japanese new wave

est. 1956 – late 1970s

The Japanese New Wave or Nuberu Bagu, as it’s known in Japan, represents a pivotal period in Japanese cinema, marked by a wave of artistic experimentation and dedicated exploration of social commentaries. It unfolded when a fresh wave of young Japanese filmmakers embarked on a quest to redefine the very essence of filmmaking.

Origins of the Japanese New Wave

The Japanese New Wave had its roots in post-World War II Japan, a nation that was navigating political, social, and cultural transformation. After the war, Japan faced the daunting task of rebuilding, both physically, ideologically, and economically. The occupation by Allied forces introduced Japanese people to new ideas, Western influences, and different societal values. It was within this complex environment that a group of young, iconoclastic filmmakers, inspired by global film movements like the French New Wave and Italian Neorealism, began to emerge.


The movement was heavily influenced by the burgeoning youth culture of the 1960s. It portrayed the struggles, aspirations, and disillusionment of young people who found themselves at odds with the conservative values of their parents’ generation. This generational clash provided fertile ground for filmmakers to explore themes of rebellion, identity, and change.


The New Wave was characterized by a strong desire to move away from the traditional Japanese studio system. These filmmakers tried to create more personal and socially relevant works, often with a critical eye toward contemporary Japanese society. This period of cinematic rebellion allowed for a freer, more innovative approach to filmmaking that challenged both societal norms and cinematic conventions.

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) by Nagisa Oshima
In the Realm of the Senses (1976) by Nagisa Oshima
Vengeance Is Mine (1979) by Shohei Imamura
Vengeance Is Mine (1979) by Shohei Imamura

Characteristics of the Japanese New Wave

The Japanese New Wave embraced narrative experimentation, pushing the boundaries of storytelling. This experimentation included non-linear narratives, meta-narratives, and surrealism. Such innovative approaches challenged viewers’ expectations and encouraged them to engage with the films on a deeper intellectual and emotional level. Occasionally, it delved into elements of psychedelia and surrealism, exploring altered states of consciousness. These surreal elements added a unique dimension to the narratives.


Filmmakers confronted issues of sexuality and identity, often pushing against what was considered acceptable on screen. Iconic works like “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976) and “Funeral Parade of Roses” (1969) tackled themes of sexual liberation, gender fluidity, and presented eroticism in a fresh and provocative manner. Through their films, filmmakers challenged societal norms not only in terms of narrative content but also in their audacious and avant-garde visual styles.


The movement also placed a strong emphasis on the visual and aesthetic aspects of filmmaking. Directors employed bold and unconventional cinematography, innovative editing techniques, and striking use of color and composition.

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) by Toshio Matsumoto
Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) by Toshio Matsumoto

Prominent Filmmakers and films

The Japanese New Wave boasted a lineup of maverick filmmakers who left an indelible mark on the world of cinema. Among them, Nagisa Oshima, hailed as the enfant terrible of the movement, stood out with his controversial and erotic works. Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976) exemplified his audacious approach to filmmaking by challenging societal taboos.


Seijun Suzuki’s visually dazzling and stylish film “Tokyo Drifter” (1966) defied conventional narrative structures, employing surreal and absurd elements. His films were not just visual feasts but also challenged the very essence of storytelling in cinema, cementing his status as a trailblazer in the movement.


Another prominent figure was Shohei Imamura, a director known for his exploration of the darkest facets of human nature, societal decay, and moral erosion. He is also one of the very few directors to win two Palme d’Or awards, in 1983 for “The Ballad of Narayama” and 1997 for “The Eel”.

Tokyo Drifter (1966) by Seijun Suzuki
Tokyo Drifter (1966) by Seijun Suzuki

Legacy and Influence of the Japanese New Wave

The impact of the Japanese New Wave was not confined to Japan alone; it resonated globally. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and No Wave’s Jim Jarmusch have acknowledged the influence that the New Wave directors had on their work. This movement’s disregard for conventions and its exploration of societal and sexual themes paved the way for a more audacious and adventurous approach to filmmaking both in the West and beyond.


In essence, the Japanese New Wave was not just a film movement but a revolutionary force that redefined the boundaries of cinema, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to inspire filmmakers and cinephiles to this day. Its bold visual style, narrative experimentation, and thematic depth have become benchmarks for cinematic innovation, influencing a wide range of genres and movements worldwide.

Refer to the Listed Films for the recommended works associated with the movement. Also, check out the rest of the Film Movements on our website.