Top 10 Japanese Horror Films

Guess whoooo~?

This post is one in a series leading up to Halloween. Check out the scary tag to see all of them!

Nothing says Halloween quite like creepy little Japanese girls. Japanese horror films have slowly been gaining popularity over the years and there have even been (for better or worse) a healthy amount of American remakes. Are you wondering what Japanese horror movies you’re going to scare and impress your friends with this Halloween? Well worry not, for I’ve the top 10 right here.

10. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

Don’t tase me, broooooooooo!!!

I wanted to include at least one anime on this list of movies and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust was the first that came to mind. While definitely not as frightening as the others on this list, it’s a solid film regardless. And it has vampires! Can’t have Halloween without vampires!

The film began production in 1997 and was completed with the intention of being shown in American theaters in 2000. It was shown in six theaters across the States and received fairly positive reception from critics.

In the film, vampire hunters race to save a girl stolen from her home by a vampire noble. D is a dunpeal (being born of a human mother and sired by a vampire father) bearing many vampire strengths and few of their weaknesses. In the film he races against a band of human hunters to save the girl. The movie is mostly action, a little bit romance, and a little bit horror.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is a fun movie to watch and you don’t need to see the original to enjoy it. If you’re a fan of anime, vampires, or saw the original Vampire Hunter D, I strongly recommend you check out Bloodlust as well.

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9. Rampo Noir (2005)

Ah, Mr. Bond. I’ve been expecting you.

Rampo Noir is a collection of four short stories brought to life on film. Like I mentioned in Top 10 Strange Japanese Films You Need To Watch, this movie is weird. Like super weird. I’ve listed a description of each short story for your convenience below.

Mars Canal - Surrounded by silence, a naked man wanders through a dark and dreary landscape recalling the excruciating details of his last encounter with the woman he once loved.

Mirror Hell - When a series of women are discovered with their faces burned to a crisp, a young detective takes on the case and discovers that a mysterious hand mirror is always found at the scene.

Caterpillar - A quadriplegic war hero returns home to his wife who soon tires of taking care of him and begins to torture her crippled hubby for entertainment.

Crawling Bugs - A sexy actress is returning home from a successful night on stage when her limo driver decides that she should be coming home with him instead.

I’m not really sure how I feel about this movie. I think one viewing would be enough for anybody, but if you get the chance to see it, do so. The experience is worth it, especially if you can drag a few friends along for the ride. Out of the four stories, Caterpillar definitely creeped me out the most.

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8. Dark Water (2002)

This isn’t what it looks like, I swear.

Dark Water is a supernatural-psychological-drama-horror about a middle aged woman barely holding onto her sanity. Yoshimi Matsubara is in the midst of a nasty divorce with her abusive husband over the custody of their five year old daughter Ikuko.

Unfortunately Yoshimi has a lot of emotional issues from her experiences in life and her transition from housewife to independent working woman has taken its toll. Shortly after moving into a creepy new apartment, her and Ikuko start seeing a creepy little girl mysteriously appearing all around the building. And as we all know, the best treatment for frequent mental breakdowns is ghoulish Japanese toddlers in yellow rain coats. How can’t this end well?

Dark Water is pretty creepy and is one of many Japanese films that were taken and remade by us Americans. I never got around to seeing the American version of this one, but I’d imagine it’s just not the same. It’s another one of those vengeful-spirit/creepy-little-Japanese-girl horror films, so if those sort of movies are your thing then Dark Water will not disappoint.

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7. House (1977)

Excuse me, but I seem to have misplaced my body.

House (Hausu) is a cult classic and with good reason. It starts out like a whimsical fairy tale adventure of seven friends going to the countryside for a lovely summer holiday. Up to this point the film seems entirely ordinary, but things start to turn sour shortly after they arrive at the house in question. From there on in, things just get weirder and weirder.

Especially considering the year it was made, House is pretty impressive. It’s interesting, weird, creepy, and goofy. While I wouldn’t exactly be jumping at the chance to watch it again, I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone who appreciates horror films. This movie was definitely ahead of its time.

It’s a cult classic you won’t want to miss. You can’t say you’re a connoisseur of J-Horror films until you’ve seen this movie. So get on it.

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6. Marebito (2004)

Beef Humans: It’s what’s for dinner.

Many moons ago when I rented this movie I really wasn’t expecting that much. I just thought it would be another run-of-the-mill Japanese horror film. Well, I was wrong. Marebito is very well done and quite interesting to boot.

