There are plenty of reasons to visit Tokyo – the amazing food, the buzz of a non-stop city and the stunning sights. But there’s yet another alternate lens through which to appreciate this grand metropolis. With the rising popularity of live-action and anime films set in Japan, not to mention the enduring love and respect for the country’s illustrious auteurs, it’s increasingly common for travellers to check out locations where these stories were shot. Indeed, in an ever-changing and bustling city, these movies offer the gifts of specificity and intimacy, not unlike being shown around by a warm friend.
1. Tokyo Monogatari (1953), by Yasujiro Ozu
One of the big names in global cinema, Ozu has always presented a perfect snapshot of Japanese living, both culturally and geographically. In this film, also known as Tokyo Story, the narrative follows an ageing couple who travel to the capital to visit their children. With the characters, viewers visit the areas of Adachi, Chuo, Taito and Chiyoda, and see a glimpse of regular lives undergoing transformation under post-war globalisation. If you’re already in Tokyo, take a trip south to Kamakura, where Ozu is buried; people often bring flowers and bottles of liquor when they pay their respects to the auteur.
2. Tokyo Olympiad (1965), by Kon Ichikawa
In 1964, Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics at the National Stadium, which had only been completed in 1958. Ichikawa’s film about the landmark event, heralded as one of the best sports documentaries ever, captures more than just the highs and lows of athletic competition. Having suffered plenty of architectural damage during the war, a reinvigorated and modernised nation was on full display throughout the film. And who better to have done it than Ichikawa, who ended up spending more than half his life making movies in Tokyo.
3. Lost in Translation (2003), by Sofia Coppola
Not that the world wasn’t already aware of Tokyo’s charms by the turn of the millennium, but Coppola’s moody, quirky film, starring Hollywood heavyweights Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, reminded viewers just how dreamy it could be. One of the most iconic sequences of the movie features the two main characters sauntering through Shibuya, jumping from a restaurant to low-key music shops and an upbeat karaoke chain. Of course, the famed Shibuya Crossing, with its mad scramble of pedestrians, also makes a timely appearance.
4. Byosoku Go Senchimetoru (2007), by Makoto Shinkai
Before helming Kimi no Na wa, Japan’s top-grossing animated films with US$359 million in international box office takings, Shinkai had already made an early impression with this three-segment story about a young man navigating his relationships with three different women at various points in his life. Beginning in the ’90s before crossing over to the ’00s, the animated film depicts turn-of-the-century Tokyo in stunning detail. Plenty of landmarks make an appearance, from Shinjuku station to Sangubashi Park in Yoyogi. Many Shinkai fans have made pilgrimages to these film locations – for example, the train crossing on the Odakyu line between Shinjuku and Sangubashi stations, where the protagonist is reunited with his love interest, has become a popular photo-taking spot.
5. Ten Ten (2007), by Satoshi Miki
Miki has always been known for his offbeat humour – in this film, Jo Odagiri plays an underachieving college student who is forced to follow his loan shark on a stroll through the streets of Tokyo as his unusual mode of repayment. The two walk all over the city – from visiting Inokashira Park and Jindai Temple in Tokyo’s west to eating at Ogyochi café and Taniyan Ramen – all the while becoming actual friends. Other popular landmarks such as Ueno Zoo and Tokyo Tower also make appearances. If you’re in the mood for a quirky and personal tour of Tokyo, you’ll be delighted by what you find in this movie.