10 Must-See Japanese Films on Netflix Instant Queue

Japan — the land of the rising sun, sushi, arcades, and anime. But Japan is much more than just the land of childlike wonderment. It’s a place that creates some of the weirdest, most vomit-inducing, absorbing, and beautifully creative films on this planet.

If you’re looking for something different and have a few hours to kill, then look no further. Netflix Instant Queue offers some fantastic Japanese films — yes, even outside of anime — and we have just the place you should start.

13 Assassins — 十三人の刺客 (2010)

At the end of the Tokugawa period, politics are beyond corrupt, allowing for rape, murder, and torture from key political figures with no retribution. After one exceedingly gruesome occurrence a plan is put into action to stop the sadistic daimyo behind the worst of the attacks. 13 samurai are assembled in an attempt to assassinate the ruthless daimyo — quickly realizing they’re on a suicide mission.

Traditionally, remakes of classic films never hold a candle to their predecessor — not the case for 13 Assassins. As legendary filmmaker Takashi Miike gained more notoriety as Japan’s shock-horror master with such work as Ichi: The Killer, Audition, Visitor Q, and The Happiness of the Katakuris, so did his paychecks and big studio requests. These days Miike’s strayed away from the work that made him famous, and is instead focusing on video game live-action adaptations, big-budget action, and classic remakes — including Zatoichi and Hara-Kiri.

If you enjoyed 13 Assassins, we’d highly recommend that you follow it up with another Takashi Miike classic on Netflix Instant Queue: Hara-Kiri.

Battle Royale — バトル・ロワイアル (2000)

Each year in the authoritarian Japan, one junior high class is chosen and forced to participate in the government’s research program. Unfortunately, in authoritarian Japan that doesn’t mean science fair. Young, pre-teen students are tagged with metal tracking collars and given a random weapon on an undisclosed island with the simple instructions to be the last one standing.

As one of the 10 highest-grossing films in Japan and regarded as one of the greatest shock-horror films ever made, Battle Royale is easily the most recognizable on this list. Truth be told, if you aren’t familiar with Battle Royale but are a fan of The Hunger Games, your life is a sham. That or you are just out of the loop. We’ll assume the latter.

Already watched Battle Royale and are looking for another gory shocker? Try Cold Fish.

UPDATE: Netflix has since updated their Instant Queue and added Battle Royale 2 (don’t get too excited, though) and the Takashi Miike shock-horror classic, Ichi the Killer.

Dororo — どろろ (2007)

A feudal lord makes a pact with demons, offering a piece of his unborn son to each oni — a Japanese demon — in return for regained power. At birth, Hyakkimaru is born with no limbs and shamefully abandoned. Luckily, an old man stumbles across the crying, disfigured newborn and raises him as his own. Hyakkimaru, now grown, learns the reason behind his disfigurement and sets out to destroy the demons that had taken his humanity.

Based on the iconic 1969 manga of the same name, Dororo maintains Japan’s reputation as the world’s #1 producer of strange stories. However, unlike many other odd Japanese movies, Dororo retains its offbeat charm throughout, never straying too far into the bizarre that it becomes unenjoyable — so long as you never take it for more than it is, of course. A surreal fantasy story with obvious deep roots embedded in traditional Japanese folklore, Dororo is an uncommon delight for any fantasy-action fan or anyone looking for something out-of-the-norm.

A film like fantasy-action with traditional folklore story-telling isn’t fairly common, however, there is another enjoyable film similar to Dororo available on YouTube: Death Trance.

Nobody Knows — 誰も知らない (2004)

After their mother abandons them in their Tokyo apartment, 12-year-old Akira does his best at caring for his 3 younger siblings. But as the weeks drag into months, Akira struggles to provide and the situation continues to grow more and more grim.

Agonizing and deeply human, Nobody Knows isn’t a film you will soon forget. To make matters worse, the film is based on a true event from the early 90’s. Unfortunately, this is one of those rare occasions where the real-life events were actually much, much worse. Definitely have your tissue box handy for this one.

Looking for another soul-crushing couple of hours? Try Picture Bride (Japanese), Departures (Japanese), or Silenced (Korean) on Instant Queue. Unfortunately, the closest Japanese emotional roller coaster to Nobody Knows isn’t available on Instant Queue, but still worth checking out: Grave of the Fireflies.

Karate-Robo Zaborgar — 電人ザボーガー (2011)

Crime-fighting Yutaka Daimon and his trusty friend, Zaborgar — part karate-robot, part motorcycle — fight back against the evil organization, Sigma who abduct wealthy men of status and harvest their DNA to construct a giant killer robot.

Based on the 1970’s television show, Denjin Zaborger, Noboru Iguchi’s Karate-Robo Zaborgar is the second most ridiculous film on this list. One of most enjoyable in the campy comedy-action genre, Zaborger is Ultraman meets Transformers over-the-top, gimmicky fun.

Looking for more campy action or campy action-comedy? Look no further than Message from Space (1978) or Noboru Iguchi’s Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead.

Time Traveler: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time — 時をかける少女 (2010)

After a car accident that leaves her mother comatose, Akari discovers her mother had come across the potential formula for time travel, and decides the best means of saving her is to go back and warn her.

Few sci-fi drama-comedies hit the mark as well as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. As the fourth in a long-line of films based on the novel and a sequel to a film from 1983, TGWLTT is wildly different from its predecessors — none of which actually closely follow the original book’s story. More romantic drama than sci-fi, the film has an interesting euphemism for life embedded in its nostalgic, fantasy story.