The main character is a freelance cameraman obsessed with fear. In the movie he takes it upon himself to investigate an urban legend involving mysterious spirits that haunt the subways of Tokyo, but what he discovers is beyond anything he could have ever imagined.

Marebito is very different from most other Japanese horror films. The story is really cool and you actually care about what’s happening. It’s not one of those movies you’d watch just for the thrills and chills. The story is very well done and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re tired of the same old J-Horror films, give Marebito a watch – you won’t regret it.

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5. Chakushin Ari 2 (One Missed Call 2) (2005)

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!

Set a year after the original film, Chakushin Ari 2 introduces Kyoko and her friend Madoka. Obviously the theme of this one is very similar to the first Chakushin Ari, but there are some slight differences. No candies are found in the mouths of the victims here and their investigation takes them to an abandoned coal mine out in the country for added creepiness. Oh my!

Chakushin Ari 2 is definitely not as good as the first one, but it is still a very solid horror film. It’s certainly much better than the abomination that was One Missed Call: Final. Seriously, don’t even bother with that one – it’s rubbish.

It definitely helps to have seen the first Chakushin Ari to get the most out of this one. So if you see the first one and enjoy it, then I would certainly recommend Chakushin Ari 2 as well.

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4. Infection (2004)

Huuuuuugggss… *cough* I, I mean, braaaaaiiinnnsss…

Infection takes place at an under-staffed hospital that is quickly losing money. As night begins to fall, an ambulance comes to the hospital bringing a patient with a strange black rash. From there, things start to get out of control and soon everyone in the hospital becomes infected. But is the infection related to the patient that arrived at the beginning of the night or is it related to something else entirely?

Infection is one of those movies that deserves at least two viewings. Watching it a second time after already knowing how it ends is really interesting and you’ll notice a lot of things you may have missed the first time through. If you enjoy zombies or horror movies that take place in hospitals, you definitely won’t want to miss out on this one.

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3. Audition (1999)

Okay. Now you’re going to feel a slight pinch…

Audition is based on a Ryu Murakami novel of the same title and over the years the film has developed a cult following in America. In Audition, a widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies and decides to get to know better is not who she appears to be. At all.

It’s been some time since I’ve seen this movie, but the feeling it leaves you with is one you don’t soon forget. It’s creepy. It’s unsettling. It’s also one of the few movies on this list not revolving around some sort of ghost or vengeful spirit. I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone who doesn’t know much about this film, but it’s a classic J-Horror film that shouldn’t be missed.

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2. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)

Good morning, sunshine!

This film is the third entry in the Ju-On series and was the first film in the series to be released in theaters. The American remake (The Grudge), was released in 2004. It is said in Japan that when someone dies in extreme sorrow or rage, the emotion remains and can leave a stain upon that place. In Ju-On, death becomes a part of that place, killing everything it touches.

I saw the American remake of this one before I got around to the Japanese original. While I believe that the American one is probably more frightening (mostly due to improved visuals and special effects), the story is much more engaging and interesting in the Japanese version. In the Japanese version, you actually care about the characters and where the story is going.

This movie is not just an excuse to scare the pants off the audience, in the Japanese version, the story is actually worth something. So even if you’ve seen the American version, this movie is still very much worth your time.

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1. Chakushin Ari (One Missed Call) (2003)

Remember kids: don’t take candy from strangers.

In Chakusin Ari, people mysteriously start receiving voice-mail messages from their future selves creepily foreshadowing their own violent deaths. Like many other J-Horror films, it’s a vengeful spirit movie, but this time it’s really well done. Chakushin Ari has always been one of my favorite horror movies, Japanese or otherwise.

Chakushin Ari was one of the first Japanese horror movies that I actually thoroughly enjoyed. To this day, if I’m trying to introduce someone to the J-Horror genre, I’ll show them this movie first. I’ve seen it many times now, and it’s still good. I haven’t seen the American remake (and I don’t have any plans to), but I imagine it’s just awful.

Fun Fact: The trademark “ringtone of death” from this film has become rather popular, and was actually used as a ringtone and background music for unofficial haunted houses in Japan.

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So tell me, what’s your favorite J-Horror movie of all time?

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  • ‘Kendra Peterson

    man, you really have some good stuff in here. Audition has gotta be one of the weirdest, creepiest movies out there. Im so incredibly sick of movies that America STEALS from abroad. We have almost zero original thought in the mainstream movie scene and it makes me sick. there are a few missing titles though. Such as Tokyo Gore Police, Wild Zero (so cool but good luck finding it without pirating it),Noroi (The Curse),and Premonition. Premonition is thee best of all J-horror films. Maybe the most interesting movie ever. It is NOT like the Sandra Bullock “Premonition” movie. It is an absolute MUST SEE!

