Japanese horror cinema, or "J-Horror" has been making a name for itself in recent years. Hollywood chillers The Ring and The Grudge are adaptations of recent J-Horror flicks and their success will surely spawn others. To get the full impact of what J-Horror really means, you've got to go to the source.
We'll start our list with a true classic, then move to the modern age and a more insidious form of horror. First though - and fifth on the list - is the one that started it all...
Oh no, there goes Tokyo...
No discussion of Japanese horror flicks would be complete without referring to that campy classic, the original Godzilla from 1954, or "Gojira" to use its Japanese title. Sure, it looks cheesy today, but back in the early fifties the special effects were state of the art, even in Black & White.
Though later sequels did much to dilute the power and the presence of Japan's greatest movie monster, the big guy has still got what it takes to flatten a city - and nobody chews the scenery with more gusto! (iimage via Pacific Asia Museum) (Buy it here.)
4) ONE MISSED CALL
It's for you...
"One Missed Call" sets the bar for modern Japanese horror flicks with its distinctive, unsettling plot outline that's quite different from today's too typical slasher flicks Hollywood insists on churning out. If anything, One Missed Call shows some similarities to scary ghost stories past and older Hollywood films like 1967's "Wait Until Dark".
Very little blood, only brief nudity and an overall eerie atmosphere are the backdrop for one of the most chilling films you'll ever see. Titled "Chakushin ari" in its home country, One Missed Call was released in 2003 and its popularity has led to sequels in 2005 and 2006. (image via moviesonline.ca) (Buy it here.)
Dating is such a pain...
1999's Audition, or "Odishon" in romanized Japanese, is a chilling femme fatale flick with the emphasis on the fatale. One look at the actress holding a hypodermic needle on the movie poster had me horrified before the darned thing even started!
Somewhat Hitchcockian in scope and format, Audition features few special effects because they simply aren't needed. It's one of those films where you know you're going to be shocked, but you're shocked anyway, over and over again. (image via cartelia.net) (Buy it here.)
What goes around, comes around...
You may have seen ghost stories before, but they never had ghosts like the ones in "Ju-on". Crafted with exquisite care by director Takashi Shimizu, Ju-on is an unrelenting 90 minutes of terror that will leave you gasping - for more!
"Ju-on" can be translated to mean The Curse or The Grudge, and it was indeed this film that was remade & Americanized in 2004, then released as "The Grudge" starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr and Bill Pullman. The original Ju-on is much more effective at synthesizing classic horror and delivering it, drop by excrutiating drop. (image via Toei Video Company) (Buy it here.)
You wish you had Betamax now...
Remade in 2002 as "The Ring" starring Naomi Watts, the original 1998 Japanese "Ringu" is said to be creepier, scarier, and more shocking in every way. Though both films employ the same "One curse, one cure, one week to find it" plotline, director Hideo Nakata manages to create a palpable sense of horror tinged with depression, a fatalistic cocktail that will seep into your senses, leaving you cold - and in a cold sweat.
Having achieved lasting fame as Japan's top-grossing horror flick ever, Ringu was followed in 1999 by a sequel, also directed by Nakata, and a prequel in 2000 helmed by a different director. Though videotapes are rapidly fading from the A/V media scene, the VHS cassette has achieved lasting notoriety thanks to its use in Ringu (and The Ring) as a central plot device. Absolutely terrifying! (image via Max Bossa) (Buy it here.)
And there you have it. Japan may be all cute-like and Hello Kitty sickly sweet to some, but a far different aspect of the nation's culture lurks beneath. Think you have the guts to go there? Buy or rent any one of these J-Horror flicks and find out!
Japanese Innovations Writer