10 Greatest East Asian Films Ranked

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The 10 Greatest East Asian Films of All Time

An In-Depth Ranking from Worst to Best

To celebrate Asian Heritage Month, we explore the world of East Asian cinema to explore the ten greatest films ever made in the region. From the mesmerizing works of legendary directors like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu to captivating contemporary offerings from Bong Joon-ho and Hirokazu Kore-eda, East Asian films have left an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape. While it’s impossible to confine the wealth of East Asian cinema to a simple top 10 list, we’ve taken on the challenge and ranked these exceptional films. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the captivating world of East Asian cinema.

10. Train to Busan (Busanhaeng) – 2016

A Zombie Masterpiece from South Korea

South Korea delivers one of the greatest zombie films of all time with “Train to Busan.” The high-concept action horror takes place on a train journey to Busan, which suddenly becomes a battleground when a viral outbreak turns passengers into flesh-eating zombies. The film’s measured opening establishes the strained relationship between Seo Seok-woo and his daughter, Seo Su-an, as they board the train. What unfolds is a thrilling and intense ride filled with intelligent set pieces and excruciating tension. “Train to Busan” stands as a masterpiece of East Asian cinema and one of the finest horror films ever made.

9. Still Walking (Aruitemo Aruitemo) – 2008

A Subtle and Poignant Family Portrait from Japan

Hirokazu Kore-eda, often regarded as a direct heir to Yasujirō Ozu, presents “Still Walking,” a film that beautifully captures complex emotional dynamics within a family. Set over the course of a day, the film follows a family as they gather to commemorate the death of their eldest son. With a reserved and static camerawork, Kore-eda allows the interactions, humor, and unspoken frictions between family members to unfold naturally. “Still Walking” is a deeply human and introspective exploration of life’s complexities, resonating long after the credits roll.

8. Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-Hime) – 1997

A Majestic Epic from Studio Ghibli

No list of great East Asian films would be complete without a mention of Studio Ghibli. “Princess Mononoke,” a breathtaking film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, beautifully combines fantasy with powerful themes of deforestation and the importance of environmentalism. The film stands as a testament to the studio’s ability to tackle serious adult themes while delivering stunning animation, world-building, and a memorable original score. “Princess Mononoke” is a crown jewel in East Asian cinema and a testament to Studio Ghibli’s unparalleled craftsmanship.

7. Akira – 1988

An Otherworldly Anime Classic

“Akira,” a monumental anime film directed by Katsuhiro Ôtomo, takes us on a chaotic journey through a futuristic Neo-Tokyo ravaged by war and dominated by lawless biker gangs. The film’s breathless opening sets the stage for a narrative that explores themes of world wars, collective fears, and the destructive power of nuclear weaponry. “Akira” stands as a masterpiece of East Asian anime, with its rich world-building and influential impact on the science fiction genre. This neon-kissed marvel continues to captivate audiences with its powerful storytelling and striking animation.

6. In the Mood for Love (Fa Yeung Nin Wah) – 2000

An Achingly Beautiful Tale of Forbidden Love

Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love” transports viewers to 1960s British Hong Kong and tells the story of Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan, two individuals who find themselves irresistibly drawn to each other despite both being married. The film’s slow and measured approach enhances the intense emotional and physical connection between the characters, brilliantly captured through ravishing cinematography. With its aesthetic intensity, “In the Mood for Love” stands as one of the most exquisite romances in cinematic history, leaving an indelible impression on East Asian cinema.

5. Harakiri (Seppuku) – 1962

A Samurai Masterpiece that Defies Expectations

Masaki Kobayashi’s “Harakiri” takes us back to 17th-century Japan, exploring into the samurai culture and the act of seppuku, also known as harakiri. Unlike other samurai films of its time, “Harakiri” presents warriors not as noble beings but as petty individuals lacking true honor. Through deconstruction and mockery of tradition, the film highlights the brutality of harakiri and questions the concept of honor itself. With its immersive storytelling, steady camerawork, and Tatsuya Nakadai’s remarkable lead performance, “Harakiri” secures its place as one of the finest examples of East Asian cinema.

