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Underappreciated Japanese Horror Films You Need To See

The immense popularity of Gore Verbinski's The Ring, the American remake of Japanese horror film Ringu, in 2002, created a tidal wave of interest in Japanese horror in the United States. And despite mixed reviews of other remakes, like 2004's The Grudge, American horror fans will find plenty to scream about in these original, underappreciated Japanese horror movies. Whether it's extreme body horror or supernatural curses you're after, these films are influential modern horror classics.


Though we're still fans of the 2002 remake, starring Naomi Watts, 1998's Ringu is really where American cinema's fascination with Japanese horror began. Many American remakes of J-horror films followed, including The Grudge, The Eye, Dark Water, and more. "Ringu outclasses them all," writes Stuart Heritage at The Guardian. Fascinatingly and terrifyingly, the story that inspired the character of Sadako is a true one. Shiver.


In Japan, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a well-known auteur. Here in the U.S., his films have gone mostly overlooked. 2016's Creepy was no different—despite it receiving critical acclaim from The New York Times and A.V. Club. What begins as a story about the, well, creepy neighbor next door evolves into an epic funhouse of scares that leave you laughing mostly because you're so uncomfortable. Just as the movie veers awfully close to a predictable ending, it thankfully juts off in a different direction, with one of the most visceral endings in recent horror past.


You may have yet to cross paths with this intense film, mostly because of the terrifying reputation that precedes it. 1999's Audition has gone down in horror lore as one of the most disturbing horror films ever madeAudition is a modern classic in the sense that it deals intensely with gender politics, but in more obvious ways, it's an essential entry into the genre of body horror. Though at first it seems like a slow-burn mystery movie, Audition's terrifying conclusion had critics ranting that the movie be wiped from this earth. And if that's not recommendation enough, we don't know what is.

Ichi the Killer

This movie, from Audition director Takashi Miike, is by now such an iconic mainstay of J-horror that it's even earned its place in the Urban Dictionary. Yes, it's the story of a crazed killer named Ichi. A.V. Club's Scott Tobias recalls seeing the film in 2001 at the Toronto Film Festival, where the gore was so extreme that promotional barf bags were provided for the audience. Fans of torture porn movies like Hostel or Saw will be shocked to know that Ichi the Killer did it all before, and did it much, much, much sicker.

Dark Water

An unfortunate American remake of this movie, starring Jennifer Connelly is perhaps the reason why the original doesn't get the fair shake it so obviously deserves. Following on the heels of The Ring's success, the Dark Water remake just doesn't work quite as well. Since both original Japanese films were directed by Hideo Nakata, fans of Ringu will recognize some familiar tropes, most notably the single mother and her child fighting to break a curse before some kind of supernatural punishment can befall them.


Undoubtedly one of the strangest horror films ever made, Nobuhiko Obayashi's Hausu defies categorization. A group of girlfriends travel to an aunt's haunted manse filled with an Alice in Wonderland-esque cast of spirits, including a floating, demonic Cheshire cat and a piano that likes to eat people. Released in 1977, Hausu is now considered a horror classic. Obayashi said the movie was inspired by his 11-year-old daughter, but today critics wonder if perhaps the horrifying nonsensical world has more to do with trying to assign meaning in a world that's barely survived nuclear war.

Suicide Manual

Starting where 2001's Suicide Club left off (a confusing film with plot holes galore), 2003's Suicide Manual is based on a real suicide how-to book that was published in Japan in 1993. In the movie, police and journalists work together to solve the suicide pact of four people, but there's a strange DVD involved and there's the idea that even in death, the impulse to convince others to commit suicide still exists.

Battle Royale

When Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, a young adult novel about a dystopian world in which children are chosen to represent their local districts in televised fights to the death, was released in 2008, fans of Battle Royale, the Japanese novel published in 1999, just laughed. These fans had already seen this story, but it was better the first time. The film adaptation, released in 2000, was one of the highest-grossing films in Japan, raking in $1.88 million in its opening weekend. For nearly 11 years, because of the controversy surrounding its violent content in the wake of the Columbine massacre, Battle Royale did not receive U.S. distribution.


It's hard to believe that this classic Japanese horror film from Nobuo Nakagawa, the father of Japanese horror, was released in 1960. It feels as if it could have been made yesterday. When a religion student flees the scene of a hit-and-run he is not only pursued by his guilty conscience, but also by a demonic double of himself. "Jigoku" translates to "hell," and Nakagawa takes the viewer literally to the pits, in all its eye-popping glory, making Jigoku a horror masterpiece for the ages.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Another J-horror classic, Tetsuo: The Iron Man feels custom-made for fans of the weird body horror of David Cronenberg or the fleshier David Lynch pictures like Eraserhead. Released in 1989, Tetsuo finds he gets insane pleasure from sticking sharp metal objects into himself, taking the viewer on a punishing self-torture joyride. Nearly 30 years later, Tetsuo is still hard to watch, making it one of horror's most overlooked classics.