Ghost cats, killer children and cursed videotapes comprise just some of the terrors that Japan has gifted our nightmares.
Horror has long been one of Japanese cinema’s most successful exports, thrilling international audiences with its recurrent themes and preoccupations. Many of its most famous films have an emphasis on a certain kind of creeping dread – over startling shocks and gore – that have disturbed Western audiences down the ages.
With its roots in Edo-era folktales and Kabuki theatre there has been a stately quality to some of its more venerable entries, such as Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterful Ugetsu Monogatari, winner of the Silver Lion at the 1953 Venice Film Festival, or Masaki Kobayashi’s sumptuously designed Kwaidan (1964).
In subsequent decades more radical directors like Nobuhiko Obayashi and Shinya Tsukamoto gave Japanese horror a more subversive slant, and then towards the end of the 20th century a whole new wave – marketed internationally as J-Horror – inspired a generation of nightmares.
Cleverly updating traditional Japanese ghosts and curses with aspects of modern technology (video and telephony), Hideo Nakata’s Ring (1997) was the key title, the catalyst that ushered in multiple cycles, franchises and Hollywood remakes. But J-Horror also brought distinctive talents like Takashi Miike and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (who could propser in any genre) to the fore.
Japanese horror is now firmly established as a horror genre unto itself, with its own recognisable tropes and iconography - denoting a terrain where you can expect the truly terrifying.
Horror199796 minsDirector: Hideo Nakata
A journalist sets out to uncover in urban legend about a supposedly cursed videotape, in Hideo Nakata's chilling and highly influential tale of technological terror.
Horror2001119 minsDirector: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's dark and apocalyptic J-Horror foretells how technology serves to isolate us as it grows more important to our lives.
Animation & Artists Moving Image1964147 minsDirector: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Hiroshi Teshigahara's mystifying, serene and provocative fable about an entomologist who becomes trapped in a young widow’s desert shack.
Anthology1964183 minsDirector: Masaki Kobayashi
This stunningly beautiful anthology of Japanese ghost stories is one of the most meticulously crafted supernatural films ever made.
Drama200277 minsDirector: Shinya Tsukamoto
Bizarre and unsettling sex fantasy from Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo), about a woman blackmailed by a stranger into enacting his wildest fantasies.
Science Fiction2000114 minsDirector: Kenji Fukasaku
Before The Hunger Games there was Battle Royale, Kinji Fukasaku's magnificently twisted shocker in which tearaway teens are given three days to kill or be killed.
Period drama1964102 minsDirector: Kaneto Shindo
Stylish, symbolic and erotically charged Japanese horror in which the fortunes of a murderous mother-and-daughter team are upended by a strangely masked samurai.