When it comes to unsettling, chilling and often gruesome horror movies, nothing quite matches the visceral nature of Japanese horror, as we’ve presented before. Following on from our original J-Horror must-watch list, this one is also guaranteed to give you nightmares as we get closer to Halloween. Some of the more popular titles are omitted because I figure most of you have probably seen the likes of Ju-on, Battle Royale or Audition already.
In no particular order, here is another selection of five Japanese horror films to add some fright to a Halloween night. You may find one or two undiscovered gems in the J-horror genre.
1. Dark Water
Some of you may be familiar with the title of this creepy movie, which was later remade in the U.S., but in my opinion, the 2002 Hideo Nakata-helmed original is vastly superior to the 2005 Jennifer Connelly remake.
The movie follows the classic horror trope of bad things happening when you look somewhere you shouldn’t. In this case, a single mother’s desire to trace the source of leaking water from an upstairs apartment leads to the disappearance of her daughter—and all manner of other supernatural happenings.
While Dark Water certainly isn’t as bloody or violent as some of the movies below, it is still a very atmospheric and unsettling piece that is well worth a look this Halloween.
Most great horror movies use everyday elements to prey on our real-life fears. Kairo (known in the West as Pulse) is such a movie.
In this film, the enemy comes not from some demon realm or outer space or the evil of humanity, but from something that—in the modern world—is a fundamental part of all our lives: the internet.
Yes, the ghosts come from your computer. This movie is every computer geek’s worst nightmares come to life.
Kairo is one of those movies that tends to fly under the radar, fading in comparison internationally to the likes of Ju-on and its many clones. However, to those who are fans of the genre, Kairo is one of those movies that enjoys a sort of “cult” status.
The director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to the legendary Akira Kurosawa, of Seven Samurai fame), does a remarkable job considering that horror isn’t his main ouvre.
Watching the opening scenes—in which a victim is reduced to a catatonic state in front of his computer screen—and looking around today at everyone mesmerized by their smartphones as I ride the train home, it seems that the lessons Kairo set out to teach us in 2001 haven’t yet been learned.
No J-horror list is complete without including Ringu, the movie that took the genre to international audiences. This 1998 classic features the demonic Sadako, who curses anyone that sees her videotape to die within seven days.
Later remade in the U.S. as The Ring and with the antagonist renamed Samara, much like Dark Water, the original Japanese movie is head and shoulders above its Western remake. Like most classic Japanese horror movies, Ringu really gets into your head and is the kind of movie that continues to resonate with you long after watching it. The movie has inspired an entire subgenre of horror, but thus far nothing yet has surpassed the original.
If you want a good laugh, watch it with a friend and have someone call them just as the movie finishes. Anyone who has seen Ringu will know what I’m talking about!
4. Sweet Home
This 1989 haunted house movie isn’t a classic by any means. However, it is worth watching if not for the good time effects and plot, then more so for its contribution to modern popular culture.
A team of disparate people is stranded in a mansion with all manner of evil, supernatural monsters hunting them down. Does this sound familiar?
If you’re a video game fan it should. Sweet Home was later adapted into a Nintendo NES video game of the same name that, some seven or so years later, would inspire the creation of arguably the biggest horror video game franchise of all time: Biohazard (Resident Evil in the West).
Many argue that the game is more entertaining than the movie and perhaps they may have a point. However, Sweet Home is not without its charm—and chills.
As far as J-horror goes, I consider this an undiscovered gem and well worth a look this Halloween.
5. Tetsuo: The Iron Man
From the maggot riddled, self-mutilation depicted in the opening scene of Testuo: The Iron Man, things degenerate from there. Graphic horror, violence, sex, and gore run throughout this disturbing thrill-ride of a movie.
Deeply unsettling—some would say even sickening—in its depiction of body horror, Tetsuo is, on the face of it, actually remarkably simply in its premise.
At the heart of this movie is a simple revenge story. A mentally unhinged self-harmer is knocked down by a car and left for dead. However, he survives, and in doing so, curses his accidental assailant to morph into a terrifying metal-enthused monster.
A low budget classic, typical of late ’80s Japanese productions, the movie’s effects may seem laughable compared to today’s offerings. The use of stop-motion animation in some of the film’s bloodiest moments, however, actually adds to the overall creepy, cyberpunk feel.
I’ll be honest, I watched it once — and I probably won’t watch it again.
I’ll be honest, I watched it once—and I probably won’t watch it again. However, if you are an adventurous moviegoer who likes to have your boundaries challenged and be moved beyond your comfort zone, then Tetsuo may be right up your dark and scary alley. Just make sure not to watch it with a full stomach!
The thing I love most about cinema is that all film is subjective. You may agree that these are some of the best horror movies Japan has to offer. Or you may think I’m talking absolute nonsense and these movies are awful. In either case, we’d love to hear from you.
Leave a comment below and let us know your favorite scary Japanese films!