If you were interested in my previous article about early 20th-century movies, you would be thrilled to see how these Japanese lesbian movies have developed since 2000.
We’ve seen some real gems like “Blue” (2002) and “Shinku” (2005), not to mention the international sensations “Love Exposure” (2008) and “Kakera” (2009).
They are more than just films, these Japanese GL movies significantly increase the representation of LGBTQ+ subjects on the big screen; they are compelling stories with a human touch. It’s like seeing the genre mature and come into its own, one gripping tale at a time.
In the world of Asian cinema, especially with Korea’s latest web series trend, LGBTQ+ stories are as common in our lives as morning coffee.
A new type of web series has become popular in Asia, especially in South Korea, this has made it easier for LGBTQ+-themed material to fit in with our everyday lives.
If anything, LGBTQ+ themes are frequently incorporated into larger narratives in Korean films that represent social settings and individual struggles.
Japanese WLW movies, on the other hand, have got a different beat, favoring indie vibes with a laser focus on the stories and minds of individuals. It’s all about digging deep into characters.
I’m planning to put together a classic Japanese lesbian movie list from across Asia. Think of it as your go-to guide for a cinematic journey through different cultures and their unique takes on LGBTQ+ Japanese movie storytelling. Stay tuned!
1. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021)
If you read “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” by Hamaguchi, you’ll enjoy three great things. This is what “Magic (More Unreal than Magic)”, “The Open Door”, and “Once More” look like. Hamaguchi’s signature style is mixed in with this one.
Think of female figures with layers like an onion and a mirror-like complexity. These aren’t your normal love stories. Instead, they’re about the strange ways that love interacts with fate.
There’s an odd love triangle, a failed attempt at seduction, and a meet-cute that goes horribly wrong. It’s about love in a world full of “oops” and “what ifs,” told with a twist that wouldn’t come from anyone else.
The third tale from “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” really stole my heart. It’s a story about a female relationship that goes back and forth between the present and the past.
In real life, mistaking someone for another can be the ultimate ‘oops’ moment, but in this story, it spins into something magical.
Conversations between the two women, like “You look like her” and “I can play her part if you don’t mind,” are surreal yet incredibly moving. It turns a meeting that could be awkward into a moving look at identity and relationship.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all in cinema, this one comes along and shows you that there are so many more stories you can tell.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi really shakes things up with his latest film, proving it’s the unexpected turns in life that define us, not the daily routine. The main idea of his story is completely original, and the first scene is nothing less than amazing.
He combines the magic of movies with the honesty of live theater in these long, lingering shots, each of which is its own mini-movie. These shots take us deep into the story and show us a world of ‘what ifs’.
The soundtrack. Think minimalist, mostly piano, setting just the right tone. And those subtitles – concise yet spot-on.
Not only that, but this movie has also won 10 awards and been nominated for 22 more. Looking for more information? Just go to the movie’s IMDb page.
2. 21st Century Girl (2018)
Back in 2018, Yamauchi Yuki, a trailblazing director, launched a pretty cool film project.
She gathered a bunch of films from female directors of her era, creating this fabulous collection, which is centered around sexuality and self-discovery.
The main concept behind it? To show off just how bold, diverse, and creative women in the 21st century are.
I can assure you that these filmmakers are not concealing or keeping back these attributes. They are fully embracing them!
3. You Are Forever Younger Than Them (2021)
This Japanese GL movie, It’s not just a movie; it’s a journey into the heart of society, a deep dive into philosophical musings, and at its core, it’s about the ‘feels’ that electrify two girls as they approach graduation.
It’s about the intense, primal yearning to understand one another, and to experience one other’s happiness and suffering. The purpose of this story’s descent into the abyss is not to lose us but to discover the unsaid bonds that bind us all together.
Empathy and understanding are interwoven with a tapestry of emotions.
This film is an adaptation of the novel by Tsuji Murasaki, a distinguished writer honored with the Dazai Osamu Prize and the Akutagawa Prize.
