A new year is upon us and nobody has any idea what it will bring. Having just lived through 2020 suggests caution, and maybe even bracing for more than a few unpleasant surprises. On the other hand, many of the movies set to be released in 2021 suggest that this year might be a good one. Here are the ten most promising films from Japan to watch out for this year.

10. Hokusai 

Arguably Japan’s most famous artist, Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849), is well-known internationally thanks to his The Great Wave off KanagawaHokusai is an upcoming biopic of the ukiyo-e painter (as both a young and old man) who immortalized some of Japan’s most stunning landscapes, captured scenes of city life in Edo, and also dabbled in pornography. Just tell people that you’re watching the movie to learn more about the first two.

Release Date: May 2021
Japanese title: HOKUSAI
Director: Hajime Hashimoto
Cast: Yuya Yagira, Min Tanaka

9. The Cinderella Addiction

Koharu Fukuura had one of the worst days of her life. But in the middle of it, she finds her own fairy-tale Prince Charming and later accepts his proposal. But the thing about fairy tales is that they tend to end there with a “and they lived happily ever after,” but The Cinderella Addiction keeps the cameras rolling, turning into a disturbing psychological thriller about a supposedly perfect family.

Release Date: February 5, 2021
Japanese title: 哀愁しんでれら 
Director: Ryohei Watanabe
Cast: Tao Tsuchiya, Kei Tanaka

8. The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill 

A follow-up to the 2019 film about a legendary assassin trying to live a normal life, A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill seems to be attempting to turn the original comedy into an action movie franchise. While the first Fable had its share of good (occasionally great) action scenes, things have been dialed up to 11 in the sequel, with crazy stunts, car chases, and fight scenes that give The Fast and the Furious movies a run for their money.

Release Date: February 5, 2021
Japanese title: 
ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋 
Director: Kan Eguchi
Cast: Junichi Okada, Fumino Kimura

7. Sailor Moon Eternal 

Marking the 25th anniversary of the last time that Sailor Moon graced the theaters, Eternal is a direct continuation of the Sailor Moon Crystal anime series that fans have been asking for close to half a decade. It seems that the wait for more adventures of one of the original anime magical girls was worth it as Eternal’s Part 1 has already premiered on January 8 to positive reviews, with Part 2 being scheduled for release in February.

Release Date: February 11, 2021 (Part 2)
Japanese title: 美少女戦士セーラームーンEternal 
Director: Chiaki Kon
Cast: Kotono Mitsuishi, Ryo Hirohashi, Kenji Nojima

6. What Did You Eat Yesterday?

A movie version of the TV Tokyo show of the same name, What Did You Eat Yesterday? is set to be one of the most human and realistic portrayals of male homosexuality in recent Japanese cinema. This is a topic that the country has somewhat struggled with in the past, but they may have finally gotten it right with a story that is largely about two ordinary people in love bonding over homemade food.

Release Date: 2021
Japanese title: きのう何食べた?
Director: Kazuhito Nakae
Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Seiyo Uchino

5. Along the Sea 

The exploitation of undocumented foreign workers in Japan is the backbone of this second movie by Akio Fujimoto, but it is not its main focus. Along the Sea follows three Vietnamese women as they care for each other in an unfamiliar place while trying to make a better life for themselves. The many long, quiet moments full of close-ups, really put the audience in these women’s mindset, making for an incredibly visceral viewing experience, for better or worse.

Release Date: 2021
Japanese title: 海辺の彼女たち
Director: Akio Fujimoto
Cast: Hoang Phuong, Huynh Tuyet Anh, Quynh Nhu

4. Jigoku no Hanazono

Naoko Tanaka is an ordinary office worker. Unfortunately for her, she exists in a surreal world where female office workers form vicious street gangs, and soon she gets caught in the middle of a massive war between rival office-worker factions from all over Japan. Although the movie’s premise is simple, it seems to have the same crazy energy as, say, Fly Me to the Saitama, meaning that you can probably expect great action, plenty of laughs, and some stealth cutting satire from it.

Release Date: May 2021
Japanese title: 地獄の花園
Director: Kazuaki Seki
Cast: Mei Nagano

3. Under the Open Sky

After serving 13 years in prison for murder, Masao Mikami is released back into a world that doesn’t want him back. This setup would be perfect for your typical redemption story that questions things like rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners into society. And while it looks like you will find plenty of that in this movie, it will also be mixed with almost black-comedic takes on the Kafkaesque nature of Japanese bureaucracy and humanity’s quest for entertainment and ratings at any cost.

Release Date: February 11, 2021
Japanese title: すばらしき世界
Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Taiga Nakano

2. Oshukatsu 

Oshukatsu looks like it starts off by tricking you into thinking it’s a movie about “retired husband syndrome,” which is when a Japanese husband —who for most of his career was a stranger in his own house — retires and starts spending time at home, to the irritation of his wife. That seems to be the case with Shinichi and Chikako, who’ve been married for 50 years. But with the introduction of a friend that their daughter made, Oshukatsu becomes a movie about contemplating death, preparing for it, and remembering to enjoy life along the way.

Release Date: May 21, 2021
Japanese title: お終活 熟春! 人生, 百年時代の過ごし方
Director: Hideyuki Katsuki
Cast: Isao Hashizume, Atsuko Takahata, Ayame Gouriki, Masaru Mizuno

1. Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time 

Evangelion seriously doesn’t want to die. Although the original anime series concluded in 1996, it later got an entire “parallel ending” movie (falsely) titled End of Evangelion in 1997 before the franchise’s creator Hideaki Anno decided to retell the whole story in Rebuild of EvangelionThrice Upon a Time is meant to be the final Evangelion movie in that tetralogy. Originally slated for a 2015 release, it now has been pushed to an unspecified 2021 date. We don’t know exactly when it will come out but when it does, it’ll definitely be… an experience to sit through the hopefully definite end of one of the most psychedelic science-fiction anime in all of history.

Release Date: 2021
Japanese title: シン・エヴァンゲリオン劇場版
Director: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Katsuichi Nakayama, Mahiro Maeda
Cast: Megumi Hayashibara, Megumi Ogata, Yuko Miyamura

Featured and top images: Hokusai, ©2020 HOKUSAI MOVIE