All You Need To Know About Japanese Horror Movies

Japanese Horror Movies

This Christmas while everybody else will be watching “The Santa Clause” and “It’s A Beautiful Life”, I can’t even stand the thought that I’ll have to watch “Home Alone 2″ one more time… So, I’ll take the alternative choice: I’ll watch all the Japanese horror movies I haven’t seen yet.

You may think that the tragic and scary figure of Sadako Namura (“Ringu”, 1997) with her long, wet hair and her bit-off nails isn’t the appropriate movie to watch at Christmas, but for some reason, I can’t resist the strange, melancholic atmosphere of J-horror movies. If you share my opinion, interested either in Japanese culture or in horror movies, or just curious about how these horror movies are different than all the others, here is all you need to know about the background, the history and the evolution stages of J-horror movies, as well as who are the top ten Japanese Horror Directors.

Japanese horror films as a trend
Japanese horror films are not a new fashion (the first of them where shown around 1950-1960) but they are considered to be the new wave in the field of horror cinema since 1997 when “Ringu” by Hideo Nakata came out. This movie was a great success mostly because of its innovation and strange atmosphere. We can say that it was this movie that gave us the model of the Japanese revenge-seeking ghost. This movie brought back people’s attention to Japanese horror movies as a trend. Indeed, Japanese horror cinema is gaining more and more fans; besides, Hollywood has already shown us a lot of remakes of Japanese horror films.

Where do Japanese horror movies have their roots? To answer that question, we have to look back in the distant past. I am fascinated with the Japanese culture‘s myths and legends which are full of ghost stories; in fact, many Japanese horror movies are based on them. These ghost stories originated in the Edo Period (1603-1867) and Meiji Period (1868-1912); they were known as “kaidan”, which means “tail of a strange apparition”. Furthermore, ghosts and demons of these periods were generally known as “Yurei” (lean ghost), but they were broken into categories. For example, “Onryo” are ghosts which are trapped at “Yomi” (the Japanese purgatory) and come back to our world looking for revenge; “Zashiki-warashi” is a dead child’s ghost. “Ubume” is the ghost of a mother who died and left behind her children. “Funayurei” are ghosts of people who drowned. There are also ghosts of warriors that wander around battlefields, as well as women’s ghosts which long to find a living lover. In addition, in Japanese culture, some strong emotions (such as jealousy, wrath or madness) often appear as ghosts. This kind of ghost is called “Ikiro”.

What do Japanese ghosts look like, and how did we become familiar with them? Usually, those ghosts are females. They have long, uncombed hair, pale faces, shadows or dark rings round their eyes and they are dressed in white (white signifies mourning in Japan). Many of those ghosts’ characteristics were taken from “kabuki” actors. Kabuki is a kind of an ancient Japanese theatre where actors used to paint their faces white; the play was a ghost story-telling. Although many of those stories were later written and published as books, they became widely-known because of Japanese horror movies.

Stages of Evolution
The first Japanese horror movies were shown around 1950-1960. These made the difference. These movies use fear, a psychological “attack” rather than direct attack towards the viewers. Influenced by American “teen-slasher” movies, Japanese directors of 70’s put some splatter characteristics in their movies but, even then, Japanese horror movies remained more atmospheric and cult. Japanese horror movies were on “splatter-crisis” until the early 90s when the director Norio Tsuruta decided to bring back their low profile and melancholic atmosphere. Tsuruta was not only conversant with Japanese culture and ghost-stories, but was also interested in the paranormal. He used strange angle views, wired movement of cameras and minimalist soundtracks; techniques widely used by directors of today.

The most important directors of Japanese horror movies

Nobuo Nakagawa (1905-1984): Made Japanese horror cinema widely known. His most famous films are: “Ghost Story of Yotsuya” (1959) and “Jigoku” (1960).

Masaki Kobayashi (1916-1996): Created “Kwaidan” (1965); awarded at Cannes film festival.

Shindo Kaneto (1912-): Creator of “Onibaba” (1964) and “Kuroneko” (1968)

Norio Tsuruta: Influenced the new wave of horror movies with his documentary “Scary True Stories”. He has also directed : “Ring 0: Birthday” (2000), “Kakashi” (“Scarecrow” 2001) and “Yogen” (“Premonition” 2001)

Hideo Nakata: Creator of “Ringu” (1998), “Ringu 2″ (1999),”Kaidan” (2007). Continued by creating “Dark Water” (2002); established Japanese horror cinema. We are waiting to watch his new films: “The Ring 3″ (2007), “Out” (2008) and “The Entity” (2008)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Reminds us of Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky; director of “Kairo” (“Pulse”, 2001), “Curse” (1997) and “Charisma” (1999).

Ataru Oikawa: Director of “Tomie: The Beginning” (2005) and “Apartment 1303″ (2007).

Akihiro Higuchi: Director of “Uzumaki” (“Vortex”, 2000)

Takashi Miike: Filmed “One Missed Call” (2003); participated in the horror movie “Three…Extremes”.

Takashi Shimizu: Considered to be the future of Japanese horror movies. The film that made him famous was “Ju-on: The Curse” (2002). He has also filmed “Ju-on: The Curse 2″ (2000), “Tomie: Rebirth” (2001), “Marebito” (2004), “The Grudge” (2004) which is the American remake of “The Curse”, “Rinne” or “Reincarnation” (2005), “The Grudge 2″ (2007).

These are some nice suggestions if you want to get started with J-horror movies. In case you are already fans of horror movies try not to miss a single one! If you have watched any of them I’d like to hear your opinion and if you have any more suggestions they are welcome!

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Comments (22)

  1. Jin Thursday - 27 / 12 / 2007 Reply
    Awesome article! Thank you very much! I was searching for a list like that. :)
  2. evans Sunday - 06 / 01 / 2008 Reply
    Pah, what a spooky article this is! Quite interesting though (apart from the fac that its writer has a strange taste, regarding the epoch in which he/she chose to watch such movies :P ). The list is great and the information you provide us with is even greater. Great job, thanx.
  3. sean Friday - 14 / 03 / 2008 Reply
    Nice job! I've had a slight interest in J-horror since watching The ring, dark water and the interest you've just reignited so .......thanks for that!
  4. Indy Tuesday - 22 / 04 / 2008 Reply
    U have a very interesting article, and U also have a very good selection of movies. Thanks for the info since stuff like this is hard to get. I know U r a big fan of mostly the ghost gender but what do U think of ¨Naked Blood¨ I forgot the name in japanese and its mostly gore, but it was created in 1995 and has some of the most gore scenes till this day supposedly Opinion if U can please... thank U.
  5. Candy Friday - 04 / 07 / 2008 Reply
    What is the significance of all the hair in Japenese horror films? Thanks
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