The intermediate Japanese learner is at something of a difficult place. You’ve broken through from beginner apps and hiragana charts, but you aren’t ready for a fully immersive Japanese media experience, either. Japanese movies can be complex, with many job-specific 用語 (yougo, or jargon) to wade through.
Most Japanese movies don’t have 英語の字幕 (eigo no jimaku, or English subtitles) either. So what is someone who is studying for the N3 or N2 JLPT to do? I recommend teen romance flicks for up-to-date, naturalistic dialogue without too many tricky words.
For the best experience, make this about studying rather than just watching a movie. Keep a dictionary at hand and pause the movie when you hear a word you don’t know. You can even keep a notebook of new vocabulary words if you can’t catch a word, back up the scene and watch it again.
Although Japanese streaming services don’t always offer subtitles, DVDs do. So watch a scene once without subtitles, then again with them to confirm meaning (and practice kanji, too).
Here’s a quick glossary of words used in teen romance movies to get you started:
|初恋 (はつこい)||first love|
|告白 (こくはく)||confession (usually a love confession)|
|恋人 (こいびと)||boyfriend or girlfriend|
|キモい (short for きもちわるい)||gross|
|放課後 (ほうかご)||after school|
|登校 (とうこう)||going to school, attending school|
|下校 (げこう)||coming home from school|
1. My Love Story (2015)
Hulking good guy Takeo Goda (Ryohei Suzuki) has a crush on Rinko Yamato (Mei Nagano). Still, because every girl automatically falls in love with his best friend, Suna (Kentaro Sakaguchi), Takeo sets out to bring the two together.
Japanese teen romances often have a love triangle, but it’s rare to find one with no actual rival. My Love Story (based on the manga of the same name) has this unique premise. Although there’s a triangle of sorts, the source of the conflict isn’t a meddling bad boy but a series of mistakes and miscommunications—a sweet and often hilarious movie.
- Japanese Title: 俺物語！！ (おれものがたり！！)
- Stars: Ryohei Suzuki, Mei Nagano, Kentaro Sakaguchi
- Where to Watch: U-Next, dTV, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Apple TV
2. Wolf Girl and Black Prince (2016)
Based on the manga (comic) of the same name, Wolf Girl and Black Prince is the story of boyfriendless Erika Shinohara (the always excellent Fumi Nikaido), who asks Kyouya Sato (Kento Yamazaki) to pretend to be her boyfriend.
However, it turns out that Kyouya (the “Black Prince” of the title) has a dark side and soon has Erika acting like his dog as a condition to keep the ruse going. It sounds dark but it’s played for laughs—it is based on a manga after all—and the characters grow and learn from their mistakes. Fumi Nikaido is one of the best actors in Japan, so it’s a treat to see her taking on a fun role like this.
- Japanese Title: オオカミ少女と黒王子 (オオカミしょうじょとくろおうじ)
- Stars: Kento Yamazaki, Fumi Nikaido, Ryusei Yokohama
- Where to Watch: Netflix, U-Next, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Apple TV
3. One Week Friends (2017)
One Week Friends features another common trope in teen romance movies: the mysterious illness. Yuki Hase (Kento Yamazaki again, this time playing the sweet-natured suitor) loves his classmate, Kaori Fujiyama (Haruna Kawaguchi).
The problem is, Kaori is suffering from a unique kind of amnesia where she forgets everyone except her parents before the next Monday morning. Knowing this and still wanting to be friends, Yuki decides to start exchanging a diary with her, hoping that she won’t forget him.
One Week Friends is a delightful film that surpasses its rather fantastic premise. It’s kind of like a 50 First Dates comedy. Although it does get a bit melodramatic, that’s teen romances for you. Although there is some medical jargon involved, it’s nothing that a few flips through a dictionary won’t take care of.
- Japanese Title: 一週間フレンズ。(いっしゅうかんフレンズ。)
- Stars: Kento Yamazaki, Haruna Kawaguchi, Takashi Matsuo
- Where to Watch: Netflix, U-Next, dTV, YouTube, Google Play, Apple TV
4. God Of Novels (2020)
What are two famous young novelists’ chances to attend the same high school? Chitani Ichiya (Sato Taiki), the son of a renowned novelist, struggles with the follow-up to his first hit novel, released when he was still in junior high school.
Hot-headed Koyurugi Shiina (Kanna Hashimoto) is a similarly precocious and popular young writer who has issues of her own. Their editor suggests a collaboration. Can the two overcome their differences and save their young careers?
God Of Novels is unique in that it’s less a love story than a drama about the creative process. As befitting for a film about writing novels, the vocabulary in this one can be a little challenging at times.
- Japanese Title: 小説の神様君としか描けない物語 (しょうせつのかみさまきみとしかかけないものがたり)
- Stars: Kanna Hashimoto, Ryuji Sato, Kyoka Shibata
- Where to Watch: U-Next, dTV, Amazon Prime, Apple TV
5. My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday (2016)
After you’ve had your fill with high school romances, try graduating up to My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, a sci-fi lite love story set at a Kyoto university. For Takatoshi Minamiyama (Sota Fukushi), it’s love at first sight when he spies Emi Fukuju (Nana Komatsu) on a train. After getting up the courage to speak with her, the two start a romance, but Emi seems to have strange powers, eerily knowing what will happen soon.
Not to give too much away, but the story involves time travel. The challenge for the Japanese learner is to keep track of the events and how time works for the two characters. It can be challenging, but the movie is excellent—much better than you expect—and that makes an effort all the more worthwhile.
- Japanese Title: ぼくは明日、昨日のきみとデートする (ぼくはあした、きののきみとデートする)
- Stars: Nana Komatsu, Sota Fukushi, Masahiro Higashide
- Where to Watch: Netflix, U-Next, dTV, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Apple TV
What are your go-to movies or genres for listening practice? Let us know in the comments below.