When talking about scary flicks, Japanese horror films come to mind. From the classics to the goriest, here are the 10 best Japanese horror films. For horror junkies all over the world, there’s nothing better than some of the best Japanese horror movies. We’ve all heard of the Grudge and The Ring though. And while these timeless classics are great to watch every Halloween season, there has to be more, right? Luckily for us, the Japanese are masters at horrific storytelling. Finding the right movie can be tricky though. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite horror flicks just for you though. There’s a little bit of something for everyone here: from silent films to thrillers, all the way to the classic gore-sploitation, Japanese cinema has done it all. There are even a few horror animes out there!
This list will give you a little taste and get you well on your way to the perfect fright.
1. Battle Royale (2000)
First and foremost, is Battle Royale.
This 2000 film is based off of a book by the same name, written by Koushun Takami. While the book’s premise is simple-evil dictatorial government oppressing its people by torturing their children-it goes much deeper than that.
The heroes of the story are middle school kids, chosen by the government to fight gladiatorial battles that are essentially torture. These battles are filmed for all of the population to see. In the end, only a few live.
If this story sounds familiar, well, it probably is. Some say the popular Hunger Games books were based on this movie. The books were highly successful and ultimately turned into even more successful American movies.
The Battle Royale film was extremely controversial. When it was released, it was banned in several countries and saw a delayed release to American theaters. The gratuitous violence, all involving young children, made it hard to palate for many viewers.
But the film’s cultural impact can still be felt 18 years later. It still has an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. It makes nearly every "best of" list focused on Japanese horror flicks, and if you really dig into it, it may have helped inspire the creation of a national bestselling young adult series and film series.
Any horror junkie should give this film a shot. The social commentary alone is enough to scare the pants off the viewer.
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Official Synopsis: Forty-two students, three days, one deserted Island: welcome to Battle Royale. A group of ninth-grade students from a Japanese high school have been forced by legislation to compete in a Battle Royale. The students are sent off to kill each other in a no-holds-barred game to the death, until one survives -- or they all die. Some decide to play the game like the psychotic Kiriyama or the sexual Mitsuko, while others are trying to find a way to get off the Island without violence. However, as the numbers dwindle is there any way for Shuya and his classmates to survive?
Cast: John Snyder, Julie Ann Taylor, Takeshi Kitano, Tarô Suwa, Chiaki Kuriyama, Kaiji Tang, Tarô Suwa, Masanobu Andô, Yûko Miyamura, Tamaki…
Genres: Thriller, Drama, Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure
2. Tetsuo: Iron Man (1989)
If political thrillers aren’t your game, maybe it’s time to turn to a classic fetish horror film.
Tetsuo: Iron Man may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but the film is definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s a prime example of a low-budget cult classic film. From grainy shots to stop motion, this film is similar to some later American exploitation style films.
The story focuses on three people: The Metal Fetishist, the salaryman and his girlfriend. The Metal Fetishist is accidentally offed by the salaryman and his girlfriend. Through several bizarre sex-filled dream sequences, the salaryman realizes he’s slowly being transformed into a metal man.
There are several explicit sex scenes, gratuitous body horror sequences, and a few street fights. This unique, expressionistic cult film is not easy to watch but should be put on any horror bucket list.
Directed by Shin'ya Tsukamoto
Official Synopsis: A strange man known only as the "metal fetishist", who seems to have an insane compulsion to stick scrap metal into his body, is hit and possibly killed by a Japanese "salaryman", out for a drive with his girlfriend. The salaryman then notices that he is being slowly overtaken by some kind of disease that is turning his body into scrap metal, and that his nemesis is not in fact dead but is somehow masterminding and guiding his rage and frustration-fueled transformation.
Cast: Shin'ya Tsukamoto, Renji Ishibashi, Naomasa Musaka, Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Nobu Kanaoka, Tomorô Taguchi, Tomorô Taguchi
Genres: Horror, Sci-Fi
3. Grotesque (2009)
When it comes to slasher movies, look no further than Grotesque.
This film must have a lot of its budget on fake blood. The plot barely matters: its true purpose is to intrigue the terrified mind through spurting fountains of gore, dismembered body parts, and gratuitous torture scenes.
The long and short of it focuses on a captured couple who are brutally tortured and maimed by a bonafide madman. There is very little ambiance or atmosphere in this film. Just keep that in mind before turning it on. And maybe avoid red snacks while watching.
Directed by Kôji Shiraishi
Official Synopsis: An unnamed doctor has always had everything he's ever wanted, but that has only made him develop more extreme and depraved needs. He kidnaps a young couple in the prime of their life together and forces them into a game of torment that slowly extinguishes their hopes for survival.
Cast: Hiroaki Kawatsure, Kotoha Hiroyama, Shigeo Ôsako
Genres: Horror, Thriller
4. Audition (1999)
In a time when dating apps didn’t really exist and finding true love relied heavily on creepy classified ads and the missed connections section of Craigslist, the film Audition emerged to take the horror movie stage.
