Films Set in Kumamoto

ByJustin Hanus
Apr 30, 2024

Films Set in Kumamoto

Lights! Camera! Action! Kumamoto is not the most well-known of Japanese prefectures but it has some fantastic settings for movies such as Mount Aso and Kumamoto Castle. These and others have attracted film directors over the years, either to tell stories about the city and surrounding areas or simply to use the stunning scenery as a great backdrop. Movies can be a wonderful way of promoting places to a wider audience and here is a short selection of releases that have done just that for Kumamoto.

Minamata (2020)

Let’s start off with a film that very much has Kumamoto at the heart of its tale. “Minamata” is based on true events, starring Johnny Depp as documentary photographer W. Eugene Smith who used his pictures to tell the story of the terrible effects of mercury poisoning on the citizens of Minamata, a bay city in Kumamoto prefecture. The poisoning was caused by a Japanese chemical company discharging untreated waste into the waters for over 30 years, leading to poisoning of thousands of locals – mostly through consumption of contaminated fish. The film was shot in Kumamoto as well as other parts of Japan. Ryuichi Sakamoto provided the music, one of his last film scores before his death in 2023.

Ran (1985)

From a true story affecting a small town to an epic action adventure that makes the most of Kumamoto’s famed tourist attractions, “Ran” was the second film by director Akira Kurosawa to feature Kumamoto after 1980’s “Kagemusha”. Based on Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and set in medieval Japan, it’s a tale of family conflict and power corruption that occurs after an elderly warlord retires and hands his empire to his three sons. The film took years to make and is regarded by many as one of the greatest Japanese movies of all time. Some of its most famous scenes took place at Kumamoto Castle and the Aso-Kuju National Park, home to Mount Aso, including one epic battle sequence involving over 1,000 extras and 200 horses!

Ghidorah, the Three-headed Monster (1964)

The fifth film in the mighty Godzilla franchise that began in the 1950s and the second kaiju film by director Ishiro Honda – after “Rodan” (1956) – to involve Kumamoto. “Ghidorah…” has become a cult classic up there with the most highly-regarded B movies of the time. The plot sees Godzilla teaming up with Rodan and Mothra to fight a new threat, the triple-headed space monster referenced in the film title. Cue plenty of lunacy, comedy and cheese. As with “Rodan”, the spectacular Mount Aso provides the setting for several key scenes.

The Gift of Memory (2016)

This 40-minute short from director Isao Yukisada isn’t just set in Kumamoto, the cast and crew are also from the prefecture and the film was actually part of a project to support the rebuilding of parts of Kumamoto after the 2016 earthquake. Yukisada himself is also a Kumamoto local. It’s a subtle and slow-burning tale about a female college student who encounters a mysterious older man in the bookstore she works at part-time. Later, she finds out that a suspicious stranger has been stalking her mother and she sets out to investigate with the help of a local detective. The production was shot in multiple locations across Kumamoto including the downtown area, which serves as the setting for the bookshop.

Toho Company Ltd., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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