Ah, Christmas in Japan. Here, Santa leaves his home in Finland, comes through the front door (no chimneys here) and places gifts next to sleeping children’s beds. Meanwhile, families scarf down KFC and cake, and young couples go out on romantic dates.
Christmas movies are different, too. While we might watch a family-friendly film about Santa and his elves, locals want to curl up on the couch with their significant other and get romantic. It’s more of a couple’s holiday. However, one thing that we share in common is the idea of the Christmas miracle.
So enjoy Christmas like your neighbors—grab a big bucket of fried chicken, eat some cake and fire up one of these holiday flicks. Note that some of the films here are unfortunately not available with English subtitles.
1. Miracle: Devil Claus’ Love and Magic
Hikari (Smap’s Masaki Aiba) is a struggling manga artist working to make ends meet at a bookstore. One day he runs into Korean So-Young (Han Hyo-Joo), the spitting image of a character from one of his titles. While smitten, Hikari doesn’t notice his childhood friend, Anna (Nana Eikura), loves him. The love triangle grows even more complicated when Hikari’s university friend, fellow manga artist Kitayama (Tomu Ikuta), enters the picture.
Miracle: Devil Claus’ Love and Magic is a delightful piece of Christmas-themed entertainment. There’s enough drama to keep you hooked, but it’s presented with a light touch. The characters are relatable, the story is enjoyable and the ending is satisfying—an excellent choice for a Japanese-style romantic Christmas Eve.
- Japanese Title: MIRACLE デビクロくんの恋と魔法
- Stars: Masaki Aiba, Nana Eikura, Han Hyo-Joo
- Where To Watch: Netflix, U-Next, DTV, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Apple TV
2. Until The Lights Come Back
That’s the premise this sweet ensemble film asks: “What happens when the lights go out all over Tokyo on Christmas Eve?” It’s like Love Actually meets Magnolia, although the mood is much more subdued and heartwarming than those comparisons suggest.
Eleven characters weave in and out of each other’s lives in surprising and moving ways, with their stories unfolding throughout a long silent night in a city that never sleeps.
Until The Lights Come Back is the kind of movie at which Japan excels. The low lighting and Christmas setting make it all the more magical. Watch this one with your partner and be reminded that things can work out in the end.
- Japanese Title: 大停電の夜に
- Stars: Shinobu Terajima, Tomorowo Taguchi, Haruka Igawa
- Where To Watch: U-Next, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play
3. Tokyo Godfathers
Japanese Christmas movies are rarely about family. Tokyo Godfathers, by the late, great anime director Satoshi Kon, bucks this trend—although in an unusual way.
Three homeless people—the middle-aged Gin, transgender Hana and teenage runaway Miyuki—find an abandoned baby on the Tokyo streets on Christmas Eve. They set out trying to find the baby’s parents and, along the way, run into several unusual nighttime characters.
Tokyo Godfathers isn’t necessarily light-hearted—some tough scenes of violence realistically depict homeless life—but it’s also not a hard-hitting drama. Kon is best known for his surreal flights of fancy and although Tokyo Godfathers is grounded in reality, it still has enough coincidences and Christmas miracles to keep things interesting.
The acclaimed writer, the always excellent Keiko Nobumoto, who also worked on the original Cowboy Bebop and Macross Plus, passed away in late 2021.
- Japanese Title: 東京ゴッドファーザーズ
- Stars: Toshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto, Toru Emori
- Where To Watch: Netflix, U-Next, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play
4. Future Memories: Last Christmas
What would you do if you could live part of life over again, all the while knowing what was going to happen? That’s the premise of this Christmas fantasy, which sends its two main characters, Ginko (Shizuka Kudo) and Yuko (Misa Shimizu), 10 years back in time (to 1981) to relive their lives and try to make things right—with Christmas Day as the reset point.
We’re not going to lie—the movie is a little strange. Although it was directed by Yoshimitsu Morita, best known for the hard-hitting drama The Family Game, its practical effects and unusual pacing make it more like a film by Nobuhiko Obayashi (Hausu). However, fans of the 1980s and Japan’s bubble era will love the soundtrack and clothes
- Japanese Title: 未来の想い出 Last Christmas
- Stars: Shizuka Kudo, Misa Shimizu, Toshiaki Karasawa
- Where To Watch: U-Next, DTV
5. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
It’s 1942 and the Japanese-fluent Lt. Col. John Lawrence is the communication link between his British officers and the bushido-bound commander of the POW camp where they’re being held. That commander is Capt. Yonoi, played by musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. Enter David Bowie as Maj. Jack Celliers. Yonoi begins to obsess over Celliers and his unique personality, with things moving towards a dramatic head.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is by famed Japanese new wave director Nagisa Oshima and it’s a thought-provoking mix of wartime drama and 1980s star power (Sakamoto wears new wave makeup throughout). Of all the films on this list, it’s the least typically “Christmas-y,” although it is also the best, in my opinion. So if you’re tired of the usual holiday fare and want something a little more challenging, try this one.
- Japanese Title: 戦場のメリークリスマス
- Stars: David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Beat Takeshi
- Where To Watch: U-Next, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play, Apple TV
What’s your favorite Japanese Christmas movie? Did we forget any? Let us know in the comments!