Skip to main content

My Top 10 Japanese Horror Films

Kyle Atwood is a published horror author who plays too many video games and watches too many horror movies to be of sound mind.

"Ju-On" (2000)

"Ju-On" (2000)

Japan has long since been dishing out some of the most amazing and strange gems in horror cinema.

This is a list of my personal favorites. I feel as though going by statistics wouldn't give the respective movies the attention they might otherwise deserve. However, much of this list can be predicted when thinking of Japanese horror and they rightfully deserve their respective places on this list, but there are a few that are surprisingly lesser known than others.

Anyway, on with the list!

10. Tokyo Gore Police

Everything about this movie screams Japanese horror/comedy cinema. It is also one of the most stupendously gory, sickening, and sexual movies I have ever seen, and I LOVE IT! The reason it is No. 10, however, is because the movie is not scary and can hardly be taken seriously. It has some of the strangest visuals, ideas, and creatures I have ever seen.

To summarize, it's like Power Rangers, just with more blood and sexual organs/references.


One of MANY gruesome and strange scenes

9. Godzilla

No Japanese horror list is complete without this global icon.

Everybody's favorite kaiju has been smashing buildings, people, and monsters since 1954 and, again, is a global icon.

No, Godzilla isn't scary by today's standards, but back when this first came out anything seemed possible. So, as a result, Godzilla became a frightening idea that defined many, MANY movies after it. Movies today probably wouldn't be the same without our favorite reptile from the sea.


8. Ringu

Another extremely popular film, more commonly known as The Ring.

A common theme from Japanese horror culture is the idea of ghosts existing for revenge and coming to wreak havoc on a world that, for lack of a better term, killed them.

What made this movie terrifying was the fact that it tapped into the age-old saying, "curiosity killed the cat". Picking at the human nature that forces us to pick something up that is claimed to be "cursed".

I can't really say much about this movie, as it has already been said a hundred times before, much like with Godzilla. But the fact remains that Ringu is an important film not only in Japan, but the rest of the world as well.


7. Suicide Club

This one is well known to any Japanese horror movie enthusiast. It's bizarre, to say the least.

The movie is a complete mess plot-wise, but considering the premise of the story, it makes sense. This movie is about one thing: shock, and this movie does it very well. There is one particular scene with a train in which 50 something girls hop off of a platform and onto a track in front of an oncoming train. Another scene shows a group of girls jumping off of a roof, with little warning leading up to the point.

It's unpredictable and filled with lots of grim concepts. Regardless, it's a fun watch for sure.


6. Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman

Based on a Japanese urban legend in which a ghost woman wears a mask, approaches you on the street, asks you a question, takes off the mask, asks the question again, and if you don't answer to her satisfaction, she cuts your face with her giant scissors. If you answer correctly, well then she follows you home and murders you on your doorstep. Spooky stuff, right?

Well, the movie is no exception. This one isn't as bizarre and chaotic as other entries on this list. In fact, it is the most Western-style J-horror film I've ever seen, but it works really well with the idea.

A LOT of people I have talked to and a lot of articles I have read aren't fond of this movie. Frankly, I just cannot agree with them. Yes, there are a few questionable moments, but nothing I cannot look past. I thought it was cleverly shot, and the effects were not terrible. All in all, it was a really fun movie.


5. Dark Water

The plot is pretty basic for a ghost story, but what Japan executes flawlessly in their film is the visuals and this movie had some very disturbing visuals.

So, a mother and her daughter move into an apartment and the apartment roof has a leak that gets bigger and bigger. As the stain gets bigger, the movie becomes more and more frightening.

The ending is also wonderfully done, but I can't go into that... spoilers and all.

This movie was also remade in America, but it is nothing special. It sort of eliminates the mysticism of the original.


4. A Page of Madness

A strictly visual movie, considering it is a silent film.

In 1926, this movie was released with no genre in mind. It wasn't until much later that horror fans decided to lay claim to this movie (considering the fact that it is unsettling and confusing).

I wish I could give you the story, but I've got nothing. I can only infer what this story is, and I infer that it is a peek into the broken psyche of a deranged person. There are many disturbing and confusing scenes, especially towards the end.

I find this one so interesting because of its antiquity, as there was absolutely nothing like this at the time. The high spot on this list is not strictly because of its content but mostly because of its symbolism of the Japanese horror culture as a whole. Almost a hundred years ago, Japan was still innovative in how it created films.

There's a lot I could say about this film, but it's all analysis and inference. Take this film as a painting and see what you get from this movie.


The Full Movie Free on YouTube

3. Onibaba

A fantastically woven tale of betrayal, mistrust, adultery, thieving, and karma. Onibaba is a visually appealing movie, as well as a morally appealing one.

Japan is in civil war and, as a result, two women are forced to kill unsuspecting soldiers and steal their belongings to sell for food. They eventually begin to turn on each other when a romantic interest gets involved.

This is a mystical tale indeed.


2. Tetsuo: The Iron Man

I have no idea what it is, but I am obsessed with this movie. It is so immensely interesting and creative that I can't help but love it. A cyberpunk horror that just oozes with originality and grimy class.

There are many interesting cinematic techniques woven into this movie from stop-motion blended with live action, sudden clever jump cuts, the entire movie being shot in black and white, and some just overall appealing shots.

It's a body horror about a man that begins to evolve into a machine. As you can expect with almost any Japanese body horror film, is the extremely bizarre and confusing imagery paired with equally bizarre "musical" scores.

The sound score is a bit much at first, but as the man becomes more and more like a machine, the "music" makes for a fantastic setting for the tone. Also a big point of creative interest: the music seems to be made up of strictly machine parts clanking and grinding against one another, a very big impact for the movie.

All in all, it's a fantastic film.


1. Ju-On Series

Perhaps the most well-known and loved movie from Japan, and rightfully so, is Ju-On or, as we call it in the states, The Grudge. Both versions of this movie are great, but, obviously, the Japanese series takes home the gold.

I've mentioned many times in this article that Japan has a way with making horrific visuals and this series had plenty of those. The Ju-On can be thanked for all of the terrifying ghost stories we have today.

One of the first and few movies that manage to make you feel vulnerable the whole time. Any moment could mean seeing the petrifying ghost girl or hearing the blood-curdling growl of the ghost boy.

The scares are still some of the best in the business. My two personal favorites are the scene under the blanket, and the scene where the ghost girl comes down the stairs; if you watch the first film, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Ju-On is by far the most terrifying Japanese horror film, to me and its age only increases the sheer beauty of the series and rightfully so, considering the Ju-On ghosts still remain one of the biggest mascots for, not only Japanese horror but also for the paranormal horror genre as a whole.

If, by chance, you haven't seen this movie and ignored all other entries on this list, please do yourself the favor and pick up any entry in the series and give it a watch.


© 2018 Kyle Atwood