10 Great Japanese Horror Movies

3. House (1977)

Cult director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s debut is an absolutely wild movie. The story, which was apparently inspired by a dream Ôbayashi’s young daughter had, follows six school girls who are invited by an eccentric aunt to stay in her mansion – a mansion that turns out to be haunted. The film is a heady kaleidoscope of colours and music, with a tone that constantly shifts from the bizarre to the downright creepy and back to the (somehow) even more bizarre.

Ôbayashi began his career as an experimental surrealist before dramatically turning into mainstream pop culture, though he always maintained a hint of the subversive. House has a mixture of practical and video effects used so uniquely that they remain unsettlingly effective despite being very obviously dated. House may prove not to be for everyone, but it is a film that should still be seen by everyone. Despite its use of glamourous actors, its pop culture sensibilities, and its genre-bending tone, there is still a very personal and beautiful ghost story about youth hiding beneath the surface.

4. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Shin’ya Tsukamoto is yet another director with a large cult following. His work was a key proponent in the Japanese Cyber Punk movement and often features outrageous violence, action and special effects. And it all begins here.

Tetsuo begins with a man forcibly pushing a rebar construction rod into his thigh. He has become obsessed with metal; filled with visions of a hellish metallic future and intent on spreading these visions throughout the world.

What makes Tetsuo so shockingly entertaining is just how extreme it is prepared to be. There are a lot of similarities with both David Cronenberg’s use of body horror and his concept of the New Flesh, yet Tsukamoto’s film makes Cronenberg look fairly light and breezy.

The plot of Tetsuo is simply about how a man turns himself into metal. The film approaches the change with extreme violence, sexual aggression, ear-scraping metallic sound effects and a head-thumping industrial soundtrack. It’s only 60 minutes long, but it’s packed with so much extreme absurdity that it feels rich and thus far longer. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Tetsuo is that despite its extreme nature there is a sense of humour here, making for a film not tonally dissimilar to Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead.

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5. Perfect Blue (1997)

Perfect Blue is the first entry in this list which arguably pushes the realms of horror into a new and modern setting. Rather than focusing on the changing world, or drawing from classic horror and folk tales, Perfect Blue finds horror in identity, or rather the horror of losing your identity.

Mima is a young pop idol who, much to the disappointment of her avid fans, chooses to transition into acting. Mima leaves a cute and comfortable world of pop music for a far more adult world of TV, having won a role on an extreme crime show. Mima, and her character, are almost immediately exploited; forced to perform in highly extreme scenes that make her distinctly uncomfortable – all while everyone around her unhelpfully reminds her that this is what she wanted. To make matters worse, one of her more passionate fans has started to extract violent revenge on those exploiting Mima.

As Mima rapidly loses control of what she wants and who she is, director Satoshi Kon begins to remove any control the audience may have over the film. Constantly jumping between what is real, TV fiction, or dream, mean the many strands of Mima’s life become so blurred and confused it’s impossible to know what to believe anymore.

Kon’s unfortunately short career produced four impressively consistent features and this debut is a mad, metafictional fever dream that will have you reeling from scene to scene.

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