Top 10 Modern Horror Films from Japan

Top 10 Films arrives in Japan as we continue our look at scary movies from around the world. Japanese horror film expert Jed Medina talks us through the best from the Far East…

Japanese horror films are well-regarded in their homeland with a strong following and dedicated fans. One of the most popular J-horror characters is Sadako and in the most recent instalment of the popular franchise, the central character of the Ring trilogy even threw a baseball during its publicity. Some J-horror films tend to focus on psychological horror, some would include the appearances of ghosts and poltergeists while creating a distinct mood using music and special effects. Through the years, some have passed the test of time and remain powerful showcases of horror.

10. Nightmare Detective (Tsukamoto, 2006)

Japan Horror Cinema, Nightmare DetectiveFrom director Shinya Tsukamoto, who also plays a vital role in the movie. It’s about a young man who can enter the dreams of other people and help resolve issues with the person and anyone close to him. But entering dreams may not be as easy as it seems, even with someone who possesses the gift.

9. Over Your Dead Body (Miike, 2014)

Japan Horror Cinema, Over Your Dead Body,Just released in 2014 and directed by Takashi Miike, one of the most recognised Japanese filmmakers abroad. It tells the story of Miyuki Goto who grabs the lead role in a play based on a ghost story. She forces her way into the casting of the play and adds her lover as one of the characters. But the other actors have other things in mind. Many of the scenes take place in a Kabuki stage, which gives the movie a unique flavour.

8. Grotesque (Shiraishi, 2009)

Japan Horror Cinema, GrotesqueAmong the movies on the list, this is definitely the most graphic and even avid horror fans may consider some of the scenes to be extremely disturbing. The movie is about two teens about to enjoy their first date when they are kidnapped by a Doctor. What happens next is the absolute horror for them as the sadistic Doctor begins to torture them…

7. Tomie (Oikawa, 1999)

Japan Horror Cinema, TomieThis 1999 movie is about a traumatised young woman who is trying to recover her memories. A psychiatrist is helping her do that by means of hypnosis sessions. However, during such hypnosis, she utters the name “Tomie” but fails to recall why. This horror flick is recommended for the use of different moods and is considered performance-driven, with the lead actress Miho Kanno an absolute stunner.

6. Infection (Ochiai, 2004)

Japan Horror Films, Infection,Yes, finally a medical horror film. As the title suggest, Infection revolves around a hospital whose patients are suddenly infected by a strange black rash when a newcomer arrives at the hospital late one night. While you may use the subtitles as excuse for not understanding everything, it is advised by many who watched the film that there is a need for a second viewing – adding another dimension to your viewing pleasure.

5. One Missed Call (Miike, 2003)

Japan Horror Films, One Missed CallPeople start receiving voice-mail from supposedly themselves, but in the future, informing them of their own impending deaths. Yes, the plot sounds familiar right? There is also a remake of this original J-horror movie. Yumi is a psychology student who has a friend who mysteriously died after receiving a voice message from her phone. She also received a similar message informing her of a future date that marks her death. In order to save herself, she pursues leads to discover the identity of the real sender of the message.

4. Marebito (Shimizu, 2004)

Japan Horror Films, MarebitoA fear-obsessed freelance cameraman (Shinya Tsukamoto) investigates an urban legend involving mysterious spirits that haunt the subways of Tokyo. Nothing spectacular right? But then again, this is from the director of Ju On and was made from a shoe string budget, with Tsukamoto (Nightmare Detective) collaborating.

3. Audition (Miike, 1999)

Audition, Japanese Horror Film,Expect anything from Takashi Miike to be stellar. There is no ghost here or anything that haunts its characters. A widower devised a way to seek a new wife by holding a mock audition. As many actresses vie for the position, our unassuming widower took a fancy to one of them, who turned out to be his ultimate nightmare.

2. Ju-On: The Grudge (Shimizu, 2002)

Japan Horror Films, GrudgeA mysterious and vengeful spirit marks and pursues anybody who dares enter the house in which it resides. There is also a remake from Hollywood, but just the same, the original – which actually is a two-part TV special – is spooky, creepy and will reward its viewers with an awesome horror story.

