After trawling through Netflix for the best Japanese shows and movies, here is my list. For maximum enjoyment, please watched everything on this list in its true intended form – with Japanese original audio, not dubbed, but subbed.
Dubbing, dubbed, dub: replacing the Japanese audio, with English (or another language)’s voice actors over the top. Useful, sometimes. Mostly, it fails to capture the tone and mood of the original voice, meaning a lot of meaning is lost.
Subbing, subbed, sub: Subtitles! Keeping the original Japanese audio but placing English at the bottom of the screen. It seems like an awkward way to watch things, but 5 minutes in, I promise you’ll forget you’re watching and reading at the same time.
1. Your Name – 君の名は
Two teenagers share a profound, magical connection upon discovering they are swapping bodies. But things become even more complicated when the boy and girl decide to meet in person. This is one of those movies that will stay with you for a very, very long time. I watched this for the first time 2 years ago, and even though I watch it yearly, I still frequently think of how much the film moved me emotionally the first time I ever watched it. The body-swapping plot device not only gives the two leads perspective on each other's individual lives but on a much larger scale the differences and similarities between Old Japan and New Japan. A classic story of star-crossed lovers but done in a very unexpected and humorous way that speaks about sacrifice and one's own dreams. Infinite replayability with the most stunning visuals I've ever seen. Not to mention how riveting the story-line is. It's just beautiful.
2. Spirited Away – 千と千尋の神隠し
An animated PG fairy tale that will truly warm your heart and the visuals will blow you away. Released in 2002 by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki. It’s cute, it’s visually stunning, and it’s insanely popular. In Spirited away, a sullen 10-year-old girl named Chihiro and her parents, who accidentally become part of an abandoned amusement park. Chihiro’s parents are turned into giant (but still cute) pigs, Chihiro then comes to learn that the park is a resort for supernatural beings. Chihiro sets off an adventure to free herself and her parents. This movie is simply incredible, not only for the visuals but because both the kids and the adults are getting a story that crosses cultural lines. Anime is often lost in translation but Spirited Away simply isn't. It’s a timeless story that hooks multiple generations.
3. The Naked Director - 全裸監督
TV Show (テレビ番組)
This TV show, although a little NSFW, is one of my absolute favorites on Netflix Australia. Enjoy it in its full form – in the original Japanese audio (not dubbed) The story really captures Japan in the 80s and the porn industry of that era. The story is basically a fight for the market share of the industry despite the government restrictions on uncensored pornography. I don't know how much of this is true and how much are fictitious but one thing that I do know is that this series is extremely entertaining and informative. It is wild from beginning to end, and definitely worth a watch.
4. Terrace House - テラスハウス
TV Show (テレビ番組)
Starting in 2015, Terrace house is a show about 6 strangers (3 men and 3 women) who come from around Japan to live together in the same house. The cameras film their interaction in a reality show style while all members of the household get to know each other and get used to life under the same roof. This show has had incredible success outside of Japan, and it has 6 seasons and 1 movie. The show is an awesome opportunity to understand the real-life interactions between Japanese people, and a truly inside look into how the language, customs, lifestyle and preferences all mix together.
5. My Neighbour Totoro - となりのトトロ
My Neighbour Totoro is another film from Studio Ghibli. Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film studio founded in June 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Toshio Suzuki. The company's logo features the character Totoro (a large forest spirit) from Hayao Miyazaki's film "My Neighbour Totoro".
My Neighbour Totoro will feel incredibly unique for a foreign audience because it goes beyond even the tropes of Hollywood and American cartoons. Made for children (but still enjoyable for adults), it gets into the whole nature of storytelling and thus of filmmaking. My Neighbour Totoro is a highly unusual film. It has no real plot. There is no central theme, per se, and no conflict. It has basically no structure and is like a series of connected vignettes. What cohesion it does have is driven by the characters and the context, the hospitalization of the mother and the rural life of post-war Japan. The result of the movie though is a calm sense of ‘okay’ ness, and peace. While the familiar conflict resolution that we come to expect from children’s movies is basically non-existent, by mimicking something closer to real life, it still achieves a sense of heart-warming that leaves you feeling that everything in the world is just as it is supposed to be.
In summary, watching Japanese media is one of the coolest things you'll be able to do after studying and learning to become fluent in Japanese.