In Japanese movies, the city can very easily influence the plot. Almost all movie production houses in Japan have their main offices in Tokyo therefore, many dramas and blockbuster movies’ shooting locations are set there. Whereas for historical drama settings, Kyoto is the most popular destination. However, it is also interesting to watch movies set in other cities in Japan, for example Kobe. As one of the biggest cities which was opened for global trade by the Japanese government in the early 19th century, it has its own uniqueness to be chosen as a film set whether it is because of the history or just for the landscape.
As a Japanese movie lover, I recommend four movies which are set in Kobe and worth a watch.
Grave of the Fireflies
This anime movie is one of Studio Ghibli’s biggest hits. It is based on semi-autobiographical story written by the late Akiyuki Nosaka who once was a member of the Japanese diet and also a columnist for Mainichi Shimbun. This movie tells a flashback story told by the spirits of a boy whose little sister died due to starvation after the Kobe Bombing on March 1945 and later so did he. The boy, Seita, and Setsuko or Se-chan his younger sister, had to live with their aunt after their mother’s death, giving all the buried food supply to his aunt, except a small Sakuma fruit drops tin can which became an icon of the movie. Due to food shortages, their aunt became resentful of their living with her family. The siblings then decide to leave their aunt along with fireflies they used as light but then died the next day and were buried in a grave.
Set in Kobe shortly before the end of World War II in 1945, one can see how children lived their lives through misery to survive, though still trying to have fun in their childhood. At the final scene, the night view of modern Kobe was shown along with the spirits of Seita and Setsuko sitting happily together surrounded by fireflies.
Kobe Shimbun no Nanokakan
The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in January 1995 remains a deeply emotional event for the people who experienced it. This semi-documentary television movie, tells the story of how The Kobe Shimbun, a major newspaper, tried to overcome difficulties and keep running despite excessive damage to their publishing facilities by the earthquake. The chief editor insisted on continuing publishing because he felt that in it was the newspaper's obligation to play an important role in providing vital information to the public: evacuation and where to find shelter among others.
Kobe Jouhoubunkabiru. Building of the Kobe Newspaper. Photo by J o on Wikimedia Commons.
Arashi member, Sho Sakurai, played Tomohiko Mitsuyama, a reporter of Kobe Newspaper. By watching this movie, we could see the determination of the Japanese and how they helped each other to overcome the most dire situations.
About the earthquake itself, the Japanese government then developed and built the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution along with The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Museum as a remembrance of the disaster and learning institution of disaster-prevention and mitigation.
The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Museum. Photo by 663highland on Wikimedia Commons.
Called Hankyu Railways in English, is a movie based on a novel of the same title by Hiro Arikawa. Hankyu is a private railway operator that provides commuter service around the Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto region. The story revolves around passengers of Hankyu railways’ Imazu Line, between Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi and Takarazuka. The characters include an office worker who was dumped by her boyfriend and asked to be invited to his wedding as revenge; a grandmother with her granddaughter; a housewife; high school students; a college student who is badly influenced by her good-for-nothing boyfriend; and several more whose lives began to change as they interact in this fifteen-minute commute.
Black Prince and Wolf Girl
The most recent movie is this list which is the live action version of a shoujo manga with the same title. The story is of a teenage high-school girl, Erika, who made up a story of having a high-quality boyfriend to be recognized by the in-crowd in her class. Her friends are getting suspicious of her lies, because she only talks about him without introducing him to them or even just show them his picture. Erika then decides to randomly take a picture of a handsome guy and gets into trouble when she finds that he is in the same class as her and has a very terrible character.
Although, it does not specifically say it is related to Kobe as a city like the aforementioned movies, you will see many landscapes and sightseeing places that are easy to find in Kobe. Not only will you see iconic sites like Kobe Port Tower, but also the foreigner village in Kitano, Chinese town in Motomachi, and also Venus Bridge and Venus Terrace with its padlock which is a favorite destination for many couples.
You may not have heard of these flicks before reading this article but as far as movies about life in Kobe go, these ones are my favorite. As a resident of this great city, I highly recommend you look for these at your local video store or watch on Netflix. See for yourself why Kobe is such an inspiring place that deserves to be shown in the spotlight.