Japan is one of the many Asian countries that is quite well-known for a lot of things such as its rich history and culture. Also known as the Land of the Sun, Japan is also the home of anime, manga, and otaku culture. Probably one of the things that the country is also quite famous for is their horror movies, which can be watched in TV networks or in cinemas. Truly, Japanese horror movies are unlike any other. With the way these films are made and produced, many people say that Japanese horror movies are actually scarier to watch in comparison to horror movies from the West.
Where Japanese Horror Movies Originated From
Japanese horror movies typically revolve around psychological horror and suspense wherein the film builds tension that makes the audience be at the edge of their seats. In comparison to horror movies from the West, horror movies produced by the Japanese uses unique themes and unconventional treatment of the horror genre. Typically, Japanese horror movies involve ghosts and poltergeists. Furthermore, themes of folk religion and other Japanese beliefs are also generally incorporate within Japanese horror films. These themes may include exorcism, precognition, possession, shamanism, and yokai.
Many believe that Japanese horror, in general, originated from the horror and classic ghost stories that were told during the Edo period and the Meiji period. These horror classics were known as kaidan at the time. Many of these famous folktales in Japan have elements that are incorporated into stories to be used in modern Japanese films. This is especially true when it comes to the traditional nature of Japanese ghosts.
In Japanese literature, ghost stories have been introduced since the Heian period from the year 794 to the year 1185. A collection of ghost stories entitled “Konjaku Monogatarishū” was written during this era, which featured several stories that came all the way from China and India, along with local ghost stories. Many forms of traditional Japanese theater such as kabuki and noh also feature horror stories that revolve around revenge. These performances are usually composed of characters with hideous appearances and are used as a basis for horror films.
Classic Japanese Horror Movies to be Watched with English Subtitles
There are thousands of Japanese horror films that have been produced throughout history. There are, of course, good ones and bad ones. However, if one is trying out Japanese horror movies for the first time, it is recommended to watch the classic ones. On the other hand, because these movies are already kind of old, it may be hard to find copies of these that are dubbed in English. Hence, it would be best to watch them with English subtitles if one is not proficient enough in the Japanese language.
One recommendation would be the horror film entitled “Okaruto.” It is actually a documentary about a crew that is working on a new assignment. This project revolves around a horrible series of murders that were committed by a psychopath whose body is yet to be discovered. Families of the victims were interviewed as well as the only survivor of the murder series. The lone survivor happens to be a lonely and awkward person that assured the crew that there were strange “miracles” occurring all around the survivor. This prompts the crew to give the survivor a camera in order to capture these strange occurrences.
Filmed as a documentary, “Okaruto” has the same creators as “Noroi,” which is another great Japanese film. “Okaruto” dwells on the interesting history that is related to the ancient evil forces that influence the hearts of the innocent people to coerce the latter to commit horrible crimes. Some people say that the ending to this movie is kind of weird but overall, it is a superb film to watch.
Another suggestion for a classic Japanese horror movie would be the one entitled “Rinne.” The main theme of this horror film is reincarnation. Many believe that one’s action in his or her past life would greatly affect how one’s next life would turn out to be. Hence, if one was a good person in his or her past life, it would be guaranteed that one’s next life would be a good one as well, similar to the concept of good and bad karma. It is also believed that one’s relationships in the past would also translate to one’s next life. In this movie, eleven victims were murdered in a hotel many decades ago. After killing the poor victims, the murderer decided to take his own life. The story would revolve around a director who becomes obsessed with trying to bring this story to celluloid. The movie itself contains a lot of surprises and scary moments so best be prepared for that.
As for a classic Japanese horror film that is based on an old urban Japanese legend, one may opt to try watching the movie entitled “Teketeke.” The story revolves around a girl who suddenly appears in a train station where she supposedly died. Anyone who has the misfortune of seeing her would end up dead as she would cut their bodies in half. There are several theories as to where she originated and why she commits these evil crimes though these are all just speculations. The main characters of the film would have to find out the reason why the girl commits the evil acts in order for them to survive.
A Japanese horror movie that also teaches its young audiences a lesson would be the film entitled “X Game.” The story revolves around a group of four students in a classroom who have to play a dangerous game called the X-Game. They are to be tortured while trying to figure out what is happening. They are also to discover the reason why they are undergoing this horrible experience. An anti-bully revenge film, this movie is not for the faint of heart.
