Ten great Japanese horror movies

This list might have just as easily been titled Ten great Japanese horror movies in the vein of Kuroneko, since we're only dealing with a certain type of horror film here. Kuroneko, which premiers at the Denver FilmCenter on Friday, is a more subdued, fantasy-driven horror than the type people usually associate with the countries modern output. To celebrate the showing we listed some of our favorites after the break. [jump]

10. Tales from the Dead

Tales from the Dead is an anthology of four different stories, all of which are terrifying in their own right. Each story follows a character who commits some type of sin that carries through to their afterlife. Equal parts J-horror and Twilight Zone, it's one of the few horror movies that make you think about how you're living your life in the present. It's not a shocker film -- it's more the type to twist a knife in you very, very slowly.

9. Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water)

The story starts with Yoshimi winning a custody battle for his daughter and moving into a new home. Of course, since it's a horror movie, the house is haunted by some type of creepy, dripping liquid. Okay, the house is actually haunted by a ghost, a child who starts randomly appearing. We won't ruin it from there, but rest assured it's a shocker.

8. Kôrei (Séance)

Um, okay, bear with us with this story synopsis: A psychic housewife and her husband suddenly get a new houseguest when a kidnapped girl hides out in their home to escape an assailant. The girl dies and her ghost haunts them for a while. It sounds a bit silly, but the purpose of the story is similar to Tales of the Dead in that it poses more questions about how one lives their life than it does about what happens after.

7. Ju-On: The Grudge

Most people that would bother to spend the time reading this list already know the plot line and purpose of Ju-On, but it needs to be here since, combined with a few other movies, it helped usher in a new form of the Japanese horror to Americans. Sure, it made it so creepy kids were all the rage in America for a while, but it still serves as an excellent entry point to modern Japanese horror.

6. Jigoku

Basically Jigoku is an extended, horrifying driving instructional video. A young student flees a hit-and-run accident, get plagued by guilt and a doppelganger, then decides to head to a police station to confess with his wife, but she dies on the way. More deaths come on before his own and suddenly we're in Hell with him. The film didn't have a good budget, and it certainly shows, but like some of our own Roger Corman's films, a certain penchant for something great shines through enough in Jigoku to make it stand out from the rest.

5. Ugetsu

Ugetsu isn't really a horror movie, but it is one of Japan's best ghost stories. The film follows a group of peasants trying to make a living and sell their wares; all the while they're harassed by all kinds of foul beings. There is no moment here that seeks to startle or shock the viewer, but the ghosts here still have a story to tell and it's one worth paying attention to.

4. Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell

Vampire-like creatures, space aliens, sentient slime, humans being terrible: all things featured in the cult-classic Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell. Toss in some incredibly garish colors and one of the best plot-twists in cinematic history and you've got one of the greatest, most bizarre sci-fi horror films of all time. It's a fantasy wrapped in a very human emotion that causes one to wonder, what's worst, aliens or ourselves?

3. Ringu

We've seen plenty of haunted electronics before, but Ringu managed to completely reinvent the idea as well as put a shot in the arm Japanese horror. Despite its terrible American remake, Ringu is still one of the most terrifying ghost films ever released. The grainy visuals, wonky special effects and simple story have been emulated time and time again here in the states, but the fact remains that Ringu was the first incredibly popular movie to do it.

2. Onibaba

You wouldn't think a horror movie based on a Buddhist parable would be any good, but this story of a woman and her daughter-in-law that make a living killing samurai manages to be one of the greatest, most interesting horror films to come out of Japan. It's violent, filled with sex and incredibly difficult to understand, but it still stands as one of the most traumatic movie-watching experiences from any language.


Kwaidan features four stories of ghostly and otherwordly things, ranging from the story of a samurai who divorces his wife for money to a woodcutter who breaks his promise to a ice spirit. Each of these stories is completely different than the rest, but the common theme of a fable wrapped in a horror story is prevalent in all of them. It's jarring, frightening and haunting, but never shocking or disgusting.
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Thorin Klosowski
Contact: Thorin Klosowski