Anyone with even the slightest familiarity with the horror genre knows Japanese cult classics such as the Ring and the Grudge — the two pillars of horror. So, because every Japanese horror” article feels the need to include these titles, you will not see them in the selection below.
Japanese horror is far superior to Western horror in its nuances, deep lore, and stunning effects. They are more psychological, twisted, and do not always have a happy ending. In addition, Japanese horror movies reflect the rich culture of the country, often featuring yurei (ghosts), yokai (demons), oni (vengeful demons), and of course, the theme of “family.”
Time to look at some less-known cult horror movies from Japan. Let’s get spooky!
1. Dark Water (2002)
Yoshimi, a divorced single mother, living with her five-year-old daughter, is haunted by dark water dripping from the ceiling, black hair coming out of the plumbing, and, of course, there’s a creepy ghost of a girl. The scary movie is based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, author of The Ring, and directed by Hideo Nakata, who also directed the iconic horror film. By the way, there is an American remake, but you know it’s clearly inferior to the original.
2. Tag (2015)
This unconventional, quirky, action horror film features some of the most absurd scenes you can imagine. Even the introduction is quite weird: schoolgirl Mitsuko is riding a bus with her classmates when suddenly, some invisible force cuts the bus and everyone in it in half, leaving the main character the only survivor. After that, Mitsuko has to fight for her life in even stranger conditions. It is a shocking and very creative story that also touches on the issue of the objectification of women but does it in its own messed-up way.
3. Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman (2007)
The best Japanese horror movies are based on Japanese urban legends because they are incredibly entertaining and feel real. The plot revolves around a ghost girl who was disfigured by a jealous lover. Soon, children begin to disappear, and two teachers decide to investigate these mysterious incidents in the hope of finding the missing. The film is very dark and not afraid to show scenes of child abuse. If your kids are being naughty, tell them Kuchisake-onna will pay them a visit.
4. Pulse (2001)
Japan has a knack for turning technology into something you’ll never want to use again. Just as the Ring gave phones and VHS tapes a “nope” factor, the Pulse does the same to TV and the Internet. In this cult classic, vengeful spirits infiltrate the physical world through a virtual network, and suddenly, residents of Tokyo begin to disappear. The movie builds on a sense of isolation in an era where everyone is connected digitally, which makes it all the more terrifying.
5. Exte: Hair Extensions (2007)
A pale ghost girl with long black hair is present in so many horror flicks, so why not make hair the core of the story? Prepare to be plunged into a swirling world of madness, where the killer is the hair itself! A morgue watcher steals a young woman’s corpse and soon notices that her black hair continues to grow. His entrepreneurial mind kicks in, and the man starts selling the hair as extensions. What could go wrong, right?
6. Another (2012)
The movie is based on a mystical horror novel turned into manga and then made into an amazing anime. The sinister atmosphere of the whole novel is perfectly reflected in both the anime and the movie. Some viewers claimed they actually felt like someone was watching them. 15-year-old Kichi moves from Tokyo to a small town and starts going to high school. He meets a mysterious girl but does not even suspect that all his classmates and teachers are acting as if she does not exist. The mystery is building up, keeping you on the edge of your seat until you realize what’s going on.
7. One Missed Call (2003)
The premise is quite simple: a phone call from the future notifies the recipient of their death, and a few days later, they die. Since this deadly curse killed the protagonist’s friend, she tries to find a way to stop it after she receives a message about her death. As with many other Japanese horrors, this one also has an American remake, but it’s not great. The dread that fills this movie is yet another reminder that Japan does creepy, vengeful ghosts better than anyone.
8. Uzumaki (2000)
Based on the manga by the horror genius Junji Ito, the film’s concept is as eccentric as it is creepy. It’s about a cursed town whose inhabitants are haunted by ominous spirals that drive them mad and sometimes suicidal. Our main characters are trying to find a way to break the curse, but in the end, they may also succumb to the spiral effects. This is not your regular “monster of the week” movie; the story is seeping with a sense of hopelessness and nightmarish, surreal images.