21 Best Movies to Watch From Toho

Staff & contributors
Monster is a deceptively simple story about growing up and the many misunderstandings that come with it. It’s told through different points of view, a technique that could easily feel gimmicky in the hands of a lesser director. But with director Hirokazu Kore-eda at the helm, it feels natural and inevitable, as if there was no other way to tell this specific story. It’s a masterful mystery, but Monster is less about suspense and answering the whodunnit question than it is about navigating the murky waters of truth and real life. As corny as it sounds, watching Monster is an experience unto itself: you’ll find yourself believing something one moment and dismantling it the next, learning and unlearning in a span of two hours. But as with past Kore-eda films, it’s the story’s heartwarming sensitivity that trumps everything. You’ll likely come for the mystery but stay for its heart.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Akihiro Kakuta, Ayu Kitaura, Daisuke Kuroda, Eita Nagayama, Hinata Hiiragi, Kayo Noro, Mitsuki Takahata, Moemi Katayama, Pee, Ryu Morioka, Sakura Andô, Shidô Nakamura, Soya Kurokawa, Yûko Tanaka

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Rating: PG-13

Based on a classic Japanese folktale, Isao Takahata’s last film will break your heart. This adaptation, of course, follows Princess Kaguya from her being discovered in a glowing bamboo stalk to her departure to the moon. However, while faithful to the original tale, Takahata’s direction turns this historical fantasy into a heart-wrenching coming-of-age film as ethereal as the titular character. The film doesn’t focus on the crazy pursuit of her suitors; instead, we’re drawn to the simple experiences Kaguya herself is drawn to and wants more of, as she tries to balance her life with the societal expectations places on women. All of which is rendered through the film's lush watercolored scenes of the blowing wind or the opening of plum blossoms.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Aki Asakura, Atsuko Takahata, Hikaru Ijūin, Hiroyuki Yamamoto, Isao Hashizume, Kengo Kora, Mirai Uchida, Nobuko Miyamoto, Ryudo Uzaki, Shichinosuke Nakamura, Shinosuke Tatekawa, Takaya Kamikawa, Takeo Chii, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tomoko Tabata, Yuji Miyake, Yukiji Asaoka

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

If you're living alone and just came back home from a bad day, Wolf Children can make you feel like everything's alright. It's the kind of movie that feels like a warm hug and one that you will likely bookmark to get back to for this exact reason. Co-written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who's most known for The Girl Who Leaps Through Time, the title is to be taken without any salt: it tells the, allegedly true, story of a woman raising children who are half-human and half-wolf. It all starts with Yuki studying at Tokyo University, where she meets a mysterious and handsome young man, who can turn into a wolf at will. They fall in love and have children inheriting this strange skill. This is where the colorful visuals and life-affirming vibe of this anime give way to a bleak narrative turn. Wolf Children is a strange story of love and parenting told in an imitable style.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Amon Kabe, Aoi Miyazaki, Bunta Sugawara, Hajime Inoue, Haru Kuroki, Kumiko Aso, Mamoru Hosoda, Megumi Hayashibara, Mitsuki Tanimura, Momoka Ohno, Momoka Ono, Shota Sometani, Tadashi Nakamura, Taichi Masu, Takao Ohsawa, Takao Osawa, Takashi Kobayashi, Takuma Hiraoka, Tamio Ohki, Tomie Kataoka, Yukito Nishii

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Rating: PG

Co-produced by the legendary Studio Ghibli and directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is a tale about a man shipwrecked on a desert island whose fate is changed upon meeting a giant turtle. Beautiful images are pulled together and combined with the film’s delicate symbolism about humanity and nature, in a story told with remarkable restraint. The only sound in the movie is that of nature and the film’s beautifully relaxing score. Using only simple ingredients, The Red Turtle is an enigmatic, captivating, and highly-recommended gem that, after all, encompasses life itself.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Barbara Beretta, Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit

Hirokazu Koreeda can do no wrong. The director of Shoplifters and Still Walking is a master of dissecting complex family dynamics through a handful of events. In Our Little Sister, three close sisters who live at their grandmother's house learn that their absent father has passed. They travel to the mountains to attend his funeral and meet their half-sister, Suzu, for the first time. Suzu is invited to live with the sisters and join their bond.

