Food is arguably the main draw of Japanese culture to many; tourists flock to the country to experience it through their taste buds.
There is something for everybody: crispy deep-fried golden-brown tempura, umami gyudon beef bowls, fresh salmon and tuna from the Tsukiji market, and a scrumptious bowl of thick, garlicky ramen. The list continues, with a quirky Omurice topped with a silly message or a spicy, signature Japanese Katsu curry balanced with the perfect ratio between sweet and hot.
The point is, we can spend an entire day telling you about all the many great dishes that hail from the land of the rising sun. It is no surprise that many movies made in Japan highlight its delicacies and centre their plots around the taste of the dishes.
Here are the top 10 Japanese movies for foodies that will make you want to book the next ticket!
1.) Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master. He is considered the most incredible sushi chef in the world. The movie centres around the unforgettable experiences he gives lucky customers that visit his 10-seat restaurant in Tokyo.
What makes this movie unique is the journey it puts viewers in, as it chronicles the life and experiences of Jiro as he operates his 3-star Michelin restaurant. The incredible simplicity of eating sushi—just one piece of fish on a plate, eaten with your fingers— makes for a fascinating experience. It makes you wonder just how good it is that people from all over the world flock to the little store at a Tokyo subway station.
2.) Tampopo (1985)
A classic Japanese movie for foodies directed by one of the pioneers of the golden age of Japanese Cinema, Tampopo is a hilarious, satirical portrait of Japanese culture through the lens of noodles. Watching this movie, you will have a bizarre mixed feeling of hunger and hilarity. It entertains you with its storytelling through a simple concept: two Japanese truck drivers help a restaurant owner cook ramen noodles.
Quirky and offbeat humour led by Ken Watanabe and a large cast of kooky characters makes this one funniest movies in Japanese history. What adds to its uniqueness is how even through the craziness, there are profound moments that’ll make you want to think about life while consuming a steaming hot bowl of ramen.
3.) Sweet Bean (2015)
One of the newer movies on this list, Sweet Bean, has a simple plot that requires viewers’ patience to reap its rewards. It revolves around a baker’s business booming once it hires a 76-year-old woman after tasting her special dorayaki pancakes. A dorayaki pancake is a soft and fluffy pancake sandwich with filling, in this case, a sweet, red bean paste.
The film’s juxtaposition of the flavour of the paste with the bittersweet themes of loneliness and the social stigmas of humanity makes it unique. Thankfully the movie is filled with shots of the pancakes that’ll be sure to whet your appetite and slightly distract you from the film’s depiction of bleak reality. It is a touching and heartbreaking film of an old woman’s telling her life’s story through a simple dessert.
4.) Rinco’s Restaurant (2010)
The protagonist of the film Rinco’s Restaurant loses her voice in a tragic chain of circumstances, but that doesn’t stop her from pursuing her lifelong ambition of starting her own restaurant. Rinco’s restaurant serves just one customer daily, with no menu, which is a memorable aspect of the film. Oh, and definitely the poorly animated pig that speaks.
Rinco’s particular restaurant offers a unique selling point: a tailored experience for the customer that drops by. Among the delightful dishes served by Rinco throughout the film are a colourful bowl of miso soup, creamy risotto sure to satisfy any picky Italian, gourmet cocktails, and curry. Presented in a methodical slice-of-life style, the film’s ethos is wonderfully summarised by the film: eating is living and loving.
5.) The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952)
This one is as odd as the name of the movie suggests. What exactly is the flavour of green tea over rice? While these ingredients are somewhat dull and plain on their own, when combined, they create the soothing Japanese dish known as Ochazuke. The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is a classic melodrama directed by one of the pioneers of the Golden age of Japanese Cinema, Yasujirô Ozu.
The Japanese usually put meaning into the food they serve; this movie perfectly illustrates that. Rarely are there instances when there is no story, theme, or reason behind how dishes are made and created. The struggle of a married couple and their crumbling marriage complement the bland taste of the Ochazuke. But as they learn throughout their separation, maybe this blandness is, whether they like it or not, the natural and honest charm of it all.
