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10 Best Japanese Horror Movies From the Terrifying to the Weird

From the country that put giant monsters and bendy ghost girls on the map, we recommend these spooktacular treats.
Japanese Horror Movies
By  · Published on October 20th, 2020

5. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tetsuo The Iron Man

What would happen if you tossed the films of David Lynch and David Cronenberg in a blender, added some movies too explicit to be mentioned on this family-friendly site, and threw in a whole hunk of metal? Well, you would break your blender. What you wouldn’t manage to do is recreate Tetsuo: The Iron Man — a film like this cannot be boiled down to any formula — but you might just get a taste of Shinya Tsukamoto’s unhinged, experimental masterwork.

Between the film’s frenzied plot and gobsmacking visuals, it’s impossible to put its effect into words. In lieu of what would be a failed attempt to describe what it’s about, I’ll leave you with some advice: pour yourself a stiff drink, turn off all the lights, and watch this. Now. (Anna Swanson)

4. Pulse (2001)


Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s philosophical ghost story is one of the most quietly harrowing horror films of all time, and it tells a uniquely Japanese story. Pulse follows several characters who witness frightening, virus-like computer images that seem to encourage them to commit suicide, become catatonic, or simply vanish. On a literal level, the ghosts that haunt the world of Pulse are uncanny and disturbing; Kurosawa frames shots with bone-deep intensity, setting up scenes that slowly unravel into images that are almost unbearable.

On a metaphorical level, Pulse envisions a culture that’s irreparably damaged by its relationship with the internet. Although the film is a prescient take on the 21st century in general, it also calls to mind hikikomori, a real Japanese phenomenon that involves people isolating themselves completely from the outside world, often disappearing into digital lives instead. (Valerie Ettenhofer)

3. Audition (1999)

Audition Japanese horror movies

You can’t talk J-horror without Takashi Miike, and 1999’s Audition may very well be the director’s most important piece of work. Seven years after the death of his wife, Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi) is ready to remarry. With the help of a friend, he sets up a casting call for a sham movie to meet the perfect woman. Here he meets the meek Asami (Eihi Shiina) and immediately becomes infatuated. The two begin to date and seemingly hit it off, but soon, deep, dark secrets from Asami’s past rise to the surface.

Audition inspired a generation of imitators, but none could reach the truly terrifying heights achieved by Miike. The last fifteen minutes represent true horror, including an “acupuncture” scene that is nearly impossible to watch without partially covering your eyes. (Chris Coffel)

2. Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale

Based on the manga of the same name, Kinji Fukasaku’s sixtieth film is a provocative, biting, and thoroughly entertaining masterpiece that addresses sociopolitical issues and the loss of innocence. The story is simple: high schoolers get sent to an island and are forced to kill each other. Only the last one standing will make it back to the mainland.

The movie also came from a deeply personal place for the director, as he was forced to watch his classmates burn during a factory bombing in World War II. Knowing that context makes Battle Royale that extra bit chilling. At the same time, it’s hard not to appreciate its twisted sense of humor, ultraviolence, and action-packed mayhem on a visceral level. (Kieran Fisher)

1. House (1977)

House Japanese horror movies

Nobuhiko Ôbayashi‘s House so effortlessly blends genres, characters, and concepts into something so magical that it could only have come from Japan. The picture above captures just one small sliver of the madness here — yes, it is a girl’s decapitated head biting another girl’s ass — as a group of young friends visits a house that’s home to ghosts, death, and utter insanity.

The basic setup has been used numerous times through horror history, but rarely does it result in such originality, visual splendor, and absolute fun. There is creepy imagery here, but there are also beautiful compositions and absurd terrors. All ten of these films are fantastic monster movies, ghostly tales, and stories of madness, but there’s only one House. (Rob Hunter)

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.