Top 5 Scariest Found Footage Films From Japan

Updated on July 12, 2016

It’s common knowledge that The Blair Witch Project isn’t the first found footage film – Cannibal Holocaust predated it by almost 2 decades, and if we’re going for found footage films about the paranormal that people almost believed, Ghostwatch already did it in 1992. However, it cannot be denied that The Blair Witch Project was released at the right time and provided enough quality that it became the benchmark for the genre.

The bad news is that the genre has been saturated with films that rely on so many things that were either done better or was already done countless other times by previous entries into the genre. Many fans have grown desensitized and when they see yet another found footage horror – they sigh and expect it to be just another Blair Witch knock off.

If you’re one of these disillusioned fans, you will be glad to know that Japan isn’t immune to the found footage bug, and they have several memorable and scary found footage films. Their knack for slow-burn narratives with creepy atmosphere and imagery is a great fit for the genre, as is their rich folklore full of demons and vengeful spirits. If you want a primer on Japan’s handle of the found footage genre, here are 5 films you should check out first:

#5. Cult

Written and directed by found footage virtuoso Koji Shiraishi, Cult is a 2013 release that focuses on a group of idols tasked with investigating the haunting of the Kaneda family for a documentary. Things start out creepy but safe enough as they are accompanied and kept safe by a local Buddhist priest. They soon realize that the hauntings are just a prelude to an even bigger threat, one that can’t be handled by the Buddhist priest nor by his master.

What Makes It Worth Watching

The idols are played by real life idols using their own names, so it helps the immersion especially if you are prone to researching the cast of the films that you watch. The effects are obviously done on a budget, but it works when coupled with the effective lighting and camera work.

There’s also a point in the film where it does a complete 180 and you’re left wondering whether the director is pulling your leg, particularly with the introduction of a character that’s one part Jigoku Sensei Nube and another part boyband reject.

#4. Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night

Most people thought Presidio Corporation’s Paranormal activity 2: Tokyo Night is an unofficial spin-off of Oren Peli’s landmark found footage franchise, particularly because Peli has since released an actual Paranormal Activity 2.

The truth is that PA 2: Tokyo Night is an official spin-off and has a story that ties in directly with the events from Paranormal Activity. It follows a female Japanese student named Haruka Yamano, who broke both of her legs in a car accident during a stay in San Diego, California. When she returns to Tokyo, Japan, she is left in the care of her younger brother Koichi. When strange incidents centering around Haruka start occurring, Koichi decides to film his sister and investigate the paranormal activities.

What Makes it Worth Watching

PA 2: Tokyo Night is essentially a slightly altered version of the original Paranormal Activity. It’s siblings instead of husband and wife and it’s set in Japan, but the hauntings occur similarly – from the salt on the floor to the burning cross, to the female lead sleepwalking and staring at her housemate for hours, everything will be familiar. But it’s the minor changes that make this arguably a more unnerving film – the setting is more cramped, and the overall low budget look makes the minimalist effects look better (and one can argue that this one had more flashy hauntings than PA.)

Lastly, Tokyo Night’s story is a peripheral yet still important part of the overarching story – it shows that whatever is haunting Katie in the original can jump to another, unrelated person: the car accident in San Diego, California that took Haruka’s legs involves Katie.

#3. Shirome

Another film by Koji Shiraishi, Shirome follows Shiraishi himself as he films an episode of a program where minor celebrity guests are tasked with investigating haunted houses. For his episode, the members of idol group Momoiro Clover – played by members of the real life idol group Momoiro Clover Z using their own names – were employed to visit an abandoned school with a shrine to the minor deity/demon Shirome. The legend goes that Shirome grants wishes, but only if the person asking has complete faith in the wish and the entity itself. Othewise, Shirome curses the person. The girls wish for a chance to appear on a Japanese TV broadcast.

What Makes It Worth Watching

Shiraishi once again uses the trick of casting real life celebrities as themselves, this time more effectively because Momoiro Clover Z are popular even outside Japan, and that they are not accomplished actresses so you don’t get the feeling that they aren’t simply acting.

#2. Noroi

Another one from Koji Shiraishi, Noroi centers on paranormal expert Masafumi Kobayashi, who is an author and film producer that has a series of books and documentaries on paranormal activities in Japan. The film revisits the footages from his last documentary, The Curse, which has Kobayashi investigating a woman named Junko Ishii and her son after neighbors complained of strange noises coming from their house.

What Makes it Worth Watching

Noroi is the film that put Koji Shiraishi on the map, and is easily one of the best examples of how to do found footage films right. Unlike most found footage horrors, Noroi isn’t slow nor plodding – you get a heavy dose of creepy atmosphere and near sightings right from the start.

#1. POV: A Cursed Film

POV: A Cursed Film follows two fledgling idols, Haruna and Mirai, as they film a segment of a regular cable access show in which they answer letters sent in by the viewers. For the particular episode, they watch a ghost video submitted by a viewer, which triggers a series of strange occurrences that pointed them back to Haruna’s own school, where the video was originally taken.

What Makes it Worth Watching

This is another example of how to do the genre right. It’s low budget, but it works within the context as the idol show within the movie is meant to look budget. The story is decent with some unexpected twists, and the scares are genuinely scary and rely more on looming threats than jump scares (though there are a lot of jump scares, if that’s your thing.) There are certain places where the characters didn’t exhibit common sense, but it’s par for the course when it comes to the horror genre so it can be forgiven in here. What POV does right is provide a horror element that works on the surface level but provides enough meat for people who wish to analyze details and find hidden connections between plot elements.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        J. Vivino 

        23 months ago

        You forgot about "Okaruto" from 2009 directed by Kouji Shiraishi (the same person who directed Noroi, Shirome and Karuto [Cult]). It is really disturbing and nerve-wracking.

      • RachaelLefler profile image

        Rachael Lefler 

        3 years ago from Illinois

        These seem good, but do you know where they can be bought or streamed legally?

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