Throughout, it exudes a language that is both healing and passionate. The film is usually overlooked, despite its quiet charm and powerful aftereffects. It also explores, surprisingly, same-sex sentiments.
It takes these depressing themes and crafts a gentle story of healing while addressing a number of social concerns that are prevalent in Japan, such as sexual anxiety, prejudice, and suicide.
Instead of focusing on how close darkness is, the movie examines how young people deal with these difficulties.
4. Unlock Your Heart (2021)
After calming down, I have to say that this is the best coming-of-age Japanese lesbian movie about school that I’ve ever seen. It covers a huge range of emotions, from confusion and youthful exuberance to marriage and personal growth.
It also brought back memories of my own childhood, making me feel like a teenager once more. Despite the fact that there are a lot of silent parts in the movie, I think they are excellent since they perfectly convey the unfiltered feelings and spirit of young love.
Overall, if you appreciate high school love dramas that strike a balance without being overly dramatic, or if you’re a fan of GL Movies, this film is definitely worth a watch.
5. 窓越しのキス (2020)
The WLW movie is set against the sad background of Tokyo’s terrible air pollution and shows how an unhappy pair feels.
The restrictions on outdoor activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic prevent them from meeting regularly.
The movie is short—just over 8 minutes—but I like how it shows how the pandemic has changed life over the past three years and how it portrays the challenges faced by GL couples.
6. Girlfriend: Someone Please Stop the World (2004)
Ryuichi Hiroki’s creations stand apart from the straightforward and abstract nature of European films.
His works serve as a mirror of the sexual perplexities in contemporary Japanese society.
A wonderful hidden gem in the world of creative film!
7. Lovers’ Kiss (2003)
A Japanese GL movie based on the manga of Akiyo Yoshida was released in 2002.
It was the first leading role for the then-emerging idol, Aya Hiramatsu, who was most known for her performance in “Five Boys in a Water Splash.”
In Kamakura, Rikako and Tomoaki attend the same school. Their romantic connection is sparked by a coincidental encounter.
As those in their social circle, comprising both men and women, begin to observe their interactions and the evolution of their emotions, a complex web of romantic relationships unfolds.
Soon, four pairs of unfulfilled lovebirds and a couple in love add to the rich tapestry of romance.
As I watched the drama, I felt a sense of lament as most of the actors had already retired. It does, however, unintentionally dive into the moving issue of young love.
All of these feelings—whether it’s him adoring her, her loving her, him loving him, or a variety of covert crushes—are beautifully depicted but also ephemeral and delicate, like fireworks. Nevertheless, it adds an intriguing layer to the overall experience.
8. Love/Juice (2001)
Shinji Aramaki’s 2000 directorial gem really caught me off guard. It snagged the “Wolfgang Staudte” award at the 51st Berlin International Film Festival, a notable achievement in the non-official Japanese category.
I thought it would be a standard Japanese coming-of-age story, but girl was I wrong. The end? What you’d expect is completely turned on its head by how dark and heavy it is. That doesn’t mean the LGBT+ Japanese movie isn’t charming on its own, though.
It does a great job of showing the complicated and loving relationship between the two girls, as well as the funny and normal times they spend together. Also, it made me wonder if anyone here has seen the Taiwanese gay movie “Spider Lilies.” In a way, I think that title would have been great for Aramaki’s movie. It just fits with the story’s feelings and layers.
9. Blue (2002)
The Japanese GL movie was based on Kiriko Nananan’s manga my most recent cinematic experience. This isn’t just any movie, though; Mikako Ichikawa won awards for her portrayal of Kayako Kirishima at the 24th International Movie Festival in Moscow, where she was named Best Actress.
The plot of this movie moves slowly, It’s a long burn, but the rewards are enormous for those who persevere. It’s more than just a tale of two girls’ complicated relationship dynamics. It explores the subtleties of human connections and emotions, becoming deeper and more introspective in its storytelling.
