10 Japanese Horror Movies That'll Make You Afraid to Sleep With the Lights Off

Oct 31 2020 - 3:35pm

Japanese horror, also known as J-Horror, has produced some of the scariest movies [1] you can find in the horror genre as a whole. The stories are so terrifying, not to mention creative, that many have been adapted for American cinema — although most of those particular remakes pale in comparison. J-Horror really found its footing during the '50s and '60s [2], with some of the genre's more experimental films coming from this time period. However, the best way to find out if you're truly ready for films like 1964's Onibaba and 1960's Jigoku is to look at a few of the more well-known films. For those interested in seeing if J-Horror is for them, or for those just looking for a real scare, below is a list of the 10 best J-Horror films from the past 25 years.

Cure (1997)

Cure has an extremely famous fan in the form of Parasite director Bong Joon-ho. In 2012, he included it as part of a BFI list of films that "had the biggest impact [4] on [his] own personal view of cinema." The film's plot follows Detective Takabe as he investigates a string of murders, where each victim has an "X" carved into their neck. The most bizarre part, however, is that the murderer is always found near the victim with no memory of what they've done. Nothing seems to connect the murders, which frustrates the detective as he tries to uncover the truth.

Watch Cure on Criterion Channel. [5]

Ring (1998)

Even if you know nothing about J-Horror, you've probably heard of Ring, also called Ringu, or at least it's remake starring Naomi Watts [6] called The Ring. What you might not know is that Ring is based on a 1991 novel of the same name by Kôji Suzuki. The 1998 film version follows reporter Reiko Asakawa as she investigates the death of her niece at the hands of an apparently cursed videotape. With the help of her ex-husband, Ryuji, she watches the tape and sets out to discover the video's origin and break its spell.

Watch Ring on Amazon Prime Video. [7]

Audition (1999)

This is a movie with a message: don't judge a book by its cover or you could end up dead. A widower named Aoyama decides to start dating again, but rather than meeting someone organically, he sets up a fake production company to serve as a dating service. Eventually, he falls for the reserved Asami, but he soon finds out she's nothing like she first appeared.

Watch Audition on Shudder. [8]

Pulse (2001)

Pulse is another movie on this list that had a 2006 American remake (which also had two sequels). The plot features two parallel storylines and three seemingly disconnected stories, with each of the characters trying to discover why people in Tokyo are disappearing and the source of the ghostly visions they keep coming into contact with on their computers.

Watch Pulse on Amazon Prime Video. [9]

Dark Water (2002)

Another member of the American remake club, Dark Water is based on a short story collection by Koji Suzuki. The movie is just as eerie as you'd expect from the title. Yoshimi Matsubara, a newly single mom, is struggling with trying for a fresh start in a new apartment while keeping custody of her daughter, Ikuko. Strange things start happening at the apartment, and when Yoshimi and Ikuko have visions of a ghostly little girl, it becomes apparent that something supernatural is at work.

Watch Dark Water on Amazon Prime Video. [10]

Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)

Like Ring, Ju-On: The Grudge is one you've likely heard of before. There are currently nine movies and one TV series in the Japanese franchise, 13 movies if you count the American films. Ju-On: The Grudge is the first that received a theatrical release in Japan, and sees what happens when a house that endures a singularly traumatic event returns the favor to those who visit. It's made up of a series of vignettes that come together as the police dive deeper into the mystery.

Watch Ju-On: The Grudge on Amazon Prime Video. [11]

Noroi: The Curse (2005)

A refreshing take on the found-footage horror movie, Noroi: The Curse frames itself as a documentary. Don't worry, nothing within it is real — even if actress Marika Matsumoto plays a version of herself in the film. The "documentary" is about a paranormal journalist named Kobayashi, who goes missing shortly after he completes it.

Watch Noroi: The Curse on Shudder. [12]

Tag (2015)

Known in Japan as Real Onigokko, Tag is directed by J-Horror icon Sion Sono. The movie gives off gruesome Alice in Wonderland vibes as a teenager named Mitsuko finds her life devolving into chaos, and ends up in increasingly bizarre alternate realities. She has to fight to stay alive, but can't seem to answer the most important question: who is the enemy?

Watch Tag on Amazon Prime Video. [13]

Sadako vs. Kayako (2016)

Originally a 2015 April Fools' Day joke [14], fans loved the idea so much, it became a reality. A crossover of the Ring and the Ju-On series, Sadako vs. Kayako pits the evil entities of both films against one another as they attempt to see who will be the last cursed individual standing. No, the pair don't just up and decide this on their own — it happens because someone who watches the cursed videotape learns the only way to beat the curse is to put another vengeful spirit up against Sadako.

Watch Sadako vs. Kayako on Shudder. [15]

The Forest of Love (2019)

The Forest of Love is loosely based on a series of real-life murders committed in Kyushu, Japan, by serial killer Futoshi Matsunaga. An older con man manages to manipulate both a group of student filmmakers and a young girl into doing his bidding. They listen and do whatever he says, even when murder is involved.

Watch The Forest of Love on Netflix. [16]

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