15 Best Japanese Horror Movies
Let's have a spooky Halloween with the most terrifying Japanese horror movies
Any lover of horror movies knows Japanese horror movies. Japanese horror movies (also known as J-horror) are almost a genre apart, as they are very different from western horror movies. They don’t focus so much on the special effects but rather on creating an atmosphere of suspense and an elaborate terrifying story, thus creating some of the scariest movies out there. In fact, if you are not familiar with Japanese horror but are familiar with American horror movies, probably some of the movies you have seen are actually remakes of Japanese movies.
Japanese horror dates back to the Edo and Meiji periods, with different ghost stories and terrifying folk tales. Back then, the term Yokai existed to refer to spirits and ghosts, some of them harmless but others vindictive and dangerous. Later, when Kabuki and Noh (forms of traditional Japanese theater) were born, there were also plays that represented horror stories with appearances of spirits and ghosts. And nowadays, many of the Japanese horror movies also reference or feed on these Yokai or ghost stories from the past. Even in today’s urban legends we have some really terrifying stories that appear in movies and video games, like the Kuchisake-Onna (the Slit-Mouthed Woman) or Hanako-san, the girl in the bathroom.
Especially after the bombing of Hiroshima, Japanese horror cinema would mainly focus on vengeful ghosts and kaiju monsters, such as Godzilla. It was then, in the postwar era that the horror genre rose to prominence in Japan. Onibaba, a 1964 film directed by Kaneto Shindo that tells the story of how a woman and her mother-in-law try to survive during the civil war. In the West, J-horror reached its maximum popularity with The Ring and since then more and more people have become interested in this Japanese genre.
Here are 15 best Japanese horror movies for beginners from the classic cult movies known to all horror lovers to the latest titles that you can find on streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Video. Ghosts and spirits who died horrible and are tormented and want revenge, zombies, paranormal phenomena, serial killers and more. Let’s take the first step in enjoying watching Japanese horror movies and spend a scary Halloween! Grab a blanket, popcorn, turn off the lights, and have someone by your side for scary scenes.
Ju-on is one of the essential sagas for any lover of Japanese horror movies or a beginner who wants to start being interested in this type of film. As I have explained, it’s a saga with several films, but they all revolve around a curse in a haunted house in which a murder occurred. A man brutally murdered his wife because he was convinced that she was unfaithful to him with another man. He also murdered their son and the cat. Since then, any person who has contact with the house or with someone who has been in that house, is cursed and its inevitable end ends up being death.
Ring is probably the most popular Japanese horror movie to date internationally, and surely everyone here knows it and needs no introduction. The image of Sadako coming out of the television is known all over the world. But in case there is a clueless person who doesn’t know the movie: Ring is about a cursed videotape. Anyone who sees that videotape will die a week later.
The film begins with teenagers watching the videotape, and stars an investigative reporter who is the aunt of one of the teenagers. She, along with her ex-husband, will try to discover the truth of this curse and the strange deaths. It’s considered the most terrifying Japanese horror movie of all.
3. Battle Royale
Battle Royale is an adaptation of a novel with the same name and is considered a cult film within the gore genre. In the distant future the situation in Japan worsens and society also begins to become unstable. Especially the students get out of control and cause problems, boycotts, etc. It is then that the Japanese government draws out the Battle Royal law, according to which each year a class is chosen at random from all the institutes in Japan and all its students are taken to an isolated place for three days. In these three days they will have to fight among themselves until only one remains alive.
When the Hunger Games books and later movies came out, Battle Royal fans pointed out that the plot was quite similar.
4. Suicide Club
Suicide Club sometimes known as Suicide Circle is another of the classics of Japanese horror cinema. One day in Tokyo 54 teenage schoolgirls commit mass suicide by throwing themselves on the train tracks. If this weren’t already something that completely surprised the investigators, suddenly from that day onwards there are chain suicides all over Japan. Also, there is something strange about these suicides, as rolls of skin appear that match the skin of the victims. Detective Kuroda along with his team are in charge of the investigation, although it’s not easy. One day, a hacker named Kiyoko alerts detectives that there is a link between the suicides and a website that shows the number of suicides as red and white circles.
5. One Cut of the Dead
One Cut of the Dead is a comic horror movie, quite famous recently. As often happens with some scary movies, although it was shot on a low budget it later became internationally famous. The title in Japanese could be translated as “Don’t stop the camera!” and the plot is quite simple: a film crew is filming a zombie movie in an abandoned water plant when the director has a fight with the actors and decides to abandon the shoot. But then a real zombie apocalypse begins and the director orders the cameraman not to stop shooting.
6. One Missed Call
One Missed Call came out after Ring, and it follows the same dynamic. Everyone who receives a strange missed call will die.
Yumi is a university student who is having a drink with a group of friends one day when Yoko, one of her classmates, receives a strange phone call with a tone that she hadn’t heard before. “Missed call” appears on the screen and she has a message, which seems to come from her own mobile phone, as if she had called herself. When she opens the message it’s a terrible scream that sounds exactly like her voice, as if she were the one screaming. As if this wasn’t strange enough, the date of that missed call is three days later. Three days later, at the exact time of the message, Yoko throws herself from a bridge onto the train tracks while uttering exactly the same cry as the one in the message. A few days later, another person who was with Yoko that day, receives a similar message. The chain has started. Yumi will team up with a funeral director whose sister similarly died to solve the mystery.
There is a later US remake, but I highly recommend watching the original Japanese version.
