Best Japanese Gambling Movies

Japan has always had a contentious relationship with the world of gambling. Not that the country is strictly against it, but many see it as a taboo subject. This has led many film directors and producers to see gambling movies as the perfect opportunity to add mystery, controversy, and adrenaline to their big-screen projects.

Today we will see which are the five best Japanese movies about gambling (in no particular order) and how they have influenced both the gambling market and the seventh art.

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Compulsive Gambler – Kakegurui

The first thing that comes to mind when we think of recent movies dealing with gambling, Eiga: Kakegurui (賭ケグルイ) certainly comes to mind. In the west, it’s known as Compulsive Gambler and is the live-action movie of the 2017 anime series that went by the same name.

The film was directed in 2019 by Tsutomu Hanabusa, who based it on the gambling anime by Homura Kawamoto and Tôru Nomura.

Kakegurui is about the Hyakaou academy that evaluates its students according to their winnings in the gambling world. That’s where Yumeko comes in, who, besides being gorgeous, soon becomes the best at gambling activities, which brings her into conflict with the others.

The role of Yumeko is played exceptionally well by actress Minami Hamabe. She fits the role perfectly to persuade even the most hardcore fans of the original manga series.

Besides, at the end of May 2021, the next movie of the Kakegurui universe will be released, which promises much more adrenaline. Let’s see how they will seduce us this time with their gambling skills.


Kaiji: Final Game

The second film in our short catalog of Japanese gambling movies is even more recent. In 2020, Kaiji: Final Game was released. After a good run of previous films, the Kaiji series ends with Final Game to bring to a winning conclusion a saga that has been accompanying us throughout the new millennium.

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Of course, when it came out in theaters in Japan, it attracted a huge audience eager to know the end of Kaiji, played by the talented Tatsuya Fujiwara. And compared to the previous two movies, Final Game differs in that it is not based on any manga. That’s why we can see a lot more elements of Japanese sports gambling (スポーツギャンブル 日本) on par with casino gambling, whether legal… or not so legal. This has made many fans of the previous two movies slightly disappointed with the ending of this trilogy. Although it is true that for fans of Japanese gambling or even sports gambling, this is a triumph of the silver screen.

In fact, on a gambling level, Kaiji: Final Game brings the biggest gambling adventure, as the protagonist finds himself facing four crucial casino games: “Gold Janken,” “Dream Jump,” “Saigo no Shinpan,” and “Babel no Tou.”


Kaiji: The Original

We couldn’t just talk about the last movie in the trilogy. We have to talk about all three! (which kind of spoils the surprise for the following entries).

This exciting and twist-filled movie was released as an actual adaptation of the manga in 2009. Its original name is Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji. It is about the first part of the manga created by Nobuyuki Fukumoto.

The story is quite simple and straightforward. It talks about Kaiji, a postgraduate who can’t find a job and is slowly getting deeper into debt. Pissed off with his situation, our protagonist starts drinking, vandalizing cars, and of course, gambling. That’s where the debt collector comes in and gives Kaiji two options. He gives him the chance to pay off his debt over ten years or participate one night on a gambling boat to win it all and more. What Kaiji doesn’t know is how dangerous the competition becomes once he enters.


Kaiji 2: The Ultimate Gambler

And as you already knew, now it’s time to talk about the second part of the trilogy. This was the glorious sequel to Gambling Apocalypse, rereleased in 2011 by Tôya Satô, faithfully respecting the manga.

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Many fans say that Ultimate Survivor or Ultimate Gambler (depending on the interpretation in each country) is as good as the first one or even better. In this sequel, Kaiji finds himself in debt again a year after the original story. This time he has a depraved debt of 200 million yen, which he will try to alleviate by playing a pachinko machine called The Swamp. This machine, which can even be found in a reliable online casino, carries a jackpot of one million yen.

In online gambling in Japan, pachinko machines are one of the main attractions, being very similar to slots. Kaiji doesn’t know that the machine he is playing on is remotely controlled and never pays out the jackpot, which will lead to more significant problems.


Pale Flower

The last movie we have here is the mythical Pale Flower, which is considered without a doubt the best Japanese gambling movie. Both critics and audiences worldwide love this 1964 film, directed with extreme elegance and an eye for detail by Masahiro Shinoda. Moreover, compared to the anime with gambling, Pale Flower is based on the novel written by Shintarô Ishihara.

Pale Flower is about a Yakuza hitman named Muraki, who has just been released from prison. He soon goes to an illegal gambling parlor, where he meets a mysterious woman named Saeko, who makes things difficult for Muraki. Together they begin to travel through the underground worlds of Japan, only to make life more difficult for each other.

Even the legendary film critic Roger Egbert has called this one of the best films ever, which is more than remarkable.


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