Japanese Horror: What to Watch Next?

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Let’s say you saw The Ring and The Grudge and you thought they were alright, but upon checking out Ring and Ju-On you found them way more interesting. Well, now that you’ve seen the two J-horror films everyone knows, where do you go from here? Well young J-Horror neophyte, let me draw you a road map of twelve films to continue your journey.

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Audition, 1999, Dir. Takashi Miike
A widower and father, Aoyama, is lonely, and in an attempt to solve this problem, his director friend and him hold an audition. For a film, yes, but mostly so that he can scout out a girlfriend. He succeeds, becoming fascinated by one quiet young woman clad in white. The two quickly fall in love, but her dark secrets threaten to ruin this fairy tale romance. A slow build, but with an unforgettable climax.

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Battle Royale, 2000, Dir. Kinji Fukasaku
A delinquent class is chosen by their abused teacher to participate in the yearly Battle Royale, a government program in which they’re stranded on an island and have three days to kill each other until there’s one student left. Alliances are formed and friendships are broken, but the return of previous winners leads to even more chaos. Fascinating premise with a solid execution.

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Dark Water, 2002, Dir. Hideo Nakata
By the director of Ring, a single mother in the midst of a nasty divorce moves into a run-down apartment building with her daughter. They’re plagued by constant dripping water and the recurring presence of a mysterious handbag. Is there more to this than meets the eye or is the mother herself coming undone? Quiet and atmospheric, Dark Water may not deliver scares, but it lurk in your darkest thoughts for days.

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Hausu, 1977, Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi
A favorite of mine. Six girls travel to one of their aunt’s house for vacation. But after decades of living alone, is the aunt still the same woman she was? Psychedelic, hilarious, and fascinating all at the same time, Hausu is well worth your time.

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Ichi the Killer, 2001, Dir. Takashi Miike
Depraved hitman Kakihara is out for revenge when his mob’s boss is taken out by a mysterious assassin. Slipping between darkly humorous and deeply depraved, Ichi is a hard film to watch, at the very least for how extreme it is. If you can get through it though, it’s quite the memorable experience.

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Onibaba, 1964, Dir. Kaneto Shindo
Japanese horror for the longest time were more supernatural dramas than horror films. Onibaba is one of the best of these entries. Two women are forced to survive in the wake of a terrible war, but they come at odds when the younger one starts sleeping with a returned warrior. The older takes revenge by donning the horrific mask of a fallen samurai and terrorizing the couple. Atmospheric and stylized like a Noir film, it leaves you with the same satisfaction a good campfire ghost story does.

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Pulse, 2001, Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
A poltergeist sent through the internet? That’s what seems to be happening to the friends of two college students, but as the disappearances escalate, it becomes clear that a far more sinister force is pushing itself into our world. It spirals out of control at the end, but it is an unique and interesting spiral nonetheless.

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Seance, 2000, Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
A psychic trying to get recognition gets pulled into a kidnapping investigation, only to discover her husband may have accidentally become involved himself. More Hitchcock-ian than anything, Seance delivers little scares and all suspense.

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Suicide Club, 2001, Dir. Sion Sono
After 54 school girls kill themselves by jumping in front of a subway train, an investigation is launched into the website that seems to be predicting these suicides and the large rolls of skin found at the scene of the crime. Chaotic and messy, but weirdly engaging, Suicide Club doesn’t quite get its message across, but the subtext is does have will keep you thinking.

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Tetsuo: The Iron Man, 1989, Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto
Perhaps the only film that Tetsuo can be compared to is David Lynch’s Eraserhead, which is either an extremely good thing or incredibly bad thing, depending on who you are. The plot is nonsensical, but seems to be about some weird machine alien virus thing taking over a businessman. As the narrative becomes more clear, it also becomes equally more horrifying. Surreal to a fault, this film is not for the weak of temperament, or heart.

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Tomie, 1999, Dir. Ataru Oikawa
Tsukiko’s old classmates keep dying. Ever since the death of Tomie, nine of them have died or gone insane. Tsukiko herself is recovering from amnesia, but that isn’t helped by the interrogating or her increasingly distant boyfriend. For a dead girl, Tomie sure is causing a lot of trouble. More art film than horror film, Tomie still nails a fantastic atmosphere, even if it favors imagery over logic.

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Uzumaki, 2000, Dir. Higuchinsky
Based on Tomie author Junji Ito’s manga, Uzumaki is a condensed telling of the downfall of a small town. A small town that is taken over not by killers, zombies, or even ghosts, but by spirals. A Lovecraft-ian concept, but executed in a multitude of ways that are sure to raise both eyebrows and heart rates.

Any titles you think should be on this list? Seen these films and want to exclaim how amazing and/or terrible they are? Sound off in the comments below!

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Ring (1998) Review

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Ring, or Ringu as it’s called in the US, is a 1998 japanese film that helped kick off the J-horror craze of the early 2000s. Directed by Hideo Nakata, Ring is not only the highest grossing horror film in Japan, but it’s also one of the creepiest and most atmospheric films ever made.

Ring is the chilling tale of Asakawa, a reporter, who’s investigating the mysterious urban legend of a videotape that curses you to die in seven days if you watch it. Asakawa locates the tape, but upon watching it must team up with her ex-husband Ryuji in order to save her life. As they investigate the history of the tape they discover the tragic history of a psychic named Shizuko and her even more powerful daughter Sadako.

Japanese horror differs greatly from Western horror in that it relies less on action and gore, and more on mood and tension. Thats not to say the two are mutually exclusive, but the Japanese films that have been popular in the West all share this quality. Ring is most certainly no exception. It takes its time, letting the tension and distress settle in. Even individual shots will pause to convey a lack of comfort. For example, when Ryuji visits Asakawa’s apartment to see the tape he pauses when he enters, giving us the impression that something is off without using dialogue or a dutch tilt.

Ring is also a very smart film, making sure not to over-explain to it’s audience what’s going on. Important details like Ryuji being Asakawa’s ex are not mentioned until half an hour past him being introduced and even then in a random line of dialogue. It could be said that it under-explains some things, like how Asakawa’s son Yoichi saw the tape, but the story of the film is still coherent and the ending makes sense. The core mystery of the film is an intriguing one, but accentuated by the progressive discoveries we make about the characters investigating, it becomes incredibly engaging.

Don’t expect jump scares or an action-packed climax, since Ring has neither of those things. If you do prefer those in your horror movie then check out the American remake The Ring (2002). It’ll serve you nicely. Ring on the other hand is a quiet, dwelling, and uncomfortable film that explores themes of urban legend and paranormal phenomena in modern society in a foreign, but relatable way. Like the best of J-horror, you won’t be hiding behind the couch as you watch, but you will have chills on the back of your neck for the rest of the night, especially after the film’s shocking ending.