I promise that if you give it a shot, you’ll understand what I mean. You truly must encounter the levels of sentimentality here for yourself.
10. Shinku (2005)
Shinku is a compelling film that adapts Yasushi Nozawa’s novel, which was in turn inspired by the unsettling 1983 Nerima, Tokyo family murder case.
This novel, a winner of the prestigious 22nd Yoshikawa Eiji Literature Prize for New Writers, was brought to life on screen in a way that was well above my expectations.
I was expecting a typical suspense thriller going in, but what I got was something far more captivating. Excellent editing and cinematography combined to create a visually striking story.
Each character was given depth and authenticity by the flawless performances. And the story? It’s a masterfully written work that has you on the edge of your seat the entire time, expertly building suspense until the very end.
It’s not like typical lesbian-themed films. Instead of focusing on a romantic story between the two main female characters, it explores a kind of emotional bond that’s hard to pin down and has hints of lesbianism.
The ending, on the other hand, is really great. Love fights against deep-seated hate in this story, which is a very moving theme. This is something I’ve always liked about Japanese films: they show how complicated human feelings can be.
These films that give us hope are a breath of fresh air in today’s world, where everything seems to be going wrong. Also, the title, “Shinku,” which means “Crimson,” gives the whole thing more meaning and depth. Trust me, it’s a film that sticks with you.
11. Love My Life (2006)
The Japanese lesbian film “Love My Life” is an adaptation of the well-known Girls’ Love manga. In contrast to a lot of its predecessors, it offers the genre a new, optimistic viewpoint.
While there is no shortage of manga-to-movie adaptations in Japan, there aren’t many that focus on the romantic connections between women.
This film defies convention by providing a touching and optimistic depiction of lesbian love. It centres on two women’s journeys as they negotiate the difficulties of coming out to friends and family and the plethora of decisions that come with it.
One important part of the movie is how differently Ichiko and Eri’s fathers respond to their daughters’ relationship.
Ichiko’s dad is a great example of how to understand. So he does something even more touching: he tells his daughter a personal secret that brings them closer together in a roundabout way.
While Eri’s father, on the other hand, is intolerable because he is homophobic and sexist. An important part of the story is how Eri deals with her difficult relationship with her father.
This aspect of the film offers a compelling look at family dynamics and the varying levels of acceptance within them, painting a realistic picture of the struggles many face in their personal relationships.
12. Your Fingertips (Short 2007)
I was deeply moved by a short film that, despite being only 20 minutes long, packs a strong punch. Its simplicity is its strength, and it’s crafted with a finesse that belies its length.
The movie shows very well that length doesn’t matter when it comes to getting a deep point across. The story is full of ambiguity and subtlety, and it ends on a surprising note.
This way of telling stories seems to be typical of Asian film, where the most important messages are often felt rather than spoken. What’s really interesting is how the director lets the actors interpret their parts in their own unique ways, which gives the dialogue a real, improvised feel.
It’s this creative liberty that infuses the film with an organic, raw quality, making it a memorable watch.
13. Love Exposure (2008)
I was really impressed by this movie. The film is well-made, with beautiful cinematography, strong acting, and a story that really brings the characters to life.
The director’s ability to craft a story that provides perceptive comments on religion, loneliness, and various facets of Japanese society is what truly makes this movie stand out.
There is a unique mix of humor and bravery in this, with some physical comedy and risky scenes that add a little spice without taking away from the main point of the story.
A few well-executed lesbian kiss scenes are incorporated, but they don’t take away from the story; in fact, they enhance it. It’s a remarkable balance that’s difficult to find in today’s cinemas—a picture that manages to be both thought-provoking and enjoyable.
Just when I thought I had this movie figured out, it surprised me by taking the story even further.
There’s this fan review that really stuck with me: “Love is original sin, love is arousal, love is redemption.” It’s an impactful and thought-provoking statement that parallels the film’s intricate and in-depth examination of love.
