Despite many gambling activities being unlawful in Japan, the country has produced several movies with gambling themes over the decades. Here are five of the greatest that you simply must see.
5. Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler
The 2019 movie 賭ケグルイ, which means Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler in English, is a live-action film based on the manga series of the same name. Directed by Hayato Kawai, the film is set in the fictional Hyakkaou Private Academy; a prestigious institution that has existed for 122 years. At the academy, students learn how to play casino games like ポーカー (poker), クラップス (craps), and カジノルーレット (casino roulette). They are ranked by their winnings, and the winners achieve fame, fortune, and dominance over the losers. But when a transfer student called Yumeko Jabami arrives at the academy one day, she raises the stakes even higher.
4. Kaiji: Final Game
The 2020 movie Kaiji: Final Game is the last installment of the Kaiji series. It is a killer of a film and it was massively popular when released at cinemas in Japan. In fact, the whole Kaiji series of movies are so good that they make up three of the movies on this list. Unlike Kaiji: Final Game’s two predecessors, it is not inspired by a specific storyline from the manga it is based on. That may account for the fact that it is not quite on par with the previous two films, but it still stands out as one of the best Japanese films about gambling. The plot involves the gambling protagonist Kaiji having his life turned upside down when he is given a series of four challenges that he must complete.
This exciting 2009 live-action movie is based on Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji, the first part of Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s manga series. The story follows a postgraduate named Kaiji who is unable to find work. So, instead, he spends his time vandalizing cars, drinking, and gambling. One day, a debt collector arrives and he gives Kaiji two choices. He can either spend ten years paying off the debt or board a gambling boat for one night to attempt to repay the debt and even make more. However, Kaiji is unaware of just how deadly the gambling competition is going to be.
2. Kaiji 2
The sequel to Kaiji is just as good as the original, and arguably even better. Kaiji 2 takes place a year after the first film, and Kaiji is back in the same debt-ridden situation. However, he is given an opportunity to clear his 200-million-yen debt by taking on a pachinko machine called The Swamp that can potentially pay out more than one billion yen. Pachinko machines are massively popular in Japan. They are sort of a Japanese version of slot games. While Kaiji thinks he stands a chance of winning the top payout, he is unaware that The Swamp machine is being controlled from a remote location to ensure it never pays out the one billion yen.
1. Pale Flower
Undoubtedly the best Japanese movie with a gambling theme is 1964’s Pale Flower. The Japanese film noir, directed by Masahiro Shinoda, follows a Yakuza hitman called Muraki who has just been released from jail. He goes to an illegal gambling parlor and soon falls in with a mysterious woman called Saeko who keeps asking Muraki to provide larger and larger stakes. The two then become involved in a mutually destructive relationship as they travel through the Japanese underworld together. The well-known film critic Roger Egbert named Pale Flower one of the greatest movies ever made, and we tend to agree.