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5 Recommended Movies Set in Famous Tourist Spots in Japan, Including Tokyo and Kyoto!

Have you ever seen exotic scenery on a poster or TV screen that made your heart skip, and decided that you must travel there to see it in person? This article will introduce you to some movies that will heighten your urge to make a trip to Japan.

Our Little Sister

Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, whose movie “Shoplifters” won the Palme d’Or at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. One day, three sisters living in Kamakura learn of the death of their father, who had abandoned them 15 years earlier. At his funeral, they meet their estranged half-sister for the first time, and the four begin living together in Kamakura.
The intrigue of the story and the superb acting are sure to pull you in, but some of the best parts of the film are the scenes that showcase everyday Japanese life, such as when the family is huddled around a dining table or going to a fireworks festival dressed in yukata (traditional summer robes).
Watching these four become a family amidst the backdrop of a relaxed, seaside town is sure to lift your spirits.


Photo of a private Japanese house in Kamakura.

Memoirs of a Geisha

Released in 2005, this movie is based on the worldwide bestselling American novel "Memoirs of a Geisha" from 1997. The story is of a girl named Sayuri, born in a poor fishing village, who is sold at the age of 9 into the harsh environment of Japan's red-light district and grows up to be a full-fledged geisha.
I would recommend this movie to anyone who has ever wanted to visit Kyoto! This movie will take you to all the famous sightseeing spots in Kyoto, from the scarlet torii (shrine) gates at the entrance to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, to the trails of the bamboo forest of Sagano, to the Heian Shrine. Seeing these paths that the writer has personally traveled only heightens my desire to visit Kyoto.


Sakuran

This movie, based on the manga of the same name by Moyoco Anno, follows the emotionally turbulent life of Kiyoha, a young girl who was sold into Yoshiwa (the official red-light district of Edo, the old name for Tokyo).
You would think that a movie about a courtesan would present a dark, dreary world, but the film’s director, world-famous photographer Mika Ninagawa, managed to turn this story into a vivid piece of cinematic beauty.
The movie shows the dirty underbelly that lies beneath the showy exterior of life as a courtesan. It was mainly shot at the Noboribetsu Date Jidai Village in Hokkaido, but the final scene takes place at the Sakura Tsutsumi Festival at Satte Gongendo Park in Saitama. Famous for the sakura and rapeseed flowers that bloom in spring, the profuse blooms of the light pink sakura combined with the yellow rapeseed flowers create a beautiful and moving image. Definitely give it a visit if you get the chance!


Last Samurai

This Hollywood movie, released in 2003, takes place just after the Meiji Restoration of the 19th century (the revolution that displaced the Tokugawa Shogunate). It shows the attempts of samurai to survive honorably amidst the turbulent waves of oncoming modernization, climaxing in a marvelous battle scene that is the highlight of the film. You will be surprised by how cool Tom Cruise looks in his samurai armor!
The large-scale scenes were shot in New Zealand and in American studios, but there are also scenes shot at the Shoshazan Engyo-ji Temple in Himeji, Hyogo, Chion Temple in Kyoto, and the Kujuku Islands in Nagasaki. While you watch, try to guess which scenes were shot in Japan!


Lost in Translation

This 2003 film was the result of a collaboration between America and Japan. A middle-aged Hollywood star, Bob, comes to Tokyo to film a commercial and meets a woman named Charlotte who is accompanying her photographer husband on a trip. The story follows these two as they get to know each other, isolated amidst a foreign culture.
The film explores the difficulties humans face in forming relationships of mutual understanding, be they between men and women, husbands and wives, or just friends. But in the quiet interactions of these two, with Tokyo as the backdrop, one feels a clear sense of hope and warmth. Most of the filming takes place in Tokyo, so in addition to the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku, viewers also get to enjoy Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, the famous Shibuya Crossing, the Yodobashi Camera by Shinjuku's West Gate, and other streets and locations across Tokyo.


Did any of these catch your interest? If any of the locations depicted in these films appeal to you, make sure to try to see them in person when you can!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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