6.) An Autumn Afternoon (1962)
What is Ozu’s last work and arguably his Magnum Opus, An Autumn Afternoon is a culmination, a mastery of all of the fantastic qualities of his works. Exquisite and poignant, it is a character study of an ageing widower who examines his life through conversations with people at various restaurants. This film is just one example of Japanese movies for foodies that highlight food’s essential role in society and culture.
Ozu’s films are often character-driven dramas that emphasise conversations during meals, placing audiences squarely in action as invisible watchers. This movie takes place in different food settings, such as small Japanese izakayas and traditional restaurants. The scenes’ film compositions are a tasty accompaniment to the various dishes served throughout the film’s 2-hour runtime.
7.) Kamome Diner (2006)
Kamome Diner tells a charming story of a Japanese lady who relocates to Finland and opens a restaurant. At first, having no customers, the restaurant picks up steam, and suddenly, it turns busy, with everyone wanting to get their hands on the special onigiri served by Sachie. Known as “Food for the Soul” in Japan, onigiri is a dish that exemplifies the simplicity and elegance of Japanese cuisine in its purest form.
This film, like Tampopo, has distinctive characters and a wide range of subjects that appeal to a wide variety of viewers. It’s a humorous, dramatic, and emotional-driven story, with Japanese individuals trying to adapt to another culture and set of individuals through food. A fun fact about this Japanese movie for foodies is that the actual restaurant where the film was shot is now a bustling crowd favourite among locals in Helsinki!
8.) Bread of Happiness (2012)
Japan’s bread scene is bountiful, filled with all kinds of sweet and savoury buns. Bread of Happiness encapsulates the authentic vibe of the portrait the country paints for it. It is a story of a couple that starts a bakery after moving to a quaint location in the Hokkaido Prefecture from the busy streets of Tokyo.
Rie and Sang’s restaurant is like a city bakery in that no matter the time of day, season, or weather, customers always leave feeling happy and hearty. Flaky, buttery french toast honey-poured and heavenly pain au chocolat served with a bitter latte are just some of the delicious loaves displayed throughout the movie. It’s a relaxing and meditative experience akin to baking your own loaf of bread on a breezy day.
9.) The Chef of South Polar (2009)
Imagine working in the middle of a snowy abyss, colder than a meat freezer, for an entire year with nothing to do. No friends (aside from each other), leaving loved ones behind, with nothing but snowball fights and, of course, their work as observers. Good thing the crew of eight in The Chef of South Polar have just that: a chef that cooks them gourmet meals to remind to bring them the love they’re missing through their stomachs.
This film is based on the autobiography of Jun Nishimura, the cook stationed at the south pole. The observational crew at the Fuji Dome base enjoy quite the benefits: the chef’s Michelin-like restaurant down, down under has everything from fresh lobster and tuna to salmon roe-filled onigiri, a typical Japanese breakfast, pork-miso ramen, and even roast beef. Like other films in this list, it will fill your tummy with food as much as jokes, with humour sprinkled as a garnish on this mega main course of a buffet.
10.) Dead Sushi (2012)
An unconventional pick, Dead Sushi might be the best way to round out the list with its wacky and bizarre nature. It takes the old adage, “don’t play with your food.” to another level and then some. Any foodie with more than an adventurous palate and open mind will appreciate this horror comedy that takes the country’s love and reverence of sushi to another level.
Dead Sushi’s premise centres around innocent, traditionally prepared pieces of sushi turning into flesh-eating monsters. The film starts with a father-daughter tandem making sushi on a traditional table, with fresh ingredients prepared with bare hands. It then slowly deviates into a wild ride that includes martial arts self-defence against sushi chefs, aggressively sentient squids, and of course, the live sushi terrors. Again, if you don’t take this movie seriously and have a laugh at its premise, you must understand that Japan has this unique side to it. In that case, you may learn something about Japanese culture that adds a wacky but delicious twist to classic dishes.
Do you have any favourite Japanese movies for foodies that we haven’t mentioned? Taking in the sights and sounds via the big screen offers something for everyone, much like the food scene. Fall in love with, get scared of, wind down to, and cheer yourself up with all the delightful dishes the land of the rising sun has to offer.