REINCARNATION, (aka RINNE), Marika Matsumoto, 2005. ©AfterDark Films

5 of the Most Disturbing Japanese Horror Films

October might have passed, but for fans of all things grisly, gruesome and downright horrifying, every day is Halloween. No excuses are needed to settle down on the couch with a glass of vino and a good old horror flick, or a spooky novel for that matter. And, here at The MALESTROM, we’re no exception to that rule. In fact, moreover, we’ll go out of our way in search of the truly terrifying. And there’s no finer exponent of the genre than our good old Eastern cousins in Japan.

First and foremost for those that haven’t presided over the spinetingling spectacle that is the original and by a mile the scariest version of The RingRingu (maybe you’ve been tied up for the past twenty years exploring life on other planets?). The devilish depths of Dark Water (do you live under a big rock?). Or the mind-bending madness of Ju-On (maybe it’s your first time in the big city?). Anyway, stop what you’re doing right now and get yourself up to date for crying out loud. For the initiated, why not try these truly dark and disturbing Japanese horror films.

Rinne

REINCARNATION, (aka RINNE), Yuka, 2005. ©AfterDark Films

Credit: ©AfterDark Films

Rinne or Reincarnation as we know it over here follows filmmaker Ikuo Matsumara as he returns to the scene of a devastating bloodbath to recreate the events for his latest horror movie. Many years earlier a Professor killed his wife and young daughter before slaughtering a number of guests at a hotel in a quest to better understand the concept of reincarnation.

It seems the passing of time has done little to dwindle the horror, as lead actress in the film, Nagisa Sugiura, begins to experience hallucinations that place her front and centre of the horrific onslaught. As Nagisa begins reliving the horrifying killing spree, it seems the Professor may have got his answer after all. A layered and complex plot, full of genuine scares, creepy kids, and the undead walking funny. Rinne ticks all the Japanese horror boxes.

Noroi

noroi the curse

Credit: Xanadeux Company

Found footage horror is almost so overdone it’s clichè. However, as with any horror genre when it’s expertly crafted, it can be a beautiful and terrifying thing. Noroi is one of those examples. It’s centred on Masafumi Kobayashi, a documentary filmmaker who when investigating the paranormal, mysteriously vanishes, leaving behind a complex and illogical sequence of footage.

What seems like a series of unrelated events leaves the viewer at times confused but certainly unsettled, as the plot comes together in the creepiest of manners. From the many stories and people that Kobayashi was investigating each had vanished or perished and the one thing linking the characters is the strange, demonic Kagutaba. Good look getting on with your life after watching this.

Kairo

Scene from Kairo (2001)

Credit: Daiei Eiga

Something of a social commentary and our obsession with the digital world, Kairo (Pulse) is a deeply disturbing and reliably creepy Japanese horror film. Directed by the visionary Kiyoshi Kurosawa, it explores the idea that although we’re more connected than ever in the digital age we are in fact ultimately and resolutely more lonely.

A strange and malevolent website called the Forbidden Room is seemingly controlling the lives of Tokyo residents by displaying disturbing images of lonely, saddened souls which turn out to be evil spirits entering the minds of the living through, of all things, the internet. Exploring the idea of eternal loneliness and the ironically disconnected nature of the modern world. Turning on your computer was never so fraught with fear.

Yogen

premonition 2004

Credit: Entertainment Farm (EF)

Yogen or Premonition, the film’s western title, follows Hideki, a high school teacher who when driving back from a holiday with his wife and young daughter stops at a phone box, in which he finds a newspaper cutting that tells of future events. In it features an obituary for the death of his young daughter due to a car accident. Of course outside seated in the car is his daughter and well you can guess what happens next.

Having divorced, he is reunited with his wife years later after she discovers evidence of the newspaper of terror which does indeed predict terrible future events and they learn that Hideki is the only man who can stop them from prevailing, although that could come at the ultimate cost. Full of thrills and an unexpected but worthy ending, this is one Japanese horror you need to tick off the list.

One Missed Call

Scene from 'One Missed Call' (2003)

Credit: Kadokawa Daiei Studio

For Takashi Miike, One Missed Call is him playing things surprisingly by the directing rulebook, rather than some of the surreal madness he’s often responsible for. Although that’s not to say it’s still not pretty messed up. The plot follows psychology student Yumi, whose good friend, Yoko, receives the kind of voicemail you’d never want to receive on your mobile. The message is dated two days in the future and it’s from Yoko herself screaming in it!

After Yoko dies in a bizarre accident after getting the same call again. her death leads Yumi down a path of discovery about this dark mystery to find out the phenomenon is happening all across Japan. It’s familiar territory for those into their J-horror, but with its grizzly deaths and the feel of lingering dread it’s a film that’ll make you put your phone on silent in a hurry, and if you still hear ‘that’ ringtone, it’s probably time to worry.

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