolutely not vegging out in front of the TV, you are absorbing a new language, add the LLN Google Chrome extension. It allows you to see the Japanese and English side by side. You can hover over a word to pause it, see how to pronounce it and add it to your vocab dictionary. As far as we know, it’s not possible to use this with the Netflix TV or mobile app, so you’ll have to use your laptop screen, or cast it from your laptop to your TV.
Crayon Shin-chan: The Storm Called: The Adult Empire Strikes Back
Hands-down the best Shin-Chan film out there. A production about a crudely animated five-year-old with zero verbal filter, which somehow masterfully brings you to tears over the complex, bittersweet nostalgia for your own youth. Aptly released in 2001, the Kasukabe family parents Hiroshi and Misae are trapped inside an artificial 20th century. Stuck in the bodies and minds of their child selves, they have fully regressed back to the nostalgia of their childhood lives. It’s up to Shin-Chan and his friends to save them and, quite literally, their futures.
大豆田とわ子と三人の元夫 Omameda Towako and Her Three Ex-husbands
Life seems good for Omameda Towako. The 40-year-old single mom has started her new role as president of the construction company Shirokuma Housing and her relationship at home with her teenage daughter is going well. There’s just one problem. Well, three. Each of her troublemaking ex-husbands are still entangled in her life. Inevitably, a series of awkward moments and classic rom-com situations ensue. This reverse-harem series is written with wit and is a relaxing, lighthearted show to switch on when you don’t need something heavy.
ゴッドファーザーズ Tokyo Godfathers
Without a fantastical anime elf, epic robot battle or highschool-uniform-clad romance in sight, “Tokyo Godfathers” is grounded in a gritty realism as it dives into the underbelly of Tokyo society. Gin, a middle-aged gambling addict and alcoholic, transgender woman Hana and teenage runaway Miyuki have banded together as a makeshift family since finding themselves homeless in Tokyo. When the oddball trio finds an abandoned baby on a snowy Christmas Eve, an adventure unfolds as they try to trace the parents. A truly poignant story about the journey to recovery, the immorality of prejudice and the pain of regret, this movie points to cracks in Japan’s increasingly fragmented and isolating modern society.
新聞記者 The Journalist
Broadsheet reporter Anna Matsuda settles for nothing but the truth. Based on the true Moritomo Gakuen scandal, in which the Abe government suspiciously carried out a massively discounted sale of state-owned land to a private educational institution, Matsuda seeks to bring nationwide attention to the corruption of the Japanese politics. The focus, however, is not on the political big fish, but on the ordinary guys in the office blocks, and how far they are required to sacrifice their morals, health and lives in order to serve the powers above them. A quick-moving political thriller, you’re left questioning the limits of power — be it the media, the little guy or bureaucratic rule.
ヤクザと家族 Yakuza and the Family
The media has built an image of yakuza culture as a brotherhood of loyalty and luxury — living an adrenaline-rushed highlife steeped in a strict code of tradition, but the reality is that the modern-day yakuza’s power is weakening, their numbers are diminishing and society is turning its fear into ostracism. “Yakuza and the Family” follows the life of yakuza defector Kenji Yamamoto who, forever stigmatized by society for his past association with a criminal gang, struggles to live amongst his local community and erase the reputation of his former self. A sad exposure into Japanese gang culture, “Yakuza and the Family” blends action with reality and delivers a hard look at the truth behind “manners maketh man.”
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop
Vibrantly animated in candy-ish, popping colors, this teen romance packs a lot into its 1.5 hours. An introverted boy who can only express himself through haiku and a bubbly but self-conscious influencer share a whirlwind summer on a heartwarming adventure to locate a record. It’s a fun visual ride that’s an homage to the joy of the 1980s aesthetic. You can’t go wrong with director Kyohei Ishiguro’s latest work.
浅草キッド Asakusa Kid
Dive into the youth of Takeshi Kitano in “Asakusa Kid,” and follow the beginnings of his career towards becoming the legendary director, actor and comedian that he is today. The story largely takes place in France-za, a failing theater-slash-burlesque house where Kitano works at the bottom of the food chain as an elevator boy. 1970s dandy vibes, new-wave manzai, straight-talking strippers and Kitano’s mentor Senzaburo Fukami mingle in a cocktail of burnt-out and freshly-kindled dreams. It’s a biographical drama brought beyond life with playful bursts of magical realism and the thrill of good ol’ fashioned showbiz.
常田大希 混沌東京 TOKYO CHAOTIC
Music buffs, get this one on your list. Follow King Gnu frontman Daiki Tsuneta as he and his musical collective Millennium Parade work on their most experimental track yet, “2992.” Is this on our recommendation list partly because we have a crush on Tsuneta? Yes, it is. But aside from that, “TOKYO CHAOTIC” is an insightful peek into the Japanese music industry and the minds responsible for the “Ghost in the Shell” song: “SAC_2045’s theme.”