4. Parasite (Gisaengchung) – 2019

A Well-Mannered Masterpiece that Shattered All Boundaries

Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” made history as the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. This scathing satire takes a piercing look at class struggles in South Korea, exploring themes that resonate with audiences worldwide. Bong’s seamless blend of genres, from comedy to tragedy, creates a captivating narrative that tackles issues of social inequality. With impeccable screenwriting, masterful direction, and a standout ensemble cast, “Parasite” has solidified its place as a modern masterpiece of East Asian cinema.

3. Late Spring (Banshun) – 1949

A Timeless Exploration of Familial Expectations

Yasujirō Ozu’s “Late Spring” exemplifies the director’s signature style of familial dramas. The film centers around Shukichi and his daughter, Noriko, highlighting societal pressures on young women to marry and leave home. Ozu’s stationary camera shots, placed at a low height, immerse viewers in the interactions, creating a realistic and contemplative atmosphere. While the film unfolds subtly, it builds towards a devastating finale that explores the complexities of life, leaving a lasting impact. “Late Spring” demonstrates Ozu’s mastery in observational cinema, solidifying his status as one of East Asia’s greatest directors.

2. A Brighter Summer Day (Gu Ling Jie Shao Nian Sha Ren Shi Jian) – 1991

A Daring Epic that Defines Taiwanese New Wave Cinema

Edward Yang’s “A Brighter Summer Day” is both an immersive and daring cinematic experience. Inspired by a tragic murder story that captivated Taiwan during the 1960s, this four-hour epic blends intense realism with genuine portrayals of Taiwanese people and society. Exploring themes of identity, adolescence, and rebellion, Yang stitches together a captivating narrative that lingers in the minds of audiences. “A Brighter Summer Day” represents the pinnacle of Taiwanese New Wave cinema, demonstrating the immense talent and creative vision of Edward Yang.

1. Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai) – 1954

A Magnificent Epic from the Master, Akira Kurosawa

Topping our ranking is Akira Kurosawa’s monumental masterpiece, “Seven Samurai.” Often regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, this epic adventure showcases Kurosawa’s unparalleled storytelling and directorial prowess. When a small village hires seven samurai to defend their crops from bandits, a battle between good and evil ensues. With its captivating action, engaging characters, and epic scope, “Seven Samurai” stands as a timeless classic that has influenced generations of filmmakers worldwide. Kurosawa’s magnum opus remains a crowning achievement in not only East Asian cinema but also the entire world of filmmaking.


The world of East Asian cinema boasts an incredible array of films that have enthralled audiences around the globe. From the intense action of “Train to Busan” to the delicate introspection of “Late Spring,” these ten films represent the very best that East Asian cinema has to offer. Each one showcases the unique storytelling and artistic prowess of their respective directors, leaving a lasting impact on cinematic history. Whether it’s the rich world-building of Studio Ghibli or the intimate portrayals of family dynamics in Ozu’s films, East Asian cinema continues to captivate and inspire. So, let these ten masterpieces be your gateway into the captivating world of East Asian films.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Are these films available with English subtitles?

Absolutely! Most of these films have been critically acclaimed worldwide and have been released with English subtitles to ensure a wider audience can enjoy them.

2. Can I watch these films on popular streaming platforms?

Yes, many of these films are available on popular streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Criterion Channel. Check out these platforms to access these cinematic gems.

3. Which film should I start with if I’m new to East Asian cinema?

A great starting point would be “Seven Samurai” by Akira Kurosawa. It exemplifies the epic storytelling and visual brilliance that East Asian cinema is known for.

4. Are there any upcoming East Asian films to look forward to?

Absolutely! East Asian cinema continues to produce remarkable works. Keep an eye out for upcoming releases by talented directors like Bong Joon Ho, Hirokazu Kore-eda, and Wong Kar-wai.

5. Are these films suitable for all audiences?

While these films cover a wide range of genres and themes, it’s important to check the age rating and content warnings for each film. Some films may contain mature content or require adult supervision for younger audiences.