1. Ring (Ringu) Series (Nakata, 1998/1999)

Ringu, The Ring, Hideo Nakata, Film, Television, VHS, videotape,If you’ve seen the Hollywood version, then you need to watch the original because you’ll definitely enjoy this 1988 movie from Hideo Nakata. A mysterious video kills anyone who views it, only the one who solves the mystery can stay alive. The Ring is the highest grossing J-horror film of all time and critics and ordinary moviegoers agree on its appeal. It is said that the proven formula to scare people is to use shock and a lot of graphic scenes but The Ring departs from this formula, and offers a slow-paced, laid-back style, but each revelation is as powerful as if it used all sorts of tricks to frighten its audience.

Written and compiled by Jed Medina

What are your favourite Japanese horror films? What do you like on this list? What could have made the top 10 instead? Let us know…

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  1. Callum Reply

    Not surprised to see Hollywood remaking so many of these. I actually thought The Ring films were quite good but the rest I’d take the originals over the remakes.

  2. Suko Reply

    Nice selection. The Grudge and Ringu are the ones to see for any newbie but I’d also recommend Uzumaki and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 film Pulse.

  3. Andrew F Reply

    The Ring series introduced me to Japanese horror cinema. There’s a unique fear prevalent in these films that Hollywood has failed to grasp when converting them to an English-speaking audience. It’s pretty sad really. I hope fans of the American remakes do check out the originals as they are a far more fulfilling experience and look, visually, far better than their crisp, shiny US equivalents.

  4. Rodney Reply

    Yes, yes, yes. The RINGU series is easily the scariest of them all – it frightened the wee out of me when I watched the first two consecutively.

    And Takashi Miike is a genius. The end.

  5. Klownz Reply

    Only two on that list would make it onto my top ten despite them all being good + the list has no classics on it pre 70’s 🙁

    Horrors of Malformed Men, Ghost Story of the Snow Witch, Matango, Môjû, The Ghost Cat of Otama Pond, Shogun’s Sadism, Hausu, Under The Blossoming Cherry Trees, Kwaidan, Onibaba, Ugetsu, Jigoku, Kuroneko, Snake Girl & The Silver Haired Witch 🙂

    • Dan Reply

      Plenty there for me to check out!

      • Klownz Reply

        I like all the ones on your list especially Ringu & Audition but the older classic J-Horror films I am most fond of 🙂

  6. Owen Hughes Reply

    Versus; House; Audition; Ju-on; Dark Water; Ringu; Battle Royale; Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night; Shogun Assassin if it counts

  7. Michael Ewins Reply

    ‏KWAIDAN is probably the most beautiful film shot in colour, and an extraordinary assembly of Japanese horror motifs/iconography.

  8. Hel Jones Reply

    Kuroneko, Audition, Kwaidan, Pulse, Ring, Dark Water, EXTE: Hair Extensions.

  9. daniel rodriguez Reply

    Woman of the Dunes. (1964)

    • Hel Jones Reply

      How could I have missed that on. I love that…duh!

      • daniel rodriguez Reply

        too much popular jap horror I presume 😛 –that’s a masterpiece! pure poetry and its concept a terrifying thought.

        • Hel Jones Reply

          I studied Japanese cinema so no, not quite…I’d say that was a hybrid, more drama than horror.

          • daniel rodriguez

            well, the same thing I could say about Pulse –btw Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata in a way is also a horror film.

      • Richard Wells Reply

        How can you have Kuroneko, but not Onibaba?! Bloody hell, Hel…

  10. Andina Reply

    I haven’t seen all of these but I have seen Ringu trilogy in one sitting and it is definitely memorable. I don’t think I’ll do a rewatch since it’s quite a horrifying experience and also horror isn’t my favorite. I can’t argue with your number 1

  11. Tuboki Reply

    Woman of the Dunes if you fancy some classic Japanese horror.

  12. Martin Reply

    Ringu is a great film.

  13. Dan Grant Reply

    Audition is severely disturbing. Ringu is good but Verbinski did it better. Ju-on is creepy. Good selections here.

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