Halloween tales: The scariest Japanese horror films of all-time
'Tis the season to be ... gory! Truth be told, Japan's real season for scares and spooks falls during the summer months, not Halloween. But don't let that stop you from checking out some of the freakiest, scariest films ever made, here or anywhere else.
6. Kwaidan (1964)
A visualization of four classic tales of terror from the adopted great granddady of Japanese horror, Lafcadio Hearn. "Kwaidan" wasn't the first Japanese horror film by a long shot, but it was the first to get attention on the international stage. So, there's no better way to dip your toe into the frigid waters of traditional Japanese terror.
Relying on atmosphere rather than shock value, the film's sets, cinematography and acting are a feast for the eyes. Kwaidan's stories are a lingua franca for those interested in exactly what creeps Japanese people out.
5. Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (1959)
A retelling of the classic horror story of O-Iwa, an innocent woman betrayed by her sleazebag samurai husband, this film is widely considered to be the pinnacle of the Japanese ero-guro (erotic/grotesque) genre.
Directed by cult favorite Nobuo Nakagawa, the tale of seduction, murder and revenge may seem a bit theatrical by modern standards, but it represents a true piece of Japanese horror history.
The "Yotsuya Kaidan" is one of Japan's most famous tales of terror and is still performed as a Kabuki play today. This gory take on the classic is a must-see for J-horror fans.
4. Horrors of Malformed Men (1969)
Based on a story by the legendary Edogawa Rampo, this "Island of Dr. Moreau"-esqe tale centers on a deformed scientist attempting to take revenge on "normal" humanity with an army of half-human hybrids.
The use of a talented troupe of Butoh dancers to portray the titular malformed men -- many of which were created for the film by physically attaching actors to live animals -- gives the whole production a theatrical, Lynchian feel.
Banned in its home country for its use of inappropriate words and a less than charitable portrayal of the physically challenged, it's available in the United States as a subtitled DVD.
3. Uzumaki (2000)
Visually more along the lines of a Tim Burton film than a straight-out horror flick, "Uzumaki" -- which literally means "spiral" -- plays out like a graphic visualization of paranoid, obsessive behavior.
Strange spirits manifest in a small town in the form of swirls, vortexes and spirals that threaten to overwhelm the humanity of its inhabitants. Best watched while munching on swirly naruto fish-cakes and roll cake.
2. Audition (1999)
A cult classic, director Takashi Miike's subversion of cheesy Japanese romantic comedies keeps an utterly straight face until the very end -- at which point it swerves wildly off course into dangerous territory.
Urban legend has it that many audience members, lulled into complacency by the director's perfect aping of the genre's conventions, actually ran from theaters during the film's brutal dénouement.
1. Ringu (1998)
By all rights, this film's central gimmick -- a cursed videotape that kills viewers unless they show it to someone else -- should come across as incredibly stupid.
Yet superb visuals and great performances by co-stars Nanako Matsushima and Hiroyuki Sanada ensure a totally creepy atmosphere throughout.
Based on a bestselling Koji Suzuki novel, "Ringu" singlehanded raised the bar for horror films domestically and kicked off a short-lived fad for J-Horror abroad.
Although the 2002 Hollywood remake (inventively re-titled "The Ring") isn't half bad, there's simply no substitute for the original.
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