7. Kairo (Pulse)
Kairo is a horror movie unlike any other and ahead of its time that focuses on the Internet. Without realizing it, a group of friends open a door to the spirit world. The story begins with a group of three friends who do not hear from a fourth friend, Taguchi. Michi, one of the boys, goes home to visit this friend and notices it strange. Her friend says she is fine, but after a while in the middle of their conversation Taguchi ties a rope and hangs herself. Michi and her other two friends, Junko and Yabe, try to find out what happened to Taguchi and go through his computer’s hard drive. They discover something terrifying, and from then on, strange things start to happen…
Shigeharu Aoyama is a businessman from a company who lost his wife seven years ago. Encouraged by his son, he decides that perhaps it is time to find a new wife, and following the advice of a film director friend, he performs a fake audition looking for a woman with the characteristics that he seeks. He interviews several single women until he meets Asami, a soft-spoken and shy-looking former dancer. They have a first date and everything seems to be going well, but Aoyama is unaware of the mysterious bag that Asami has in his house in which there seems to be a man…
Confessions is more of a thriller movie than horror movie perhaps, although it has some pretty tough and bloody scenes as well. Yuko is a middle school teacher obsessed with avenging the death of her daughter Manami, who was killed by two students in her class. The day she announces to her students that she is leaving the institute, she also confesses that her daughter was murdered by two students of that class whom she calls “Student A” and “Student B” and that in revenge she has put HIV-infected blood in the milk cartons of those two students. The two students then begin a countdown to the day of their death. While one locks himself at home and goes crazy, the other tries to win in this game of revenge.
Kwaidan in Japanese literally means ‘ghost stories’, and is a film based on the book “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things” by Lafcadio Hearn published in 1904. Lafcadio Hearn was one of the first experts in Japan and has several books about traditional Japanese stories, since he dedicated himself to compiling all the stories and legends that he could. Kwaidan’s movie consists of four separate and unrelated stories, based on Japanese folk tales such as “The Snow Woman“, one of the most famous.
11. It Comes
It Comes is from the same director as Confession, but the film’s approach is totally different and this time the plot revolves more around possessions and exorcism. But the most interesting thing about this movie is that although the first part seems like a normal movie, it ends up being a horror movie in which the director also criticizes some aspects of Japanese society that end up being the cause of the problems of the protagonists.
The story revolves around Hideki and Kana, a newly married couple who are expecting their first child. One day a mysterious woman visits Hideki’s company and shortly afterwards a colleague sends him a message saying that the mysterious woman is called Chisa. This surprises Hideki a lot, since Chisa is the name that he and Kana have chosen for their baby, which nobody knows about yet. A few days later, the colleague who sent the message to Hideki dies. And this is the beginning of hell for Hideki and Kana, desperately trying to save their daughter.
11. Dark Water
Yoshimi Matsubara is a recently divorced woman who moves in with her five-year-old daughter to a small, dirty and dark old apartment full of mold and a leak that keeps dripping dirty water. Dirty water is in the whole building, not only in the apartment: in the elevator, on the doors of the other apartments, in the apartment. There is also water elsewhere: for example, it doesn’t stop raining. On the other hand, Yoshimi’s ex-husband is not willing to easily give her legal custody of his daughter and to attack her he uses Yoshimi’s past, in which he suffered hallucinations and psychiatric treatment. Yoshimi will try to be strong and protect her daughter both from her ex-husband and from strange events that will begin to happen, but little by little her despair and fear increases…
12. The Forest of Love
The Forest of Love is a Netflix original production directed by one of the most famous directors in the world of Japanese horror cinema, Sion Sono (The Suicide Club, Cold Fish, etc). It’s a thriller based on or inspired by real events that happened in Kyushu between 1996 and 1998. Futoshi Matsunaga is a Japanese murderer who tortured, extorted and killed 9 people with his accomplice Junko Ogata in what is collectively known as the Kitakyushu Serial Murder Incident.
13. I am a Hero
I am a hero is based on a manga with the same name that quickly became popular among lovers of the horror genre, and therefore a live action adaptation was finally made. It’s a story about zombies, called ZQN in the movie (and manga). Hideo Suzuki is a mangaka who seemed promising but turned into a mediocre mangaka with a miserable life with his girlfriend. One day, his girlfriend throws him out of the house for a few hours later, trying to attack Hideo and kill him turned into a zombie. Hideo manages to narrowly escape the attack and after taking his shotgun, he begins to flee the city. And this is where his adventure begins. Will Hideo survive?
14. Rinne (Reincarnation)
A film director decides to make a movie about what happened thirty five years ago in a hotel, when a possessed university professor videotaped how he killed eleven people, including his wife and two young children, and ended up committing suicide. For the realization of the film, the director decides to go to the hotel where the incident occurred and hire a famous and renowned actress as the protagonist. But suddenly strange things start to happen and the leading actress has horrifying visions that get worse with each passing day.
15. As the Gods Will
Shun Takahata is a high school student who likes violent video games. One day suddenly a giant daruma (a Japanese amulet) appears in his class, and the game of death begins. Shun is forced to play the game “Daruma-san ga koronda”, the Japanese version of the Statues game. For those who don’t know this game, it’s the typical children’s game in which a person faces a wall and sing with his back to the group, but from time to time he turns around. If when that person turn around they see someone moving, that person loses. But in this case, the person who loses dies, and in a horrible way: the daruma makes his head explode. From here Shun will have to play different games if he wants to stay alive.
You can find some of these titles in Hulu Japan. Try the free trial month of Hulu and discover this movies and many more!
What do you think of my list? Terrifying? 👻 🎃 If you are not scared enough and still want to know more scary Japanese stories, I recommend these articles too! Or if you want to know other activities to do in Japan in autumn.
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