Afraid of the Dark? Famous Japanese Horror Movies


There are many ways individuals can entertain themselves, and watching a scary horror flick is just one of them! Japan tops the list in movies that will scare you and haunt you long after you turn off the TV. Let’s take a look at the horror movies of Japan. 

Table of Contents

  1. Japanese Horror Films Then and Now
  2. Top Japanese Horror Films
  3. Japanese Horror Movie Sets
  4. Takeaway

Japanese Horror Films Then and Now

Japan has caught the world’s attention and interest for so many different reasons. Apart from its tourist attractions, Japan has gained a proud reputation as well when it comes to its entertainment industry. The country has produced numerous anime films and series, drama series, and even songs that have been popular, not just in Japan but, in the whole world. One major highlight of the Japanese entertainment industry is its wide collection of horror films that have brought its worldwide audience great suspense and sleepless nights. 

Evolution of Japanese Horror Films

Japanese horror films got their start in the mid-1900s. Most Japanese horror films featured stories that came from different folktales passed down orally from one generation to another. These folk tales have inspired writers and directors to create and produce films about these interesting telltales. 

Some of the famous folk tale characters that are usually depicted in horror films are the oni (demons), yokai (ghosts), yurei (vengeful spirits), and bakemono (shapeshifters). Most films depict these supernatural beings as vengeful ones that haunt or torture people that have caused them harm in the past. 

Since their beginnings, Japanese horror films continued to evolve and expand their horizon. Without leaving their origin and culture behind, horror films in Japan in the past years have incorporated more modern twists like mixing horror with comedy and psychological genres or featuring more modern monsters like Godzilla and popular themes like a zombie apocalypse. All while providing commentary on the current ways of life in Japan.

The Japanese entertainment industry, indeed, has continued to amaze its international audience by producing quality and effective horror films by pushing to the limits, incorporating subgenres, adapting new trends, and of course, staying true to its origins. 

Top Japanese Horror Films

Are you planning for a great scary movie to watch with your family, friends, or by yourself this coming weekend? Brace yourself as we recommend to you some of the most popular Japanese horror movies of all time. If you are already a fan of Japanese scary films, you must be familiar with most of these.

Ringu (1998)


The film is based on Koji Suzuki’s Ringu novel series. The story revolves around a reporter and her ex-husband who tried to solve and unravel the mystery of the series of deaths among teenagers. They found out that all the teenagers who died have watched a “cursed videotape” and seven days later, they all died horrifically. What is behind that “cursed tape”? Why did all the watchers of the videotape die? These and more will be answered in the film.

Japanese Element: 

It features a vengeful spirit called Onryo, a common ghost character in Japanese folktales, that is usually depicted as a girl with long black hair wearing a white kimono. 

Directors and Cast: 

Ringu was directed by Hideo Nakata who has produced other horror films as well. Nakata debuted his first English film when he directed The Ring Two, a sequel of the remake of his original film. The original film starred famous actresses Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Yuko Takeuchi, and more. 

International Impact: 

Ringu is considered the scariest and the highest-grossing horror film in Japan. It birthed a whole series of western remakes from the original film internationally, and the vengeful spirit, Sadako, is now an icon of the Japanese horror genre. 

Equivalent Foreign Movies:

Nakata’s Ringu was remade in different countries. The most popular remake was produced in Hollywood which is titled The Ring and its sequel, The Ring Two. Aside from Hollywood, South Korea also produced their own version of the film titled The Ring Virus.

Noroi: The Curse (2005)


Noroi is a story of a paranormal expert and a documentary filmmaker who discovers a series of creepy paranormal incidents and mysterious deaths. What has caused all these unnerving events? Are these mere coincidences or something supernatural is behind it? 

Japanese Element: 

The film features a famous ancient demon in Japanese legends called “Kagutaba” which some Japanese say is a type of oni. It’s said that the concept of Kagutaba was created solely for the film but was influenced by similar ominous stories about oni.

Directors and Cast: 

The film was directed by Koji Shiraishi using a found-footage style of filmmaking. Shiraishi continued to expand his horizon using this method of filmmaking and has directed other horror films as well. Jin Muraki, Rio Kanno, and Tomono Kuga are some of the stars who were cast for Noroi, some of them playing themselves in the film. 

Equivalent Foreign Movies:

There has been no close foreign movie equivalent to Noroi. However, critics find that some of its scenes or characters have similar feels to the movies like Nightcrawler and Hitchcock films.

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)


A mother and a child were murdered violently in a house and their spirits cast an evil curse and seek revenge on anyone who dares to enter their house. 

Japanese Element: 

The common element of vengeful spirit was featured in the movie.

Directors and Cast: 

The Grudge was written and directed by Takashi Shimizu. Some of its cast include Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito, and Misa Uehara. 

Equivalent Foreign Movies:

Shimizu also directed the American film The Grudge in 2004 and a reboot film was produced with the same title in 2020.

Dark Water (2002)


The film centers around the struggle of a single mom and her daughter. The mom already has a history of mental issues. As life starts to get worse for her and her daughter, how is she going to keep sane? Additional suspense happens when they move into an apartment and she starts to witness some unsettling visions of a girl in a yellow dress. 

Japanese Element: 

The common Japanese element of ghosts and spirits trying to communicate with people for various reasons is seen in the movie.

Directors and Cast: 

Dark Water is another horror smash film of Hideo Nakata after his Ringu series. The film features Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, and Mirei Oguchi. 

One Missed Call (2003)


The story revolves around a mysterious series of deaths. The victims happened to receive voicemail messages about how they are going to die and days later when they receive the same call, they die. What’s the story behind these mysterious voicemail messages? Find out the answer as survivors try to solve the mystery behind it. 

Japanese Element: 

It also features a vengeful spirit, yurei, a common character in Japanese folktales, that takes vengeance on other people. 

Directors and Cast: 

The film was directed by Takashi Miike starring Ko Shibasaki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, and Kazue Fukuiishi. 

Equivalent Foreign Movies:

There is an American version of the movie with the same title.

Japanese Horror Movie Sets

If you are not satisfied with just watching these movies on screen, why don’t you try to visit the filming locations of these popular Japanese horror movies and get that immersive feeling of being part of the story itself?

One perfect site you can visit is Mount Mihara in Japan. This volcanic mountain was featured in Japan’s scariest film, The Ring. In Tokyo, you will find some familiar buildings in Yoyogi or in Nishi Shinjuku where the movie, The Grudge was filmed. 

Including these places on your trip will surely spice your vacation and remind you of the horror and creep you felt while watching the movies.


If you ever want to experience some amazing scare, scream your heart out with some of the popular horror films produced in Japan. These films will give you a great thrill and suspense and a little peek at the Japanese culture as they incorporate their proud folk tales in the movies. You may also have a closer look at these experiences by visiting the filming locations of these films. 


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