This movie is a true-to-the-form slice of life, it's almost drama-free. This absence of plot is an absence of distractions: the sisters are all that matters to Koreeda. His only focus is on how this family becomes bigger, sees past grief, and how the group of close-knit sisters that grew up together can make room for a new addition.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Fukiko Hara, Haruka Ayase, Ichirō Ogura, Jun Fubuki, Kaho, Kaoru Hirata, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Maeda Oushirou, Masami Nagasawa, Masumi Nomura, Midoriko Kimura, Mikami Saya, Oshiro Maeda, Ryō Kase, Ryohei Suzuki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Shinobu Otake, Suzu Hirose, Takamitsu Nonaka, Yuko Nakamura, 中春优子

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Rating: PG

, 1985

An attempt to articulate just how vast and magnificent the scope of Akira Kurosawa’s 乱 (Ran) is will inevitably fall short. Recognized as a master of epics, including his 七人の侍 (Seven Samurai, 1954), Kurosawa reimagines Shakespeare’s tragic King Lear set in medieval Japan. Each shot is labored and precise, as sublime landscapes overwhelm the screen, dwarfing the armies of men fighting below. 

At the center of the ensuing wars is Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging warlord. Ichimonji divides his conquered land between his three sons, Taro, Jiro, Saburo. The Ichimonji clan, however, will not settle for less than everything. Father and sons scheme against one another, leading to violent plots for control over the kingdom. Greed poisons the Ichimonji’s bloodline, pervasive and all-consuming. The tragedy that unfolds is indeed as poignant as any great Shakespeare work. 

The road ahead is lined with bodies, blood, jealousy, paranoia—and it’s a long way to the bottom from the throne. Kurosawa, confronting his own mortality and legacy, achieves a titanic masterpiece with Ran. Few films so deeply grasp the tragedy of war at this visceral level. While Ran is not an easy watch, it’s a must-watch for all.

Genre: Action, Drama, History

Actor: Akira Terao, Daisuke Ryû, Haruko Tôgô, Hisashi Igawa, Hitoshi Ueki, Jinpachi Nezu, Jun Tazaki, Kazuo Katô, Kenji Kodama, Kumeko Otowa, Mansai Nomura, Masayuki Yui, Mieko Harada, Norio Matsui, Pîtâ, Reiko Nanjo, Shinnosuke Ikehata, Susumu Terajima, Takeshi Katō, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tetsuo Yamashita, Tokie Kanda, Toshiya Ito, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Zushi, 井川比佐志

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Without context, Minbo, or the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion seemed like a goofy satire, especially when the silly trumpet score pops up, and unfortunate hotel employees Suzuki and Wakasugi flounder around trying to solve the hotel’s yakuza problem on their own. And when Nobuko Miyamoto shows up as the brilliant lawyer, it’s so satisfying to see her turn the tables on the yakuza purely through words, strategy, and knowledge of law. It’s hilarious, but Minbo doesn’t just poke fun– it demystifies the gangster as a cool and untouchable figure, portraying them instead as loudmouthed bullies that we can handle. It also shows us how much can be done, only if we, as a group, perhaps as a whole nation, can muster the courage to fight.