Digging the rom-com drama? Then it’s time to check out Hana & Alice.

Adrift in Tokyo (Ten Ten) —  転々 (2007)

Takemura is a lovable loser with no friends, no family, no ambition and a lot of loan-shark debt. Steadfast debt-collector, Fukuhara gives Takemura two choices: pay the 800,000 yen debt in 72-hours or join him for a walk across Tokyo. Seeing as Takemura would most likely never be able to pay off his debt, the decision is an easy one to make and the duo begin their journey across the city.

Adrift in Tokyo is a brilliant slice-of-life comedy that so few films can perfectly capture. Quirky, interesting characters peppered across the wildly ranging, beautiful urban landscape of Tokyo help make this one fantastically intriguing and phenomenal film.

If you enjoyed this slice-of-life comedy, there’s actually a plethora of similar titles to check out. Netflix Instant Queue: Fine, Totally Fine (Japanese). YouTube: Castaway on the Moon (Korean). Although neither are available for free online, both Kikujiro and The Taste of Tea come highly recommended.

Sonatine — ソナチネ (1993)

Despite reservations, yakuza enforcer Murakawa is ordered to travel to Okinawa to end a war between clans. After meeting with the clan to discuss a settlement, Murakawa finds that his instincts were correct. Soon Murakawa learns that it isn’t the rival clan that want him dead but his own.

“Beat” Takeshi Kitano is the actor most synonymous with yakuza films worldwide and Sonatine is the film that gave him his notoriety. Intense, violent, and all-around general bad-a**ery, Sonatine is an absolute must-watch Japanese classic equivalent to Godfather — or any other classic mob movie, really — in America.

Thankfully, Netflix has another “Beat” Takeshi film to fill the void: Outrage.

Ju-on — 呪怨 (2003)

Several years after a gruesome family murder-suicide, the unaware Murakami family moves in. However, just as soon as the family moves in, they begin to disappear. Yet it isn’t just those who live in the house that meet with the vengeful spirit, but anyone who sets foot inside.

Originally a made-for-TV movie, Ju-on quickly took on a life of its own as the latest in the “hair-horror” phenomena and quickly gained international attention as a low-budget, cult-horror icon. Foregoing big-budget special effects and even slightly frightening make-up jobs, Ju-on still somehow retains an undeniable creepiness. Despite the film’s short-comings, it is now regarded by many fans and critics as a Japanese horror classic.

Ready for more weird horror genres? Try Japan’s latest trend: Rabbit horror. Yes, that’s evidently a thing now. Takashi Shimizu’s Shock Labyrinth or its follow-up, Tormented. Side note: both films were made for 3D and tend to do those cheap, gimmicky 3D close-up things that take away from any actual scares. 

UPDATE: Netflix has since updated their Instant Queue and has added Ju-on 2.

Deadball — デッドボール (2011)

Dangerous crook and baseball savant Jubeh Yakyu is apprehended and thrown in Pterodactyl Juvenile Reformatory. Soon, Jubeh will find out that the detainees are the least dangerous in the prison as he comes face-to-face with Nazi headmistress, Ishihara. The headmistress learns of Jubeh’s baseball prowess and coerced him to join their baseball team. Unfortunately a little too late, Jubeh learns that it isn’t a regular game of baseball, but the deadly game of Deadball.

In the spirit of keeping this list as diverse as possible, Deadball is the absolute out-of-left-field pick. Twisted, deranged, juvenile, and completely psychotic, what the film may lack in substance it makes up for in pure entertainment value. As part of Yudai Yamaguchi’s (Versus, Chromartie High, Meatball Machine) staple off-the-wall shock-horror/comedy, Deadball is as insane as its predecessors but just as enjoyable.

Looking for another “WTF did I just watch?!” movie? Check out Yamaguchi’s other horror-comedy on Instant Queue, Yakuza Weapon.

Cover image source:


Related Articles:

15 Must-See Korean and Japanese Films on Netflix Instant Queue — Summer 2015 (Another Castle)

10 Must-See Korean Films on Netflix Instant Queue — Another Castle

Hair-Raising Asian ‘Hair-Horror’ Films — Another Castle

31 Days of Horror: The Happiness of the Katakuris — Another Castle

Remakes and Films Influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s Work — Akira

The Real Hunger Games: “Battle Royale” — The New Yorker


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Categories: Japanese Films/TV, Lists and Editorials


Founder, Editor-in-Chief at Another Castle | Twitter: @ComradeJen

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12 Comments on “10 Must-See Japanese Films on Netflix Instant Queue”

  1. 08/31/2014 at 2:21 PM #

    Hi Jen, if you’d like to write for Film Syrup or re-publish one of your articles on (with a link back to the original piece), please email me – I really like this one! – Colleen, Film Syrup Founder.

  2. 08/31/2014 at 2:29 PM #

    Thanks for the compliment, Colleen!

  3. 12/19/2014 at 3:50 PM #

    Thanks. Always looking for new ideas of what to check out on Netflix

  4. 02/06/2015 at 5:30 PM #

    Reblogged this on Film Syrup.

  5. 02/19/2015 at 5:22 PM #

    Reblogged this on Rice Cakes.

  6. 04/29/2015 at 6:57 PM #

    Most of these films have been removed from Netflix Instant Queue.

  7. 05/04/2015 at 9:55 AM #

    This list was from early 2014. We currently have a new list in the works that should be up shortly.


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