Similar to “X Game,” the horror film entitled “Death Tube” is also a classic Japanese horror movie that involves a group of strangers that have to play dangerous and mortal games that would result to the loser dying. However, instead of being private, these games are to be broadcast on a special website wherein millions of viewers would be watching the horrible series of events happening in real time. However, the audience is unaware that all the events are real; they think that the series of deaths that they are watching are all just for show.
Last but certainly not the least, a true classic Japanese horror movie entitled “Marebito” is highly recommended. The story revolves around the life of Masuoka. Bleak and empty, Masuoka feels like his life has neither sense nor purpose. Yearning to feel emotions, he searches for the experience that would make him feel real fear. His search brings him to a horrible city that resides in the underground. From here on out, only horrors await him and also the audience watching.
A List of Some of the Best Japanese Horror Movies of All Time
If one is not exactly looking for the classics but only the best Japanese horror movies of all time, then look no further. Probably one of the highest recommended Japanese horror movies of all time would be the film entitled “Onibaba.” The story revolves around an old woman and her daughter-in-law who lives during the 14th century. Not rich, both women make a living only by killing wayward soldiers and stealing their weapons, armor, and other possessions to sell. One day, their neighbor returns home from the terrible war and with him brings a sad news: the old woman’s son, whom she had been waiting for a long time, died in battle.
After some time, the three begin to have some kind of relationship. The neighbor starts to join the duo in killing wayward soldiers, stealing, and selling. Things go well in the beginning but the good relationship starts to go away when the neighbor and the daughter-in-law starts to grow close. The old woman sees this blooming relationship as a threat to her livelihood. From here on, horror ensues.
The second recommendation would be the film entitled “Kwaidan.” Probably the least scary Japanese horror film in this series of recommendations, “Kwaidan” still remains haunting especially for people with faint hearts. It is basically an anthology film that does not follow the rule of three of storytelling. The movie consists of four different stories taken from the collection of Japanese folklore also entitled “Kwaidan” written by Lafcadio Hearn. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi, many applaud this film as a great piece of cinema.
The first story is entitled “Kurokami,” which translates to “Black Hair.” It revolves around a poor samurai who has a devoted wife. He decides to leave her for another woman who is not only richer but also well-connected. There is a bit of drama in this film. The horror begins as the wife tries to make her husband pay and regret for leaving her despite her efforts to please him.
The second story is entitled “Yuki Onna,” which translates to “Snow Woman.” It revolves around a young woodcutter who bears witness to a murder committed by the ghostly Yuki Onna. Instead of killing him, the spirit spares his life under one condition: never tell a soul about the murder that what he witnessed. After some time, he meets and later on falls in love with a woman. However, there is a catch: she looks just like the ghostly Yuki Onna.
The third story is entitled “Miminashi Hōichi no Hanashi,” which translates to “The Story of Hōichi the Earless.” Considered the highlight of the whole film, this was likely the main factor as to how “Kwaidan” won an Academy Award. The story revolves around a blind biwa player by the name of Hoichi. He was considered an expert when it came to singing a song that relates the battle of Dan-no-Ura entitled “The Tale of the Heike.”
As he sings the song, the audience is treated to a story within a story, wherein the film shows what actually happened in the battle. Hoichi became famous for his talent that he was invited to play "The Tale of the Heike" for several consecutive nights with a royal family as his audience. However, his friends warn him about their fear that this “royal family” may not actually be people at all. The final story of the film is entitled “Chawan no Naka,” which translates to “In A Tea Bowl.” Out of the four stories, this one is the shortest. The story revolves around a writer who sees faces in cups of tea.
As for probably the most famous Japanese horror movie of all time, it would be none other than “Ringu.” Released in the year 1998, it was so popular that an American remake came out just five years later entitled “The Ring.” The story begins with two high school girls studying at home. One of the girls tells the other, as well as the audience, about a mysterious VHS tape. It was said that when watched, the viewer of the tape is doomed to die in one week. Sadly, the other girl had already watched the said tape exactly one week ago.
The basis of this horror film is a traditional Japanese ghost story. A classic vengeful yurei, Sadako scares her victims to death. She is seen as having long, black hair and wearing white clothing, which is common to the yurei tradition. On the other hand, her scary gait was influenced by Butoh, which is a Japanese dance style.