Genre: Comedy, Crime

Actor: Akio Tanaka, Akira Nakao, Akira Takarada, Guts Ishimatsu, Hideji Ōtaki, Hōsei Komatsu, Kōji Sekiyama, Masahiko Tsugawa, Noboru Mitani, Nobuko Miyamoto, Shigeru Yazaki, Shirō Itō, Takehiro Murata, Tetsu Watanabe, Toshiro Yanagiba, Yasuo Daichi, Yuji Miyake

Director: Jūzō Itami

Surreal, strange, yet wondrous, Penguin Highway never takes a straightforward approach to its story. Penguins pop up out of nowhere, leading the nerdy and precocious Aoyama to study them via empirical observation and logical deduction. These studies don’t end up with a feasible explanation– in fact, by the final act, the film abandons all laws of physics. But the journey to that act feels intuitively right. This journey feels like an indescribable formative experience. Aoyama may be obsessed with growing up and committing to the reasonable adult mindset, but he is still a child. From fending off bullies to forming connections with others, his childhood imagination served him better than science could. The film reveres this discovery as well as it should.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Kana Kita, Landen Beattie, Mamiko Noto, Megumi Han, Miki Fukui, Misaki Kuno, Naoto Takenaka, Rie Kugimiya, Winston Bromhead, Yu Aoi

Director: Hiroyasu Ishida

Rating: Not Rated

Fun and whimsical to its core, this animated film takes viewers on a visually captivating, surreal, and enchanting journey through a single night in Kyoto. The movie immerses you in an entertaining and eccentric world with its vibrant animation, characters, and offbeat humor following two unnamed characters only referred to as "The Girl with Black Hair" and "Senpai." The narrative weaves together various quirky encounters, love interests, and strange events, keeping you engaged and curious. Blending romance, comedy, and coming-of-age themes, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is a joyous celebration of youth, adventure, and the unpredictable nature of life's unexpected twists and turns.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Ami Koshimizu, Aoi Yuki, Chikara Honda, Gen Hoshino, Hiroshi Kamiya, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Junichi Suwabe, Kana Hanazawa, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Kazuya Nakai, Masaaki Yuasa, Mugihito, Nobuyuki Hiyama, Ryuji Akiyama, Seiko Niizuma, Yuhko Kaida

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Rating: PG-13

In what was originally intended to be his final film, Hayao Miyazaki is at his most lucid with The Wind Rises. Fluid and luminous, it cleanly moves between a grounded, historical reality and an intuitive, imaginative dreamscape. Here Miyazaki reflects on the process of creation and what it means to be an artist, drawing parallels between his own meticulousness as a filmmaker with Horikoshi’s immutable passion for flight and efficient design.

But questions of responsibility and duty arise, as Horikoshi—and by extension, Miyazaki—must reckon with the reality that even things as beautiful as aeroplanes can be destructive, and that even dreams can be violent. This meditative film does not offer any easy answers but it provides solace in its prevailing sentiment: The wind is rising, we must try to live.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, History, Romance, War

Actor: Hayao Miyazaki, Hideaki Anno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Jun Kunimura, Kaichi Kaburagi, Keiko Takeshita, Mansai Nomura, Martin Short, Masahiko Nishimura, Miori Takimoto, Mirai Shida, Morio Kazama, Sascha, Shinobu Otake, Stephen Alpert

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG-13

Arrietty may not be as epic as other Ghibli movies, both in the literal and figurative sense, but its tiny world is so richly detailed that you could spend hours studying a single frame of the film. In Arrietty’s lovely house-underneath-a-house, stamps are hung on the walls like paintings, a flowerpot serves as the hearth, a tea canister is a cabinet, an olive a chair, a sewing pin a sword, a clothespin a hair tie, and so on. The possibilities are endless, but the film tries to exhaust them as much as it can. This alone makes Arrietty a delightful watch, but the simple story at the heart of it—one of survival, empathy, and faith—elevates into a timeless classic.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Amy Poehler, Bridgit Mendler, Carol Burnett, David Henrie, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Keiko Takeshita, Kirin Kiki, Mirai Shida, Moises Arias, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shinichi Hatori, Shinobu Otake, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tomokazu Miura, Will Arnett

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Rating: G