The film opens on Shigeharu Aoyama, a recent widower and soon to be gruesomely tortured movie producer. This cult classic film focuses on Aoyama navigating his grief for his deceased wife by seducing (and being seduced by) a strange young woman. She appears to be the perfect rebound.
Until she isn’t.
The film’s climax is one any veteran horror junkie will love instantaneously. It isn’t for the faint of heart or the snacker. Brace for lots of needles, maiming and massive amounts of body horror!
Directed by Takashi Miike
Official Synopsis: In Tokyo, Shigeharu Aoyama is a widower that grieves the loss of his wife and raises his son Shigehiko Aoyama alone. Seven years later, the teenage Shigehiko asks why his middle-aged father does not remarry and Shigeharu meets his friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa, who is a film producer, and tells his intention. However, Shigeharu has difficulties to approach to available women to date and Yasuhisa decide to organize a sham audition for casting the lead actress for the fake movie. They receive several portfolios of candidates and Shigeharu becomes obsessed by the gorgeous Asami Yamazaki. Despite the advice of the experienced Yasuhisa, Shigeharu calls Asami to date and he falls for her. But who is the mysterious Asami?
Cast: Jun Kunimura, Ryo Ishibashi, Ken Mitsuishi, Kanji Tsuda, Ren Ohsugi, Ren Ôsugi, Ren Osugi, Kimiko Tachibana, Tatsuo Endô, Koshio Jindôji,…
Genres: Horror, Thriller, Drama, Mystery, Romance
5. Suicide Club (2001)
If you’re in the mood for a crime flick with a side of horror, look no further than Suicide Club.
This indie horror flick has never been a classic, but it has risen to cult status since its release in 2001. It focuses on a mass suicide that takes place over nearly a week. Two devoted detectives hunt down a group of teens who may or may not be leading a "suicide circle."
There’s a band that’s popular with teen girls all over Japan. There’s body horror and sex-ploitation, and yes, there is suicide.
The film is a mess of barely connecting plot points. It alternates between gore-fest and crime thriller. It barely makes sense. Which is, of course, what makes it a timeless favorite.
Directed by Sion Sono
Official Synopsis: 54 high school girls throw themselves in front of a subway train. This appears to be only the beginning of a string of suicides around the country. Does the new all-girl group Desert have anything to do with it? Detective Kuroda tries to find the answer, which isn't as simple as one could hope.
Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Akaji Maro, Nahana, Hiroko Yashiki, Kenjirô Tsuda, Chieko Misaka, Kimiko Yo, Kenjirô Tsuda, Rolly, Kanako Hiramatsu, Mai Kanda,…
Genres: Horror, Thriller, Drama, Mystery, Crime
6. The Snow Woman (2016)
Nearly every culture has a legend of the "Woman in White." This legend makes for a great atmospheric scary movie. Lucky for us, Japan has a few. The most recent is The Snow Woman.
It’s an elegantly shot film with melancholy tones, beautiful storytelling, and a creeping sense of fear that makes it hard to look away from. Like most woman in white stories, this film focuses on a man caught up in the allure of a strange, ethereal woman (who wears white gowns, of course).
The film may be based on folklore, but the modern retelling gives it a fresh taste that will leave the viewer shivering and wanting more.
7. A Page of Madness (1926)
Last, but definitely not least, is a film that doesn’t make a lot of "best of" lists but should definitely be watched at least once by any horror fan.
A Page of Madness is a unique film. It’s a silent black and white film. And since there is no dialogue and no subtitles, much of the storytelling is left to the viewer’s interpretation.
The film was lost for nearly 50 years after it was shot in 1926. Created by a group of avant-garde Japanese artists, the film is a visual representation of their resistance to realism. Sadly, since the film was lost for so long, all of the narrated storytelling is now gone.
It makes for a fascinating viewing though. Set in a countryside insane asylum, the film follows the institution’s janitor’s daily and personal life. It’s stylized, bizarre, and unique.
Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa
Official Synopsis: A husband picks up a job as a janitor at an insane asylum scheming all the time to be close to and free his wife from the institution where she recently attempted suicide. A score was added when in 1970 the reels were unearthed after they were considered lost for decades. The director approved and subsequently repudiated this version.
Cast: Masuo Inoue, Ayako Iijima, Yoshie Nakagawa, Hiroshi Nemoto, Misao Seki, Minoru Takase, Eiko Minami, Kyosuke Takamatsu, Tetsu Tsuboi, Shintarô Takiguchi
Genres: Horror, Drama
Need More of the Best Japanese Horror Movies?
Hopefully, this list gives you a good starting point for your next horror movie night. While it is by no means complete, it has a little bit of everything. But if you’re looking for more of the best Japanese horror movies, check out our site.