For those who intend to go on this cinematic adventure, let me advise you that it is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take a good four hours, but I assure you that every minute will be worthwhile. This movie lingers in your memory long after the credits have rolled.
As for its accolades, the film boasts 17 wins and 3 nominations. If you’re interested, you can look it up on IMDb.
14. TOPLESS (2008)
A couple who had lived carefree in their youth had to confront the harsh reality of life and part ways after years together. They started what seemed to be a common quest—the search for the perfect husband.
However, when a young woman enters the main character’s life and embarks on a quest to discover her lesbian mother, the plot takes an unexpected turn. Why try to find her? Her mother was brave enough to follow her heart and run away with the woman she was seeing.
These two stories, both commonplace and yet loaded with irony, are interwoven. It raises the question, is accepting a life that is deemed “normal” merely accepting a life that is boring?
Maybe it’s about pushing yourself to accept who you are and having the guts to say what’s really on your heart.
Considering that it comes from Asia, it’s a truly amazing and delightful gem. Asian films that deal with gay or lesbian themes often fall into the trap of using overused tropes and stereotypes.
But this Japanese GL movie is different. It goes deeper than the normal clichés and shows the real truths of life. It’s nice to see a WLW movie about LGBTQ+ issues that shows them in a real and deep way, giving an honest and understandable point of view.
This is more than just a movie; it’s a real look at how complicated and hard life is.
15. Kakera (2009)
“Kakera,” which is loosely based on Erica Sakurazawa’s 1996 manga “Love Vibes” (with about 80% original material created for the screen), introduces us to Haru, a subdued college student trapped in a joyless relationship with a rather unlikable character.
Riko, a young lively woman who really likes women. Her personality has shades of ‘Yandere’ – a term for a character who is initially loving and gentle but can become aggressive in love.
They meet by chance in a cafe, which starts a chain of events that make up the main plot of the movie.
Haru and Riko become instantly interested in each other, turning a chance meeting into the main plot point of the story. The story is about connections that happen by chance and the difficulties of relationships. It gets to the heart of how people interact with each other in a way that speaks to people from all countries.
Japanese films have always been a bit of a love-hate for me. A lot of the time, they tell stories at a slow pace that makes me want to skip ahead.
However, something magical happened in this movie. I can’t stop thinking about scenes from the movie.
For some reason, it can capture and amplify the subtlest and most elusive human feelings in a way that makes them come to life on screen in a way that’s hard to describe.
It’s a lesson of how films can change people. Some scenes in this movie changed the way I thought about life, not just the story. It’s one of those rare movie moments that stays with you long after the end credits.
This movie does a great job of showing a side of emotional connection that is only found in female relationships and seems out of reach for male situations.
It’s a fine line between love and friendship, going beyond both but not quite being called either.
This isn’t your average love story; it’s a study of an emotional bond that doesn’t fit neatly into a box; it exists in a world that’s fuller and more complicated than what we usually see on TV.
It’s a warning that some connections are so deep and complex that they can’t be put into neat categories. You have to feel them.
16. Natural Woman (2010)
The movie seems to be a new take on the 1994 movie “Natural Woman.” After 16 years, it boasts a remarkable improvement in production quality over its predecessor.
The intimate scenes are beautifully portrayed, getting to the heart of the story with a refined touch. But the movie could have been even better if it had taken a more refined and subtle approach, which would have given the story more depth and complexity.
Even though this adaptation looks great, the ideas could have been explored more deeply.
Japanese cinema has been evolving for more than 20 years, starting in 2000 and offering us a glimpse into the thrilling evolution of contemporary culture, inventiveness, and originality.
The examination of women’s growing awareness, the growing significance of LGBTQ concerns in Japanese GL movies, the meticulous investigation and attention, and the narrative.
Japanese lesbian film styles have all greatly influenced lgbtQ+ films across Asia, contributing to the expansion of the influence of lgbtQ+ topics.
Loving this evolution! If you’re into my articles, do me a solid and share them on your social media. Let’s spread the word and get these lesbian romance stories out there!