1. Let’s Go Karaoke!

Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast, but will it be as effective against a member of the yakuza? Let’s Go Karaoke! answers that question with a sometimes comedic, sometimes touching look at the unlikely friendship between a gangster and a junior high school student forged in a karaoke room. Check the movie out to see what happens when a coming-of-age story meets a wacky but sincere love letter to the power of singing.

Release Date: January 12, 2024

Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

Cast: Go Ayano, Jun Saito

2. Missing

Missing takes place in a heartless world where tragedy only seems to bring out cruelty, pettiness and apathy in others. Sadly, the movie isn’t a fantasy or sci-fi story but rather a modern-day drama about a woman dealing with her daughter’s disappearance and people so set on finding someone to blame for it that they don’t mind aiming their anger at a grieving mother. While covering themes of loss, Missing is shaping up to be more of a tale about using a stranger’s pain as your source of entertainment.

Release Date: May 17, 2024

Director: Keisuke Yoshida

Cast: Satomi Ishihara, Tomoya Nakamura, Munetaka Aoki

3. Trapezium

Young Japanese idols are a huge part of Japanese pop culture known the world over. Below the surface, however, the idol world remains famously secretive. This is partially why the book Trapezium by Kazumi Takayama, a former member of the Nogizaka46 supergroup, was such a big hit with its story about a high school girl aiming to become an idol and all the sacrifices she had to make along the way. While not the tell-all airing out of grievances some of us would like to see, it’s still a rare, honest look into the world of idols from a person who actually lived the life of one. In 2024, CloverWorks is releasing an animated adaptation of Trapezium featuring music by Maisondes.

Release Date: May 10, 2024

Director: Masahiro Shinohara

Cast: Asaki Yuikawa

4. Confession

In 1998, Nobuyuki Fukumoto and Kaiji Kawaguchi released Confession, one of the most suspenseful comics ever about two mountaineers who are caught in a storm. One of them, believing he’ll soon die, confesses to committing a murder. But just then, the two manage to take shelter in an empty lodge where the real horror begins as an admitted killer and the only person who knows about his crime become trapped in an enclosed space. After more than a quarter of a century, the story is finally getting a live-action adaptation that will challenge its stars to deliver their A-games in order to bring the gripping drama of the original comic to life.

Release Date: May 2024

Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

Cast: Toma Ikuta, Yang Ik-june

Japanese Movies 2024

Ryohei Suzuki in City Hunter | Image courtesy of Netflix

5. City Hunter

The City Hunter manga by Tsukasa Hojo left an indelible mark on the world of Japanese pop culture. The story of the lecherous but good-hearted private detective Ryo Saeba and his partner Kaori Makimura protecting Tokyo in daring and comical ways has been so successful, it has been adapted in almost every way. There’s a City Hunter animated series, animated movies, live-action films shot in France and Hong Kong (the latter starring Jackie Chan), and even a live-action Korean series. The only thing missing from the list is a live-action Japanese film. Netflix will remedy that later this year, most likely hoping to repeat the success of its live-action One Piece series. Hopefully, this live-action anime will be better than its take on YuYu Hakusho.

Release Date: 2024

Director: Yuichi Sato

Cast: Ryohei Suzuki, Misato Morita

6. Onmyoji Zero

Onmyoji, Japan’s real-life tech-wizards, are having a moment right now. Recently, they were the subject of the Onmyoji anime about battling demons and evil spirits, and now we’re getting something of a spiritual (pun unintended) prequel to that with the story of a young Abe no Seimei, the most famous onmyoji in Japanese history. Set during the Heian period (794–1185), Onmyoji Zero follows Abe no Seimei at a school of magic, which, just like the main character, actually existed. The film, thankfully, mixes its historical foundation with plenty of magical battles to create an action-packed entry in an emerging new trend in Japanese entertainment.

Release Date: April 19, 2024

Director: Shimako Sato

Cast: Kento Yamazaki, Shota Sometani

7. Mononoke: The Movie

The 2007 Mononoke television series was one of the most exhilarating anime shows of the 21st century. Animated in an avant-garde, psychedelic style like a mix between Yellow Submarine and a Wii game, in the best possible way, the series followed the mysterious Medicine Seller helping people out with paranormal problems. But that was just the first layer of the show. Mononoke was also about the Japanese class divide in the 19th century while dealing with some incredibly dark topics, including abortion. After 17 years, we will finally get more of this unique anime thanks to Mononoke: The Movie, which, judging by the trailer, will be just as bold and experimental as the original series.

Release Date: Summer 2024

Director: Kenji Nakamura

Cast: Hiroshi Kamiya

8. April, Come She Will

April, Come She Will is a movie about love, but it would be inaccurate to call it a romantic movie. A clue to its true meaning may lie in the song “April, Come She Will” from which the film seemingly takes its title. A Simon & Garfunkel tune from 1964, the song is a metaphor for the changing nature of a girl’s mood, which in the movie is explored through a psychiatrist changing his life’s trajectory after reuniting with his first love. Neither a drama nor a thriller, April, Come She Will looks more like a human exploration of what love is and a quiet celebration of life with all its ill-defined, confusing and beautiful emotions.

Release Date: March 22, 2024

Director: Tomokazu Yamada

Cast: Takeru Satoh, Masami Nagasawa, Nana Mori

9. Doraemon: Nobita’s Earth Symphony

Director Kazuaki Imai returns to the Doraemon franchise, about a robot cat from the future, with a beautiful film inspired by COVID-19. Reportedly, during the pandemic lockdowns, Imai was moved by a concert performance where the musicians were filmed separately while quarantining, their isolated sounds then being joined together and connecting people across great distances through music. Nobita’s Earth Symphony, set mainly on a planet of instruments, will undoubtedly have plenty to entertain younger audiences, but underneath it all, it promises to be a touching tribute to the power of music. In 2020, Imai took Doraemon to new heights with Nobita’s New Dinosaur, and it’s exciting to imagine what he will do with the latest installment of the popular anime franchise.

Release Date: March 1, 2024

Director: Kazuaki Imai

Cast: Wasabi Mizuta, Megumi Ohara, Yumi Kakazu, Subaru Kimura, Tomokazu Seki

10. Evil Does Not Exist

In a rural village, a single father raises his daughter to live in harmony with nature. One day, a developer announces they want to turn parts of the local primeval forest into a glamping site. This will affect the water quality. What sounds like a plot straight from an episode of Captain Planet has been elevated to something that touches the soul through the pen and lens of Ryusuke Hamaguchi. The writer-director gets to the essence of the story, paring it down to the millennia-old tale of humanity and our place in nature while slowly building to a conclusion that audiences may not instantly agree with but which they’ll think about for days.

Release Date: April 26, 2024

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Cast: Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani

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