9. One Missed Call (2003)
For someone who has made as many films as Takashi Miike, it’s almost impossible to not include him more than once.
One Missed Call is another story about ghosts in machines; this time the supernatural entity haunts a phone. By this point the trope is nearly played out, but what sets OMC apart from its predecessors is that it manages to find a lot of fun. Miike is not out to shock and divide audiences as he did with Audition.
While this is very much still a Miike film, it features the same sort of thrills you’d find in a classic slasher thriller from the 80s or 90s. And the film’s popularity speaks for itself; inspiring two sequels, a TV show and a Western remake all within five years of the original’s release.
The film focuses on a curse that is affecting students in Tokyo. It manifests as a missed call that leaves a voicemail from the future, with a recording of the recipient’s death. No matter what you do, you cannot change your fate, not that it stops people from trying – leading to the film’s most thrilling sequences. Around half way through, Natsumi (the next to be killed), is forced onto a live television broadcast where the producers will attempt to exorcise the curse. The media hysteria and exploitation of this young woman is far more disgusting and horrifying than the curse itself, and serves as further proof that there is always more to Miike’s films than mere shock value.
10. One Cut of the Dead (2017)
The wonderful thing about horror, and particularly Japanese horror, is the many and varied guises it can adopt.
Finishing our list is the absolutely hysterical One Cut of the Dead from Shin’ichirô Ueda.
The opening act of One Cut of the Dead is a cheap and nasty 50-minute single take zombie movie. We follow a screaming heroine as she flees a pack of flesh-eaters chasing her through an abandoned factory. The experience is a bit surreal; it’s neither scary nor funny but it has a charm in its home-video quality. Then the second act takes us back in time and we’re introduced to Higurashi, a hack director desperate to make a good film and earn his break. He’s approached by an apparently clueless board of TV execs who commission an original single take movie for their new zombie channel. Higurashi writes a script, casts his actors and begins his rehearsals. In the final act we return to the opening film within a film, this time from a behind the scenes perspective, and suddenly we’re being treated to the zombie equivalent of Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off”.
This is unquestionably more a comedy than a horror, but it’s still thematically connected to the other entries on the list. It’s a film that features a group of working-class filmmakers who must struggle against the demands and rules set by the execs, reminiscent of the drama in Kuroneko and Onibaba; like Perfect Blue it employs a head-spinning level of metafiction; like ‘90s J-Horror, Higurashi’s film is directly affected by the limits of cheap technology; and finally, at its core, it’s not a horror movie at all – but a genuinely heart-warming drama between father and daughter.
One Cut of the Dead is a rare treat, and if the other nine entries leave you scared witless this final film will be a welcome relief.
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Which Japanese horrors do you appreciate the most? Have we missed off any of the very best horrors the nation has ever produced? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow The Film Magazine on Facebook and Twitter.