  • Laura whisman

    Bless you! I own almost all of these movies <3 One Missed Call has definitely been my favorite J-Horror for a long time. (Shutter is my favorite Thai-Horror and The Eye is my favorite C-Horror also even though I know that's out of scope)

    I've been wanting to see Carved – are those movies any good? Also have you see Loft? I've been curious about that film also.

  • Isa

    What about Grotesque?

  • Hannah

    But it’s good. :-)

  • feyn

    Sorry, but having one missed call and one missed call II in the list isa littletoomuch,other then that a really nice list

  • m0rpheus

    What you don’t find scary, others might.

  • toad

    thanks vivek

  • Sharice

    I LOVE how Chakushin Ari is number 1! It’s so far my favorite movie~ mostly cause of the ending >>…I did kinda like Chakushin Ari ni but your right it’s not as scary. I found it a bit more sad though. Oh! and never NEVER EVER watch the american remakes of those two movies! They are terrible in my opinion cause they decided to add like creature things that the people start seeing after they get “the call” and its just doesn’t go well so just don’t go there

  • Jean Markale

    “Audition” was crap. It was completely predictable, right up to the cheap, oh-so-common ending of “oh, she was molested as a child!”
    Trite and overrated. Ringu was far superior.

  • Chris Andreassen

    the japanese ringu series should all have been here on this list :( but many other good choices here :)

  • Michael

    I think they made a huge mistake about Ring (or Ringu). It should have least made the list. I mean, without Ring, what is this top 10 list really called?

  • Michael

    My picture is wrong. This is the one.

  • garo

    what about noroi the curse?!?!

  • Alexander Contreras

    “whiny irritating American accents”…you are a very sheltered child aren’t you? The internet will never seize to surprise me with how hateful people can be for no apparent reason. Considering the fact that you watch International films, I would think that you would have a less negative attitude towards different cultures, but sadly, you have disgustingly foul attitude and way of thinking. I hope you figure out the reason why you have such a stigma towards Americans. It might be some cult thing in other English-speaking countries to dislike Americans. The grudge and The Ring do not have glammed up actors…the actors that acted in them are rarely seen, but not unheard of. They didn’t look all glammed up in the film. They couldn’t look any more normal in the films considering the roles they were playing. Your statement(opinion) equals fail.

  • Melodee C.

    I’m glad that NOROI and RINGU aren’t on this list. Very overrated movies. Rinne (Reincarnation) and Carved – The Slit-Mouthed Woman I found to be very creepy!

  • Iku-chan

    I’ve seen Noroi.(Creepy) ‘Kana!’

    My fav is Dark Water. I cried at the end.

  • Heather Moss Eicher

    I actually liked the 3rd Chakushin Ari movie the best tbh. It may be because I like chickens. And I must say I don’t approve of an anime movie and two movies from one series being mentioned on the countdown. Strange Circus is by far one of my favorite Japanese movies. Also I gotta add, Noroi and all mockumentaries piss me off. It’s the only reason I haven’t watched it.

  • Aaron Joseph Blakely

    Noroi: The Curse and Ringu sould be on here. Otherwise the list should be titled ‘My favorite J-Horror films’.

  • Bao Huynh

    NOROI,…Ringu? You missed those.

  • khmerog

    Does anyone know the name of the Japanese horror movie where one of the scene has these young school kids holding hands in a circle with 1 person in the middle while singing a creepy Japanese song?

  • unknown

    America don’t steal from Japan. They just make another version of it and there is actually a lot of movies that Japan have made another version of like: Paranormal Activity. Paranormal Activity is actually an American idea and Japan did an Japanese version of it so stop complain, start to think and use your brain. It will be good for you!!!

  • feny

    I haven’t watched these movies before ( exept ‘the grudge’ ) but i will totally watch them when i get the time. It’s worth a try.

  • Harris Caroline

    You have gotten the review wrong for Caterpillar or we saw two different movies. I’m assuming you mean tthis one: Her husband raped and murdered chinese women (in other words, he was a war criminal), he beat his wife frequently because she couldn’t conceive. Yeah she slapped him a few times but she bathed, feed him the most of their rationed food, even had sex when he wanted. Now how exactly did she torture him?

