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.
Horror2002101 minsDirector: Hideo Nakata
A single mother desperately tries to shield her daughter from hidden terrors in her apartment block, in Hideo Nakata's chilling masterpiece.
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.
Romance195397 minsDirector: Kenji Mizoguchi
Kenji Mizoguchi's haunting evocation of a feudal world where brutal realism intermingles with the supernatural.
Horror1964183 minsDirector: Masaki Kobayashi
This stunningly beautiful anthology of Japanese ghost stories is one of the most meticulously crafted supernatural films ever made.
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.
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.
Thriller2016130 minsDirector: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cuire, Pulse) makes a triumphant return to the horror genre with this macabre and deeply unsettling thriller.
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.
Horror196899 minsDirector: Kaneto Shindo
A murdered mother and daughter return from the dead as vampiric cat spirits intent on revenge, in Kaneto Shindô's companion piece to Onibaba.
Horror197788 minsDirector: Nobuhiko Obayashi
An unforgettable mixture of bubblegum teen melodrama and grisly phantasmagoria, Obayashi’s deranged fairy tale House is one of Japanese cinema’s wildest supernatural ventures and a truly startling debut feature.
Horror1999115 minsDirector: Takashi Miike
Takashi Miike burst to international prominence with this deeply disturbing tale of a deadly young woman who turns the tables on her middle-aged suitor.
Comedy2001113 minsDirector: Takashi Miike
The Sound of Music meets Dawn of the Dead in Takashi Miike's deranged mix of grotesque stop-motion animation, surreal musical numbers, and zombie melodrama.
Comedy2003130 minsDirector: Takashi Miike
Surreal and hilarious yakuza horror from the dependably unhinged Takashi Miike, concerning an assassin's increasingly strange quest to find a missing corpse.
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.
Fantasy198867 minsDirector: Shinya Tsukamoto
Shinya Tsukamoto's wild cyberpunk tale of a businessman's agonising transformation into a walking scrap heap is a jaggedly dehumanised vision of the future.
Horror199181 minsDirector: Shinya Tsukamoto
Shinya Tsukamoto's sequel has the Iron Man transforming into a cyberkinetic gun when a gang of vicious skinheads kidnap his son.