It is often said in Japan that the three years spent in high school are some of the most important years in the life of a Japanese youth. It is here that Japan’s teens are beginning to carve out their path toward adulthood and the responsibilities it brings, while also struggling to gather as many memories as they can during this extremely limited time.
Before your graduation, wherever you are based around the world, watch these films to see how high school life — and its end — is celebrated here in Japan and learn why it is such a formative handful of years. You will laugh, cry and perhaps get a little inspired about continuing to dream — even when you are uncertain about what lies after graduation.
1. Flying Colors: How a Teen Girl Went from Academic Absurdity to an Elite University in One Amazing Year, ビリギャル
Flying Colors: How a Teen Girl Went From Academic Absurdity to an Elite University in One Amazing Year was one of Japan’s most popular “feel good” films of 2015, and definitely worth watching if you feel like the pressures of the world are getting you down.
Based on a true story and bestselling book, the film follows the story of second-year high school student Sayaka Kudo who isn’t a passionate fan of academic pursuits. Typically dismissed as an “airhead” with her bleached blonde hair and mini-skirts, Sayaka never gave much time to school until one day the realities of academia hit her hard. After being informed that her academic level is that of a fourth grader’s, Sayaka enrolls in a cram school at the behest of her mother in a last ditch attempt to improve her grades and be accepted to the esteemed Keio University.
At cram school, she meets her inspirational and at times unconventional teacher Tsubota. Together, the unlikely duo navigates Japan’s highly competitive world of academia and ultimately achieve the seemingly impossible. Flying Colors is an exploration of Japan’s incredibly competitive world of university exams and proves that with hard work and dedication it is possible to achieve the impossible.
Main Cast: Kasumi Arimura, Atsushi Ito Director: Doi Nobuhiro
2. ReLIFE, ReLIFE リライフ
Based on a manga series of the same name, this coming of age film’s concept may not be entirely new, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The film is about protagonist Arata Kaizaki, a 27-year-old who finds himself unemployed after quitting his job after just three months of working.
In order to make a little money and try something new, he signs up to take part in an experimental research program “ReLIFE.” As part of the program, Arata is required to take medication that makes him look ten years younger. Now looking the part of a final year high school student, he enrolls in high school and it’s here where he falls in love with fellow student Chizuru Hishiro.
As we’re guided through the neverending ups and downs of a typical high school life in Japan, ReLIFE explores two very simple yet profound questions: If you had a chance to live your life over, would you take it? And what would you do differently?
Main Cast: Taishi Nakagawa, Yuna Taira Director: Takeshi Furusawa
3. Hanamizuki, ハナミズキ
Spanning a 10-year period from 1996 to 2006, this romance drama film is based on the life of our protagonist Sae whom we watch grow from a high school student into a young ambitious adult. Inspired by the lyrics of a love song also called Hanamizuki, the film explores the world of young love, figuring out how to deal with adulthood and the tricky world of long distance relationships.
As a high school student, Sae meets Kohei, the son of a fisherman and an aspiring fisherman himself. A chance encounter on a train turns to love, which brings with it a world of confusion, obligations and ultimately broken hearts. As the pair finish up their high school education, Sae plans to move to Tokyo, leaving Kohei in Hokkaido. While traversing the world of young adulthood and all the wonderful experiences and not so wonderful confusion it can bring, the pair’s relationship ends, but the two never lose contact completely.
Each of the two goes through their own individual trials and tribulations; the passing of family members, jobs overseas and marriage proposals. One element remains a constant in their lives, however, and that’s the mutual love and respect they feel for one another.
This film is an exploration of young love, growing up and difficulties of following your heart while trying to follow your career after graduating from high school. Hanamizuki shows that sometimes life has a weird an unconventional way of bringing people together.
Main Cast: Yui Aragaki, Toma Ikuta Director: Doi Nobuhiro
4. Let’s Go, JETS! From Small Town Girls to U.S.Champions?!, チア☆ダン〜女子高生がチアダンスで全米制覇しちゃったホントの話〜
The Japanese alternative to the classic US teen drama-comedy, Bring It On, Let’s Go, JETS! From Small Town Girls to U.S.Champions?! is the true story of an unlikely team done good. Protagonist Hikari Tomonaga joins the baton-twirling turned cheer squad club at Fukui Chuo High School in order to impress Kosuke Yamashita, a crush she’s harbored since junior high school. While on the team, Hikari forms a close bond with fellow teammates Ayano Tamaki and Yui Kito, while together they have to endure the harsh training ordered by their overbearing cheer instructor Saotome who rules the team with an iron fist.
Though Saotome runs a strict ship, the instructor’s efforts don’t go to waste as the team makes it all the way to the United States to compete at the USA Cheerdance Championship. The film is a celebration of youth, high school friendship and the rewards hard work can bring. It also gives viewers an insight into what a big role club activities play in the lives of high school kids here.
Main Cast: Suzu Hirose, Yuki Amami Director: Hayato Kawai
Through these four films you can see how the pressures of adult life are boiled down to their most pure elements during high school. From managing expectations, relationships, dealing with love and loss, and striving to achieve everything you can, we witness that there’s a lot more to learn during high school than just what’s taught in the classroom. We also get to see that despite what we at that age tend to think, life goes on and high school is just one passing point in our lives — albeit, a truly important one, indeed.