  • misachan

    Helo there. Thanks for the list. I really love it when you put chakusion no ari and hausu on the list. I enjoy watching both of these movies. Oh, and you’re cute by the way ;)

  • bineus

    Noroi… disappointing!

  • A Ghost

    No, they did not make a version of Paranormal Activity. They made a sequel, it’s different. America flat out remakes horror movies in other languages because apparently americans can’t be bothered to read subtitles. I’m not saying Japan or any other country never made a remake, but America is turning it into an overused joke.

  • Stitch Face

    Great list! Infection is easily one of my all-time favs. ^_^

  • S4lem

    Loved that movie, just watched it on accident, so happy I happened upon that film.

  • S4lem

    It was a remake.A sequel to Paranormal Activity?Every movie is the same anyway.Japan remakes American movies as well,Ghost and Grotesque(hostel remake).It happens.America remakes movies because the US is a country that loves going to the movies, to those ideas can make lots of money.But it is annoying to hear people say Rec was a Quarantine ripoff and stuff like that.Also they remade Oldboy.I agree it is going a little overboard now.

  • Yamato

    Nice list, but I think that Missed Call 1 is not as scary as others so it shouln’t be in 1st place.

    You are missing The Ring and maybe others. If really search JP movies from the 40s you may find some very nice horror movies.

    Audition… damn that movie it was so disturbing… I got hard to stand the acupuncture scene… I was hoping that to not happen but… well, if you saw the movie you know what I mean.

  • Rajib

    I found Infection just not to entertaining…. it was very slow too.

    But that is only my opinion. DON’T KILL ME OR INFECT ME PLEASE!

  • shelbym

    i think the rec movies were WAY bettter than the quarentine movies because they all had something to do with eachother like rec 2 is in the same place as the first one where quarentine 2 is in a airport. but i havent seen rec 3 but the previews show its more of a zombie movie than the other recs which are demons. it still looks good but the first two recs are amazing.

  • Theresa

    How can you not have Kairo on this list?! Incredibly moody and innovative Japanese horror film. It was ‘Pulse’ in the US.

  • S4lem

    I thought they were overhyped.I hate when people say those movies are scary, they aren’t.Good zombie movie though.

  • Rez

    “Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night” is a sequel to the 2007 U.S. film “Paranormal Activity”. A parallel U.S. sequel “Paranormal Activity 2″ was released in October, 2010, which is a different story than the Japanese sequel.

  • Rez

    I think the movies such as Ju-on and Ringu depend on which versions you see first. If you see the American version first, it does take away a lot from the Japanese version and vice-versa.

    I also think that Ringu loses it touch after all these years because its been “ripped-off” so many times by plenty of films and even a game (F.E.A.R).

    The good thing about this list is, any movie I’ve not seen, I am going to see now as well as those mentioned in the comments section.

  • katy

    Kairo, definitely!

  • p_reks

    noroi? meh..

  • 風神 ケルビン

    Kwaidan (1964) isn’t featured here…they (shortfilms) werent big on FX but all the stories were quite scary imo

  • steve

    Evil Dead trap was a really cool Japanese horror film from the 80s.

  • J

    Pilipino ka pala. Putang ina ang INGAY MO.

  • Ben

    Thanks for posting this, I am going to look for Audition (1999) tonight. Now I know you’ve heard this once, but you’re going to hear it again. Ringu DESERVES to be on that list! When I first saw that movie ten years back or so, I was afraid of both phones and TVs (the US version deserves no mention). And personally, I found Ju-on: the Curse to be scarier than the Grudge, but I think that is because the original used its scary bits sparingly, while the latter one, IMHO, in the last couple stories overdid the creepy sound effects and ghosts (but that TV reporter in Hitomi’s story caused me a sleepless night!).

  • AshtonClarke

    Dark horror novel with a Lovecraft-inspired twist:

  • publicENEMY

    imho, the us remake version scare the hell out of me. ive slept in the original version.

  • AM

    Rec is soo much better than quarantine though quarantine was very good too😊

  • lindababy


  • Melanie

    What about “Suicide Circle”?

  • Buck Wade

    I realized when you were describing todlers as being creepy, you kept mentioning they’re Japanese. That description isn’t neccessary, just say that they’re todlers.

  • Shira

    i love horror movies. well it started last month . hehehe I’m gonna watch all the movies that are listed .

    Gonna share this to my friends :)))

  • Nicola Warner

    I know it’s not Japanese, but the best Asian horror I’ve seen so far is ‘Phone’, it’s Korean. Scary little kid, very creepy horror movie.