With tons of unique and astounding movies produced each year, it can be difficult to choose which ones to add to your personal “top list.” But if you’re looking for some real-deal horror, then a number of Japanese picks are there to impress.
Over the years, the Japanese entertainment industry has evolved, especially in terms of cinematography. With the combined flair in storytelling and symbolic representation in its movies, it’s no wonder why Japanese horror has long been regarded as top caliber.
One of the things that set J-horror apart from the rest is its use of gore and traditional folklore to appeal to one’s psyche. There mostly seems to be an ancient explanation behind the existence of a ghost, spirit, haunted soul, or whatnot. This adds to the mystic appeal of their stories despite being set in the modern era.
Japan has a remarkable line-up of scary films and while many may recommend them as a must-watch, there are a few that are just too frightening and gory that you probably might want to watch them with someone else. Here’s a list of such movies in no particular order:
Directed by: Takashi Miike (三池崇史)
Screenplay by: Minako Daira (大良美波子)
You might have heard about the American remake of this film way back in 2008, but it was originally a 2003 Japanese film based on Yasushi Akimoto’s (秋元康) novel, “Chakushin Ari.”
The plot revolves around people who receive mysterious voice messages from their future selves warning them of their impending death. The general plot may be simple, but following the struggles of the main character to survive and reveal the mastermind of the deadly calls offer a great deal of suspense which will keep you sitting tight.
And yes, you may want to put your phones in silent mode as you watch.
Directed and written by: Takashi Shimizu (清水崇)
A mother and son were murdered by their husband/father.
You enter the haunted house, end up being cursed, and die eventually. It’s the basic formula of a horror story which may seem unoriginal at first. However, the twist to this movie is that the suspense is not limited inside the haunted house. People who get any form of contact with the property becomes cursed, so as the people who gets in contact with the cursed individuals.
What made this film even more memorable is the brilliant sound effects and “ghost aesthetics.” You hear the sound coming from Kayako (伽椰子; the ghost wife) and you know horror just got real.
Directed by: Hideo Nakata (中田秀夫)
Screenplay by: Yoshihiro Nakamura (中村義洋) / Kenichi Suzuki (鈴木謙一)
When you thought home was the safest place to stay but strange things start to prove otherwise.
It all started with a leak in the ceiling that only got worse as time passed. When Yoshimi (淑美; the main character) attempted to complain to the occupant of the room above her, she found out it was locked.
Then, more strange appearances come. And what started off as creepy has turned downright frightening.
Directed and written by: Sion Sono (園子温)
Suicide is no joke. Even more so when it turns to a pandemic spreading across Japan.
Also known as Suicide Club, this 2001 indie horror film is highly commended for its symbolic themes and brave attempt to tackle controversial topics in the society. One of the most unforgettable scenes in the show is the mass suicide committed by 54 teenage schoolgirls who jumped in front of an incoming train.
It’s gruesome, gory, and horrifying. But its complex plot and symbolism may definitely be worthy of discussion if film interpretation is your thing.
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Screenplay by: Daisuke Tengan (天願大介)
In a twisted turn of events, a man who lost his wife decided to find another match by teaming up with a film director to audition women who can play the role of a “wife.”
All things went wrong when they came across an applicant who turned out to be a psycho. This movie is highly graphic and gory so unless you have a strong stomach, might as well ditch the movie snacks.
Directed and written by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (黒沢清)
Be careful what you sign up for on the Internet.
This story uniquely presents horror by allowing spirits to invade the human world through the web. It begins with victims acting unnaturally which eventually leads to their death.
And you thought online hackers were the only danger? Think again.
Directed by: Hideo Nakata
Screenplay by: Hiroshi Takahashi (高橋洋)
If you’re a fan of horror movies, you must have already heard of Sadako, no? She’s that prominent lady ghost with long, black hair wearing white clothes who comes out of your television screens!
Ringu, or The Ring as it is globally known, was originally a 1998 Japanese film before it had an American remake in 2003. The story revolves around a cursed VHS tape that brings death to people a week after they’ve watched it. In other words, watching the tape sort of calls Sadako’s spirit to haunt the viewers.
Directed & written by: Sion Sono
How would you feel if you learn that the hair extensions you’re using actually came from a girl’s dead body?
This is another gruesome story by Sion Sono (writer of Suicide Circle) that focuses on the vengeful spirit of a girl whose internal organs were illegally sold. Her body doesn’t decompose and her hair continues to grow. A sick man who has a hair fetish sells her hair to a salon, which in turn sells it as hair extensions. Those who use the extensions end up going insane or getting killed.
Directed by: Norio Tsuruta (鶴田法男)
Screenplay by: Norio Tsuruta and Noboru Takagi (高木登)
This is a horror film based on Jiro Tsunoda’s (つのだじろう) manga which features mysterious newspapers that foreshadow future events. Years after the death of her daughter whom she failed to save even after seeing a newspaper clip about the kid’s death, Ayaka (綾香; main character) discovers a full archive of newspapers that shows other upcoming incidents.
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku (深作欣二)
Screenplay by: Kenta Fukasaku (深作健太)
There are 42 of you in class. Only one should survive. You have three days.
Many people have compared this show to the American film, The Hunger Games, but I dare say that this Japanese movie showed a lot more complex storytelling and a number of fascinating characters to root for.
It’s a story of students on a field trip who end up being tasked to kill each other until only one of them survives. Otherwise, the bomb necklace attached to their necks will explode, killing all of them.
The mix of friendship, melodrama, and a war-like story of survival makes it a compelling story that satiates your cravings for something terrifying and dramatic at the same time.
It doesn’t have to be Halloween for you to enjoy quality scary movies from Japan. But unless you have the heart to brave the ones on this list, we suggest you invite some of your friends to watch with you. Enjoy!