10 Great Japanese Horror Movies

6. Ringu (1998)

Hideo Nakata’s Ringu is by now a classic, and is one of the most successful and infamous pictures in the J-Horror boom of the late ‘90s.

The story revolves around a cursed video tape which, once watched, will bring death to the viewer in seven days. The most amazing aspect of Ringu is that despite tapes being an outdated technology, the cursed video sequence is still terrifying today – there is something inherently creepy about old footage, whether it’s the blurred and grainy quality of the film stock or that they often depict people now long dead. In this way, Ringu won’t fail to find a way under your skin.

Like Tetsuo and Perfect Blue, Ringu continues in the trend of finding horror in modern society and technology. However, as anyone who has seen the film and met Sadako will attest, Ringu owes a lot to the classic horror tales found at the start of this list. In fact, the success it finds in blending the two styles of horror is partly what has made it such a cultural mega-hit. Not only is it a chilling ghost story, it turns all of our technology – the symbols of our progression and development out of the dark ages – into just another object to be haunted. It taps into something we all understand deep down; no matter how far we get from the supernatural days of old, the ghosts and the demons will never let us escape.

Recommended for you: 10 Best Horror Movies of the 90s

7. Audition (1999)

It’s at this point that Takashi Miike enters the scene.

Miike, for those who don’t know, is a director like no other – he averages 3.5 films a year, and by 1999 he had already made a few dozen films. But Audition was the first that garnered him international attention; largely because it was a film that had people screaming, desperate to leave the cinema, while others vomited in their seats.

In the years since its release, Audition has become a cult classic, and debate still rages over whether it’s a feminist masterpiece or a misogynist dirge. Whether it is one of the other is not really the interesting part however, as while it arguably leans more towards the former, the fact that it is almost deliberately meant to be both is what makes Miike’s work so fascinating to watch.

Aoyama is a widower who is finally ready to find a new wife and mother for his son. He’s encouraged by his friend to hold an audition for his wife – under the guise that it’ll be for a TV show – and it is there he meets Eihi Shiina’s beautiful and mysterious Asami. The first half of the film plays like a classic albeit unorthodox and uncomfortable romance, then around half way through it takes one of the most extreme and unexpected left turns in cinema history. The shocking gore and mind-bending revelations that follow are really what garnered Miike his infamous reputation, but it’s not just senseless exploitation; both halves manage to effect, change and improve upon each other, making this a fantastic film to revisit – assuming your stomach can handle it.

8. Pulse (2001)

Ringu and its cursed video tape was undoubtedly the breakout star of the J-horror boom, but Pulse and its internet-dwelling ghosts is the most underrated and by far the most terrifying film of the era.

A computer programme is being shared among different students, and there are rumours that it invites you to speak to with a ghost over a video call. Everyone who uses it ends up dead. This is not some Y2K, anti-technology parable however, Pulse is a terrifyingly profound reflection on how our relationship with the internet can radically alter our behaviour and our mindset. In particular, the film explores the idea of loneliness, focusing on a group who, not dissimilar from some toxic internet groups of today, believe that life has rejected them and so choose loneliness (viewing it as a noble pursuit, as a rebellion against the cruel nature of the world). Eventually these people start to break down and, in some cases, quite literally melt away, leaving nothing but a water-stained silhouette on the walls.

Writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a master of eeriness; nearly every frame of this movie drips in unnatural, unpleasant dread. Amazingly he manages to make the city of Tokyo feel like a drab world of browns and greys. To watch Pulse is to constantly ignore the urge to turn around and run away. The sequences of the ghostly video calls are some of the most terrifying scenes committed to film. Deliberately dark, out of focus and pixelated – we lean into the screen, peering to see more but scared to death of what we might find.

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