Every year we witness a number of movie titles that inspire us, uplift us and invite us to take an imaginary journey to another reality. In 2018, however, Japan’s film industry created several standout films that beyond succeeding in entertaining us, had us glued to the cinema chairs for one very simple reason: they appealed to our deepest emotions; such that we could all easily relate to. Here are five of the titles that won our hearts this year and got us talking — and thinking about life themes we, as victims of the modern busy life, unfortunately, forget at times.
1. Chihayafuru: Part 3(ちはやふる ―結び―)
“Opportunity,” we’re told, is a door without a knob — you can’t open it by yourself. But when someone opens it for you, you have to be there, ready to jump in and embrace it regardless of what lies ahead. The final installment of the movie adaptation of Yuki Suetsugu’s popular comics, Chihayafuru Part 3 is a closure just as it is a new beginning inspired by the theme of embracing one’s opportunities in life. As the famous protagonist trio, Chihaya (Suzu Hirose), Taichi (Shuhei Nomura) and Arata (Mackenyu Arata), are getting ready to bid goodbye to their high school lives, they find themselves standing on precarious grounds: conflicting choices, doubts and unrequited feelings. But one day they come to realize that a strong person is not one who’s always winning, but one who has the will to inspire those around them to be stronger by pointing at their possibilities even when this means giving up one’s own feelings. Watch as the story of Chihaya, Taichi and Arata gets more complicated than ever — until it isn’t.
p>Watch with：Your childhood friends.
Must-see scenes：Every scene that has that look in Chihaya’s eyes when she hits a karuta card, and the final match.
Why we recommend it?：The most powerful installment of the series, this one is a masterpiece. Watch as the love story between our three lead characters finally unfolds.
2. Perfect World (パーフェクトワールド 君といる奇跡)
Love takes various forms — and none of them are perfect. But if there is one place where the feelings we have toward someone are so pure and strong that any obstacles become just a minor stop along the long road, that’s where perfection comes close. Tsugumi (Hana Sugisaki), a 24-year-old company employee, by chance reunites with Itsuki (Takanori Iwata), her senior high school sweetheart, through work. But his body — and state of mind — are no longer what they used to be. He is now in a wheelchair, needs assistance wherever he goes, and on top of that, he has given up on love, believing that he would only be a burden in other people’s lives. But as the two become close, Tsugumi starts to play a special role in his life until he discovers that a perfect world could potentially exist.
The people we love will not always be with us. Five, ten years from now, they may not be here or they may not be the same. But love means walking hand in hand even when things are tough. This movie reminds us exactly of that.
Watch with：Someone very dear to you.
Must-see scenes：When Tsugumi visits Itsuki in the hospital and the two discover what a great team they are.
Why we recommend it?：It’s a difficult theme played spectacularly by Sugisaki and Iwata. It will move you to tears.
3. MIXED DOUBLES (ミックス）
There is no homerun in table tennis. And there are no miracles. It’s a simple sport without the glory, without the fancy uniforms and without the spotlight. But it’s a sport that teaches you a few things in life, including when to give up, when to keep pushing, and when to change. Heartbroken former ping pong prodigy Tamako Tomita (Yui Aragaki) takes us on this realization journey as she moves back to her hometown in rural Japan, drunk and angry after her famous table tennis-star babyface boyfriend ditches her for another girl. Determined to win him back, she resolves to revive her late mother’s ping pong gym and bring its very few students along to the national competition where her ex is also playing. Tamako’s team is comprised of a middle-aged couple, a rebellious celebrity-but-don’t-want-to-be doctor’s wife, a nerdy teen, and a former pro boxer who picked ping pong up out of regret over his lost family — Hisashi Hagiwara (Eita). Tamako pairs with Hagiwara, who eventually becomes a key player in her own life and helps her restore her faith and love for the game. A story of overcoming complexes and insecurity, this one is a real smash that’ll leave you refreshed and all smiles.
Watch with：A heartbroken friend who needs her/his confidence back.
Must-see scenes：When Hagiwara goes to pick up Tamako and take her to the final match, and when he confronts Tamako’s ex at a restaurant in the coolest possible way.
Why we recommend it?：It’s a sports movie that’s essentially a rom-com and it’s full of laughter and tears that will leave every movie fan satisfied.
4. The 8-Year Engagement (8年越しの花嫁)
How long would you wait for love? And how strong and determined can you stay even when all odds are against you? Based on a true story of a young couple living in Okayama in southern Japan, the release of The 8-Year Engagement brought the nation to tears, becoming one of the most beloved love stories of modern age Japan. We follow our protagonists — full of life Mai (Tao Tsuchiya) and her polar opposite Hisashi (Takeru Sato) — as they meet, fall in love, get engaged and start planning their wedding. But just several months before their big day, Mai suffers a seizure that leaves her first hysteric, then unconscious and at last, hospitalized with no good signs of recovery. A year later Mai wakes up and begins to recuperate, but only to find out that she has no memory of Hisashi. But despite being encouraged to move on, Hisashi keeps hoping, praying and booking the same wedding venue every year. Until eight years later a miracle occurs. A heartwarming and ultimately tear-jerking romance that will make you believe in love again.
Watch with：Your partner and other couples on a double date.
Must-see scenes：When Mai confesses to Hisashi that she doesn’t remember him but nevertheless goes ahead to tell him how she truly feels about him. And, of course, what he tells her right after.
Why we recommend it?：Because it’s a wakeup call that happy endings do exist after all. If you think that the plot is too perfect to be true … remind yourself that this is a real story. The Tsuchiya-Sato combo give us an acting performance worthy of a standing ovation.
5. YAKINIKU DRAGON(焼肉ドラゴン）
Tucked in an unpaved narrow alley hidden behind barely standing houses and laundry drying in the sun, stands the house of a family who have proudly called it home for years. But unlike their precarious house, the family is tied by bonds that extend deeper than blood and national borders. Here is Yakiniku Dragon, a grilled meat diner run by the Kim family — father Ryukichi (Sang-ho Kim), mother Young-Soon (Jeong-eun Lee), Ryukichi’s daughters Shizuka (Yoko Maki) and Rika (Mao Inoue), Young-Soon’s daughter Mika (Nanami Sakuraba) and Ryukichi and Young-Soon’s teenage son Tokio (Shinpei Ooe). They are Korean residents living in Japan and while the two parents were brought to Japan during the war (and could never return after its end), their children were raised as Japanese citizens — until they’re reminded that they are not quite. Amid many tears, a little too much fighting and shouting within the family, we find warmth, acceptance of the way life is, hope for the future, and a constant return to one’s roots — which, after all, is family. A film exploring the sensitive topic of living as an ethnic minority in Japan, the differences between ethnic generations’ views on life, the very human struggle of learning to accept loss, and the ultimate realization that home is where your heart is, this one is for anyone who has ever doubted their origins, ethnicity and self.
Watch with：Alone. But ring your family after you’re done.
Must-see scenes：Ryukichi’s heartbreaking acceptance of a reality he can’t compete against, and Rika’s passionate forbidden kiss.
Why we recommend it?：It tells the story of a type of family that, despite playing an essential role in Japan’s post-war economic growth, never receives the attention it deserves. It’s a heartwarming tale that has both laughter and tears and an impressive cast you should definitely see on screen!
For dates, venues and screening schedule of the Japan Film Festival 2018 in your country, see here.
Text: Japanese Film Festival Editorial Team