Japan & The Movies: 5 Popular Movie Sites & Where to Find Them

Photo: Dick Thomas Johnson on Flickr

Japan & The Movies: 5 Popular Movie Sites & Where to Find Them

Liam Carrigan

As any regular readers of my work will know, movies are a passion for me. My love of cinema is right up there alongside my passion for martial arts, Japanese language and of course my ever beloved Celtic Football Club, Scotland’s the most successful soccer team currently in existence!

Anyway, I digress.

I’ve watched hundreds, perhaps thousands of movies in my lifetime and I wonder if you’ve ever experienced in your movie watching the feeling I’m about to describe. Have you ever watched a movie and looked at the background, perhaps the buildings, the mountains and seas or maybe even just the layout of the road and thought to yourself “I’ve been there before”?

Well, in my 10 years in Japan I have, indeed often without even realizing it, visited a number of famous movie locations. And I’m not just talking about famous Japanese flicks either. For example, did you know that the building front that served as the offices of the fictional Daily Planet newspaper in 1978’s classic Superman The Movie can now be found in Osaka?

Ironically, it is currently located within the main theme park at Universal Studios Japan where it houses, of all things, a Spider-Man souvenir shop!


The Former Workplace of Clark Kent Photo by Joel on Flickr

So, without further ado, I give you the top 5 filming locations you simply have to visit next time you are in Japan:

1. Horai Valley, Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

You may not be aware of this, but if I asked you to name a single location that, more than any other was responsible for inspiring George Lucas’ unforgettable Star Wars Saga of ongoing movies, many informed minds would indeed point to this easily overlooked but undoubtedly picturesque valley that sits less than an hour away from Osaka and Kobe.

For it was in this valley and is surrounding area that many of the most memorable scenes of Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 samurai epic, The Hidden Fortress, were filmed.


Scene from The Hidden Fortress Photo by japanesefilmarchive on Flickr

Lucas has often spoke of the great inspiration he drew from watching Kurosawa’s movies as a film school student back in his early days. So grateful was he to the Japanese master filmmaker that he even acted as an executive producer on Kurosawa’s 1980 hit Kagemusha. Indeed it was thanks largely to Lucas’ name that the movie was able to garner an audience outside of Japan. The Hidden Fortress has the same basic narrative template as Lucas’ first Star Wars movie, some movie critics have even called it a straight-up sci-fi remake. I highly recommend checking out The Hidden Fortress if you have time and then make a pilgrimage to this, the ancestral birthplace of that “galaxy far, far away”.

2. Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan.

Whilst much of 2013’s The Wolverine was shot in the title star Hugh Jackman’s native Australia, a number of scenes, particularly from the section of the movie where Logan and his Japanese lady friend are on the run in the Japanese countryside, were shot in around the fishing villages near the port city of Fukuyama. Regular visitors to Tokyo will also notice a prominent cameo appearance from Asakusa’s world famous Zozo-ji Temple in a funeral scene early on in the movie.


Kimon Berlin on Flickr


Pimkie on Flickr

3. The Regency Hyatt Hotel, Shinjuku, Japan.

Whilst I have always cited Karate Kid Part II, which I later learned much to my embarrassment was filmed in Hawaii, as the movie which first made me want to visit Japan, for many of the millennial generation it is 2003’s Lost in Translation that initially inspires people to visit Japan, and Tokyo in particular. Whilst I personally found the movie to be an at times irritating and vastly over-rated mish-mash of cultural and societal stereotypes, the film does have its fans, and those people will, I am quite sure, feel right at home in the piano bar near the rooftop of the Regency Hyatt in Tokyo’s Nishi-Shinjuku district, where many of Lost in Translation’s more iconic scenes were filmed. Indeed, if you go walk about in Tokyo then you are liable to find quite a few spots from the movie, as it was shot almost entirely on location there.


Lost in Translation Photo by Pipe Loyola M on Flickr


Rs1421 on Wikimedia Commons

4. Dotonbori, Osaka

Whilst much of US cinema’s interpretations of Japan and east Asia in general had up until the 1980s focused mostly on wise fighting masters, beautiful geishas and other poorly researched stereotypes, 1989’s Black Rain was one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to really showcase the darker elements of Japanese culture. The tense thriller starring Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia explores the Yakuza (Japan’s answer to the Mafia) in graphic detail. However as much a star of the movie as Douglas or Garcia is the city of Osaka itself, with many of its iconic inner-city streets showing up in the movie. Whilst many of these areas have undergone extensive redevelopment in the 25 plus years since the film’s release, the Dotonbori, with is canal cruises and distinctive neon lighting still remains recognizable as it was back in 1989.


POV on Wikimeda Commons

5. Hotel New Otani, Tokyo

Whilst Sean Connery may have looked more like a Vulcan from Star Trek than a native Japanese in the extremely politically incorrect 5th installment in the James Bond 007 series, 1967’s You Only Live Twice, at least the Japanese backdrops were largely authentic. Whilst the movie’s creators made use of several locations not just in Tokyo but also in Kagoshima, southern Kyushu, the exterior of the Hotel New Otani, which served as the headquarters of Osato Chemical Corporation in the movie, remains largely unaltered, which given the ever changing face of Tokyo really is something of a miracle these days.


New Otani Hotel Photo by あばさー on Flickr


Sakoppi on Wikimedia Commons

It really is amazing to think of some of the contributions Japan’s stunning landscapes and unique architecture have made to world cinema down the years and this is without even discussing the two most obvious examples of Godzilla and the Last Samurai.

Personally, as a proud Scot, I’m just amazed to think that I have walked in the same steps taken by the living legend that is Sean Connery, albeit almost 20 years before I was even born!

Next time you visit Japan, be sure to check out some of these stunning locations.