Halloween is becoming an increasingly popular event in Japan with parties popping up all over the country and thousands of kids filling the streets in their spookiest getup. For me, though, there is nothing better on All Hallow’s Eve than hunkering down at home, dimming the lights, grabbing a bowl of popcorn, and scaring myself silly with a good horror movie.
With its long history ghosts, ghouls and demons, it should come as no surprise that Japan produces exceptionally high-quality horror flicks, and the J-horror industry is considered to be one of the best examples of the genre in the world.
Here are a few choice spine-chilling movies that will get your heart beating, make you watch through your fingers and have you checking under the bed before you go to sleep.
Please be aware that some of these trailers portray graphic violence and horror themes (and there may be one or two very minor plot spoilers).
Read on, if you dare…
Onibaba 鬼婆 – 1964
Written and directed by Kaneto Shindo, Onibaba (Demon Hag) is set during a civil war in the fourteenth century and is centered around an old woman and her daughter-in-law who make a living by murdering passing soldiers and selling their possessions. However, when a neighbor returns from the war and joins in their murderous scheme, things go awry after the neighbor and daughter-in-law grow close.
Considered one of the greatest J-horror movies of all time, Onibaba is a terrifying, intense psychological thriller that marked Shindo as one of the finest Japanese directors of the era.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man 鉄男 – 1989
Tetsuo is an arthouse cyberpunk horror movie that is as surreal as it is scary. As the poster has it “Imagine the Davids Lynch and Cronenberg…collaborated on an early Terminator 2 and set it in Japan”.
When a metal fetishist decides to wreak revenge, he forces a salaryman to metamorphose into a walking pile of scrap metal. And it’s probably best to leave it there before I get too confused or too plot spoiler-y. What I can say is that the movie does contain quite a bit of graphic nudity and a whole heap of fear.
When most people think J-Horror, they think of the vengeful spirit Sadako in her tatty white nightgown, and with that scraggly hair draped over her face. While the Hollywood version, The Ring, made people sit up and take a real interest in the Japanese horror scene, it’s still not a patch on the original.
The film opens with a schoolgirl telling her friend of an urban legend in which the viewers of a cursed videotape are cursed and die seven days after watching it. The second girl reveals that one week prior, she and three of her friends watched that very tape…
Audition オーディション – 1999
Audition, based on a novel by my favorite Japanese author Ryu Murakmi (no relation to Haruki) finds grieving widower Shigeharu persuaded by his son to seek a new wife. Shigeharu agrees and, egged on by his director friend, stages a phony movie audition to facilitate the meeting of a potential new partner. After interviewing many women, he finds a match: Asami. However, as they begin to date, her dark past comes to the fore.
Punctuated by brutal violence, Audition is the movie that brought director Takeshi Miike to the attention of the west, and though it is in parts romantic drama, the stomach-churning climax is enough to make you keep away from the dating game forever.
Suicide Circle 自殺サークル- 2001
When you know that 33,000 teenagers committed suicide the year before Suicide Circle (known as Suicide Club in English) was made, it is easy to understand why it caused such a storm upon its release.
The movie begins in Tokyo where 54 teenage schoolgirls commit mass suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming train. Shortly after that, two nurses throw themselves from a window. It seems the deaths could be connected. A suicide club has been formed.
Ju-on: The Grudge 呪怨じゅおん – 2002
Dispelling the oft-repeated idea that the third in a movie series rarely lives up to its predecessors, Ju-on: The Grudge is probably best of the Ju-on franchise (of which there are currently 14 movies with another to come in 2019).
In this installment, the gruesome murder of a mother and son has left an indelible mark on a Tokyo home. When a new family moves in they find themselves at the mercy of the tormented spirits who, with a grudge to bear, have returned to exact revenge in any way they can.