All About Japan

5 Binge-Worthy Japanese TV Series

| Japanese TV , Stay Home

Since the films of Akira Kurosawa inspired the spaghetti western genre that engulfed the US in the 1960s, Japanese cinema and TV haven't had the same global influence beyond the realms of anime. But with the advent of streaming platforms, a raft of quality Japanese TV series have come to our screens, some of which are just too binge-worthy to skip!

Giri/Haji

Giri/Haji, which means "Duty/Shame," is an Anglo-Japanese cop drama that sees protagonist detective, Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira), sent to London to find his brother, a presumed-dead former gangster. Originally created for BBC Two in the UK, the show touches on several interwoven themes: the unique confluence where the worlds of the police and the yakuza in modern Tokyo meet, the struggles of Japanese emigrants acclimating to life in the West, the importance of family above all else, and how the titular concepts of "duty" and "shame'| can shape our decisions.

But while the exterior is that of a gritty crime show that balances mature themes with a Tarantino-esque normalization of violence, there are humorous undertones—particularly from British policewoman, DC Sarah Weitzmann (Kelly MacDonald), and half-Japanese, half-English male sex worker, Rodney (Will Sharpe), who offer moments of levity throughout. Paired with some excellent bilingual performances in the main cast and a cliffhanger punctuating each individual episode, Giri/Haji will keep your eyes glued to the screen from start to finish.

The Naked Director

Japan's relationship with sex is a complicated one: public displays of promiscuity, or even talking openly about one's sex life may be deemed highly inappropriate, while perusing the shelves of multistory sex shops and paying scantily clad women to listen to your troubles in a clandestine "hostess bar" have been somewhat normalized. The Naked Director, released on Netflix in 2019, explores the nature of this relationship set against the prosperous, go-getter backdrop of an 80s Japan's bubbling economy.

The series is loosely based on the life of Toru Muranishi (played by Takayuki Yamada), a Sapporo-based salesman-turned-controversial entrepreneur who made it big in the nascent world of pornography as a director of adult films. Muranishi's improbable rise to fame—for which Tokyo Journal anointed him "the dirtiest of the industry’s dirty old men"—unspools from a "banging" opening scene which captures the essence of its irreverent and cocksure protagonist. Thanks to Yamada and his fellow cast member's hilarious performances The Naked Director is sure to hit home with fans of the slapstick comedy genre. Expect a rocking soundtrack and a lot of skin on skin action.

Terrace House

Over the last eight years Terrace House has become a stalwart of Japan's television zeitgeist, particularly among young adults, and remains one of the most popular shows in the nation today. A reality TV show, Terrace House follows a premise so simple as to almost seem mundane: six Japanese strangers live in a house together, where they get to know and date one another. It bears similarities to reality TV shows popular in the West, like Big Brother, Jersey Shore and Love Island, but without the imprisonment of the former, and lacking the lasciviousness and questionable characters of the others.

Terrace House is unashamedly sentimental and twee, and at times is guaranteed to force a cringe. But the alternating "cast" are largely likable, giving the show an innocence that would only really work with Japanese sensibilities. Furthering its credit, Terrace House has achieved what few other reality TV shows have done before: its won over plenty of supporters previously sceptical about the genre. And that's no mean feat.

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, based on the manga of the same name, looks at the inner workings of Tokyo's late night dining scene, set in fictional Shinjuku izakaya, Meshiya: a 12-seater counter-style diner, run by a chef known simply as "Master" (Kaoru Kobyashi), which only opens during the post-party hours of 12-7 a.m.

The show is reminiscent of a classic situational comedy where an eclectic host of unruly and eccentric characters frequent the diner to spill tales from their converging lives. Though the anthology-style episodes primarily take place within the walls of Meshiya, the entertainment hub of Shinjuku also plays a central, if partially hidden, role; its iconic nightscapes and seemingly limitless possibilities are never too far away. But the pseudo-realism of the series is its most enduring characteristic: if you've ever sat in a crowded Japanese bar where staff and regulars chew the fat as though they were lifelong friends, Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories will send you drifting down memory lane.

Attack on Titan

There's a common misconception that Japanese anime are exclusively geared toward younger viewers. A single episode of Attack on Titan instantly dispels that myth. First airing in 2013, it is one of the greatest disaster series in recent TV memory, fusing stunning visuals, horrifying villains, a spine-tingling blend of melodrama and genuine heartache, and a poignant tale of revenge at all costs.

The setting is the town of Shinganshina by the outermost battlements of a tri-walled city state that serves as the last bastion of humanity. The walls were built to keep out the gargantuan plight of the human race: androgynous humanoids the size of skyscrapers, also known as "titans," that feast on people. The protagonist is Eren Jaeger, a headstrong young boy who enlists in the military to enact revenge upon the monsters that took everything from him. From here the story is propelled along a series of criss-crossing tracks with superb dialog and an expertly scored, tension-building soundtrack that have cemented Attack on Titan's position in the prestigious halls of anime fame.