Romantic comedies make for a light-hearted, enjoyable escape from the mundane. While there are many to choose from in Hollywood, the genre has seen a resurgence in popularity due to the influx of Japanese romantic dramas. Rich in culture and tradition, Japanese romance films offer a unique perspective with captivating storylines and have become a must-watch for movie lovers around the world.
In Japan, these stories are deeply rooted in the genre of shōjo – manga, anime, and film – and feature talented actors and actresses, capturing the joys and frustrations of teenage life, first loves, and navigating the tumultuous waters of adulthood. While some of these movies are part of an ongoing series, most can be watched as a standalone story, making them easy to access and thoroughly enjoyable.
Leading the pack is Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 hit, Your Name. This blockbuster follows the story of two teenagers – one in the past and one in the present – as they experience a time-traveling bond. It contains elements from both science fiction and romance and garners its value from being a thought-provoking piece padded with a perfect balance of family struggle and affection. Other movies based in Japan, such as Ito Junji’s High & Low – the Worst spawned a series of other hit films, namely, High & Low: The Story of S.W.O.R.D.
Other popular Japanese romance movies, such as First Love and Weathering with You, further display the insightful, intense strengths of the genre. With beautiful cinematography and engrossing storylines, these movies deliver a great film-watching experience, allowing the viewer to observe beautiful scenery as well as great acting performances.
What sets Japanese romance movies apart from other romance films is their focus on characters. Each character is uniquely portrayed and the emotions they experience go beyond the typical love story, showing the real wrestling with life’s circumstances, longing for the future, and overcoming challenges. In contrast, Hollywood romcoms usually focus more on glamorizing ideals and conforming to preferences, making the interpersonal relationships on screen appear shallow and one-dimensional.
Experts such as director, Hideaki Anno praised the simplicity and poignancy of romance stories in Japan for striking an emotional chord with viewers worldwide. One notable quality of these films is that love rarely conquers all and heartache is just as natural a consequence as joy. This gritty realism allows the audience to relate and understand the complexities of life as they watch the characters navigate them.
Whether you’re looking for something romantic, funny, or philosophical, there’s a Japanese romance movie to suit everyone’s taste. From movies with a large mainstream appeal such as Your Name to indie darlings like Butterfly Sleep, these movies provide insight into the culture, display masterful cinematography, expertly depict the intricacies of relationships, and give you a one-of-a-kind viewing experience.
The Rise of Japanese Rom-Coms
The history of Japanese rom-coms is an interlacing thread between traditional culture and pop culture, with the genre gaining a foothold in the industry in the ’70s. However, with the launch of the TV network Fuji TV in 1962, the genre was presented to a larger audience.
The genre, popularly called josei, is a genre focused on everyday adults in relationships and careers, as they learn and evolve. This genre addresses the balancing of different desires and how to make decisions in the face of life’s uncertainty. This genre usually follows the main protagonist throughout their journey of self-discovery and the exploration of their romantic leads.
Remarkably, the genre that is also called rom-coms in Japan has its basis in manga, an art form that has preserved the spirit of traditional culture in current pop culture. As such, it’s no surprise that this genre is a favourite among viewers from Japan and beyond. Japanese rom-coms are often compared to their western counterparts and the genre is gaining official notice on the world stage.
For those seeking a unique rom-com experience, Japanese rom-coms are worth a look. In addition to the frequent use of traditional culture, the genre often includes interesting plot twists, and there is currently a greater focus on developing long-standing relationships as opposed to relying heavily on having a love-at-first-sight theme.
The protagonists they follow are often not just opposite star-crossed lovers, but two individuals with different desires, backgrounds, and goals that may or may not work out. As such, the genre allows room for growth and character development, making them layered and well-rounded.
The Visual Appeal of Japanese Romance Films
When it comes to visual storytelling, Japanese romance movies have a distinct charm. The scenes are often set in the streets of modern Japan, and with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. These shots often tell another story, one of how the characters feel confined by their surroundings, but also of how they extend beyond those boundaries.
The visuals are often an element of the story, with the subjects going in and out of their glimpses of life, as the camera follows them through their journeys. The vibrant colors of the characters’ clothes highlight their individual personalities, as well as their position in the story.
Symbolism also plays a role in these films, as characters’ actions can be seen as representational of a larger theme. For example, a character might find themselves in a café, and the outside view of this café means nothing to them, yet speaks volumes to the viewers. In some cases, the colours of the objects represent the state of mind of the characters, or the passing of time, making for a powerful and unique experience.
Through their cinematography, Japanese romance films allow the audience to experience these characters’ emotional journeys from start to finish and get an understanding of the culture and its people. Watching a Japanese rom-com gives viewers an insight into a different culture and its emotional landscape.
A Variety of Music in Japanese Romance Films
Through the power of music and storytelling, music can add immense value to any medium. In romance films, music is often used to portray a range of emotions and the power of which has the potential to move the audiences. With Japanese romantic films, the effect is no different.
The genre leverages traditional music such as Noh, traditional Japanese theater, Bunraku, and shamisen are often used to deliver the emotions of the characters. Contemporary music, on the other hand, is heavily influenced by pop culture, providing a useful backdrop for stories.
Music has the potential to make even the most subtle movements significant and to emphasize the most intense moments. It can also be used to punctuate certain ideas and provide a subtle context for certain scenes. As such, Japanese Romance films use a variety of the genres to tap into the emotions of the audience.
With their intense storylines and memorable scenes, coupled with the powerful emotions that music can bring, a combination of all of these elements makes for a truly great film experience. This blend of music, visuals, and storytelling, brings to life the characters and their struggles, thus allowing the audience to invest emotionally in their stories.
Impact of Japanese Romance Films on Audiences
With the increasing popularity of Japanese films, Japanese romance films have become an international sensation. Moviegoers around the world have praised these films for their engaging storylines and captivating visuals.
The impact of these films and their messages have been heavily discussed, with viewers gravitating towards films that hinged on traditional family values and the complex relationships between individuals. This has been seen as a trend over multiple films, with the protagonists often struggling to define who they are in the face of cultural and familial expectations.
Japanese romance films also celebrate the joys of relationships, and the beauty of love between two individuals. Through the cinematic visuals and excellent acting, these films showcase the true beauty of emotion that people feel in close relationships. Audiences are able to connect to this emotion and appreciate the subtle nuances that these films offer.
The impact of the genre has been clear, with these films inspiring viewers to appreciate their relationships with those close to them more. These films serve to remind us that even with all of life’s struggles, often it is love that brings us through.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for a lighthearted, feel-good watch, or something a bit more melancholy, Japanese romance movies have something for everyone. With compelling stories, beautiful visuals and masterful acting, these films provide a unique experience for all audiences.