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How to watch Japanese films in English in Tokyo

From film festivals to cinemas, here's where you can catch Japanese films around Tokyo and Japan with English subtitles. By Matt Schley

By Time Out Tokyo Editors
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Between 4D-equipped multiplexes, tiny arthouses and revival theatres, Tokyo is a filmgoers’ paradise – providing said filmgoers are fluent in Japanese. For the rest of us, seeing any film that isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster in English can be surprisingly tough. For those itching to catch a flick, here’s the lowdown on how to see the latest Japanese releases with English subtitles.

TIFF
TIFF
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Festivals

To see the newest Japanese films in English – and maybe bump into a few stars – head to a film festival. The capital’s largest, the Tokyo International Film Festival, runs each year for about 10 days from the end of October, and screens dozens of Japanese films so new that most don’t even have trailers yet. That includes anime, low-budget indies, documentaries and even big budget premieres – the vast majority with English subtitles. Many screenings are followed by Q&A sessions with the stars, with English translators on hand to give you the chance to dig deeper into the film.

TIFF isn’t the only game in town: there’s also Tokyo FILMeX, which rolls into Yurakucho each year in late November. Like TIFF, there are plenty of English-subbed films from Japan and around the world. Meanwhile, Tokyo’s neighbour Saitama hosts the Skip City International D-Cinema Festival in July, where English subs are the norm.

From there, we go a bit farther afield – up to Tohoku in northeast Japan for the biennial Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (every odd year in October), or all the way to Hokkaido for the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival (every March). Or to tropical Okinawa or historic Kyoto, each of which boasts its own festival – Okinawa International Movie Festival is usually in April while Kyoto International Film and Art Festival is in October. Both offer the perfect excuse to mix some English-subbed flicks with a bit of sightseeing.

Uplink
Uplink

Go where the expats are

Tokyo is becoming an increasingly multi-cultural city, which has prompted a few forward-thinking Japanese film distributors to start releasing their films with English subtitles. These releases are still limited and we haven’t quite reached the age where you can catch subs in the suburbs.

Your best bet is, unsurprisingly, in places to which foreigners flock. That means theatres in Shibuya and Roppongi like Uplink ShibuyaEurospace and Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills – but even these theatres don’t show all their films with subtitles. For that information, you’ll have to turn to a time-honoured resource...

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Tokyo Filmgoer
Tokyo Filmgoer
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The Internet

Tokyo Filmgoer is a site devoted to where to catch English-friendly films in Tokyo. The site was founded in 2014 by FCCJ film programmers Karen Severns and Koichi Mori, who wanted to create a resource for film fans seeking subtitled screenings.

Tokyo Filmgoer is simple – it lists upcoming screenings and other film-related events that include English-language options, complete with essential information like where to get your hands on tickets.

Severns makes the case that such screenings are a win-win for film companies – they bring more viewers to Tokyo theatres, and those viewers become ‘ambassadors for Japanese film in their home countries.’ She also says she’s seen a major uptick in the number of screenings since the site was launched, and that she’s even met people who’ve flown in from countries like Malaysia just to see the latest films in their favourite series.

So the next time you boot up Netflix for a movie night indoors, take a look around – there may be a big-screen alternative near you.

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