Booked that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan but feeling glum because your flight seems so far away? Fortunately Tokyo’s starring role in a multitude of films means you can always reach for a streaming device to get excited for your trip.

Here’s our pick of the best films to whet your appetite ahead of your Tokyo visit.

A shot looking down Godzilla Road in Shinjuku, Tokyo; the Hotel Gracery stands at the end of the neon-lit road, and a huge model of Godzilla is looking over a tall building towards it.
A huge model of Godzilla overlooks the Hotel Gracery in Shinjuku, Japan © Jui-Chi Chan / Getty Images

Godzilla (1954)

Thanks in large part to the most famous mutant lizard of all time, Tokyo has the dubious honour of being the third-most often destroyed city in cinematic history (after New York and LA in case you were wondering). The original Godzilla spawned a whole series of sequels and remakes but, although the special effects are more than a little dated, the first film is still worth tracking down.

This is so much more than a disaster film; Godzilla, after all, is first awoken from his slumber by hydrogen-bomb testing, bringing to mind the trauma of the atomic weapons that fell in Japan eight years prior. A perfect film, not just for Tokyo on the big-screen, but for an insight into its history.  

Location scout: If you want to get up close and personal with the famous beast, head to the Hotel Gracery where a menacing model towers over the Shinjuku skyline (and even peeks into some rooms).

A still from the movie 'Lost in Translation'; actors Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray are in the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo.
Fans of 'Lost in Translation' flock to the Park Hyatt's American Bar © Allstar Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Lost in Translation (2003)

Sofia Coppola’s timeless tale of strangers bonding over a mid-life crisis and an uncertain future has been inspiring fans to visit Tokyo for over a decade.

Tokyo often comes across here as alienating, but the fun side does still shine through, with the couple racing through pinball halls in Shinjuku and throwing themselves into the karaoke bars of Shibuya. These sequences will have you itching to get there and, who knows, perhaps find a soulmate of your own.

Location scout: The New York Bar on the top floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel has long been sought out by die-hard fans undeterred by the equally sky-high prices. For a cheaper way to re-enact the film, head to Shibuya Crossing and marvel at your insignificance. 

Shoppers wandering the narrow passages between containers of freshly caught fish at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.
Tokyo's famous Tsukiji market © gjee / Shutterstock

Shoplifters (2018)

Hirokazu Kore-eda scooped the Cannes Palme d'Or in 2018 with this wonderful film about a non-biological family struggling with poverty in contemporary Tokyo. The family of shoplifters adopt Yuri, a young girl locked outside of her home one bitter winter evening, and teach her the art of thievery.

The film does a great job of conveying ordinary Japanese life, albeit centring on no ordinary family. Whether it's watching them shoot the breeze while slurping down ready-meal noodles or working in the city’s notorious hostess industry, there is a lot to digest about Tokyo society. 

Location scout: The film is mostly shot in the Adachi district, a working-class neighbourhood far from the tourist map. Superfans might want to consider making the journey to the local fish market as an alternative to Tsukiji (but no shoplifting, please).  

A family are sitting cross-legged on the floor in a house in a scene from 'Tokyo Story' (1953).
'Tokyo Story' has been lauded as the greatest movie of all time © Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Tokyo Story (1953)

We can go one better than suggesting just any old Tokyo film;  if a Sight and Sound magazine's directors’ poll in 2012 is to be believed, Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story is the greatest film ever made.

This masterpiece recounts the simple story of an ageing provincial couple who take a trip to visit their children in post-war Tokyo, only to be neglected and spurned. Beautifully shot and wonderfully acted, film buffs should track this film down, and not only for shots of Tokyo.

Location scout: In an important scene, the parents are dispatched on a day trip to the Atami hot springs.  If you want to soak a little closer to Tokyo, the region of Hakone has a good range of onsen (Japanese hot spring) towns. Unlike the parents after their soak, you will definitely not be thinking of heading home early.

A scene from the anime movie 'Spirited Away'; young girl Chihiro is sitting at a table having tea and cake with two magical characters.
'Spirited Away' is an ideal introduction to anime © United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Spirited Away (2001)

Any self-respecting list of Tokyo films needs to have some anime and this is the most famous of them all. Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away is the only non-English film to date to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It’s the story of Chihiro, a young girl who slips into a spirit world and makes her way back home.

Although not set in Tokyo, this classic coming-of-age story draws on the Japanese capital for inspiration. Fans have been making pilgrimages to the Meguro Gajeon Hotel (the inspiration for the witch Yubaba’s bathhouses), a sumptuous wedding venue that will transport you to another world.

If you’ve never watched any anime before, Spirited Away is the perfect film to dip your toe into this wonderful tenet of the Japanese film industry.

Location scout: The whimsical Studio Ghibli Museum is a must for anime aficionados. Situated in the western districts, this topsy-turvy museum immerses you in the magic of these films and will leave you inspired to seek out more of them on your return home.  

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