With Halloween right around the corner, the entire staff of Japan Cinema made sure to supply you with a nice stash of Asian horror movies to make sure your nerves stay shot straight though the day. We judges this list on one sole factor: Does the movie have a high likelihood of producing nightmares in many people? No these arent’ your PG-13 ‘jump scare’ remakes that most people seem to love. These are the true nitty-gritty horror films that guarantee your date will want to stay the night. We kick off the list with the number 10 pick:
What makes this amazing film so effective is its seductively spare but intelligent screenplay, nightmarish atmosphere, serenely creepy score and stunning special effects. It explores how we are all drawn to pleasures that we know may sign our death warrants while daring to suggest that death by pleasure is a demise more preferable to death without love. Matango scores very high on the slow-burn creepiness meter, and the story of a bunch of hapless castaways slowly descending in to distrust and madness is utterly compelling. What they find on the island is truly disturbing, and I can’t put into words how thankful I am for not having seen this during my formative years. This is one of those movies that can royally mess up your mind if you’re a little kid.
Jigoku is notable for separating itself from other Japanese horror films of the era such as Kwaidan or Onibaba due to its graphic imagery of torment in Hell. The films last 40 minutes, which constitute the most bizarre, gruesome and sadistic scenes in any country’s studio-produced feature films up to that time. Even some 40 years after it first marched across theater some of the shots of flayed flesh and disemboweled intestines are still shocking. The cramped and dark vistas are something out of a nightmare. Sinners are sawed in half, slammed in the jaw with spikes, limbs are torn. It’s brutally frightening! Masterfully photographed and acted.
We follow the touching story of a young Hong Kong girl, blind from her earliest years, who undergoes a cornea transplant. After softening us up with lots of nice sentiment, the horror kicks her new found sight brings its own macabre rewards. The scene in the hospital hallway had my skin trying to crawl off my body, as well as the “Why are you sitting in my chair?” scene. We’re talking serious chills. Real horror isn’t about dripping guts and hooks with heads on them, it’s about the unexpected, it’s about being confronted with something terrifying, something which makes you wish the character was elsewhere. The result is magnificent and I really appreciated this film a lot.
Imprint marked The final entry of the series, Takeshi Miike’s Imprint was banned from American TV. Mick Garris claimed it was the “most disturbing film I’ve ever seen.” Disfigured and disturbed, a girl claims a closer connection with the dead than the living. Other deeply shocking moments of the story include a brutal and detailed abortion sequence and the overall nihilistic attitude towards unborn humans. This short movie is beautifully made, with sublime camera-work and masterful make-up effects. Miike’s directing is solid as a rock and proves that he truly deserves to be called a “Master of Horror”. Imprint is often hard to watch but impossible to forget.
In effect banned in Japan, Horrors of Malformed Men was rarely seen in the decades after its release. Made just over 20 years after the atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima, some of this film looks as if some of the short-lived survivors might have made it to the set. Both the way the deformity issue is enthused over here and the clear connection with the bomb attack, make this a true horror. We begin with vivid scenes inside a mental institution but then the film settles down into a creepy mystery before cracking open about half an hour in, whence we find ourselves in the Mexican, Jodorowsky territory, and then worse. The “human chair”, “human fireworks” and, especially, the scene where a woman, imprisoned in a cave, has to eat the crabs which had spent a few days munching on her lover’s corpse, are just highlights of many surreal sequences in this truly one-of-a-kind film.
The film is about a man named Masuoka who carries a camera everywhere he goes. He becomes obsessed with the idea of fear when he sees a frightened man shove a knife in his eye to commit suicide. Wishing to understand the fear that the dead man must have felt before his death, Masuoka descends into a labyrinthine underground area beneath the city, where he sees human-like creatures that walk on their hands and knees and whimper like dogs. Although this masterpiece is not for everyone. It offers a bunch of pretty disturbing scenes, but one has to watch it at least twice, in order to fully comprehend it’s twisted metaphoric. If you find this movie weird, just stop and think about how weirder is the whole mankind. Instead. Horrible thurths are revealed through this genius metaphor of vampyrism.
Ring is about a cursed, disturbing videotape that, when watched, will cause the viewer to die a week after. The film is the highest grossing horror film in Japan at 12 billion yen ($137.7 million) and is also considered the most frightening horror film in Japan. In America, it is probably the most over-saturated horror film of the 2000’s and in our opinion, the start of the whole Japanese horror film remake craze that still plagues theaters today. The reason it is so high on the list? It paved the way for the comeback of the horror genre and when you take away the hype, it really is a great horror film.
I can see where just about anyone reviewing this film has to remain frustratingly vague in regards to its psychological underpinnings, so solid is its construction, so consistent is its tone and so beautifully paranoid and disorienting is its atmosphere that upon a second viewing, you’d be hard-pressed not to stare at your companion’s face (or the collective faces of an audience, preferably) instead of the screen as the realization sets in. In A Tale of Two Sisters such events occur in such a rapid-fire, relentless fashion that the viewer must watch the film in a perpetual state of alertness, lest they miss something important. In other words, the content level of this film is enough to easily fill a dozen other films. How can anyone in their right mind ask for anything more from a movie than this? It’s quite simply the highest, most superlative form of cinema imaginable.
The plot, such as it is, concerns a blind man who kidnaps a model and holds her against her will. What happens next would be telling, as the three characters, the blind man’s mother is his accomplice, interact in ways that are both surreal and primal. Even if you know what happens, you still can’t be prepared for what happens. This film definitely is shocking, but not because of any large amount of gore or particularly brutal sex scenes. Director Yasuzo Masumura has done an amazing thing in that he’s made a film that is shocking thanks to the ideas that it promotes. Based on a story by Edogawa Rampo, one of Japan’s most famous horror writers, is an intense study of obsession, emotional manipulation and the perverse nature of art.
In warring feudal Japan, a group of marauding Samurai seeking food exits the forest where they come across a house that should have what they require. On entering the house they find it has what they want and a lot more….it has women too. The inhabitants an elderly woman and her daughter in law are both subjected to continuous rape as each Samurai takes their turn. They come back from the grave as cat vampire ghosts who suck the blood of samurai warriors. It has gorgeous black and white cinematography, an exotic Japanese feudal setting, and a wide variety of visual and emotional effects. The characters move with the ritual formality that I love in certain Japanese films, and the story moves on with the ruthless intensity of a Noh drama. Kuroneko is simply one of the best ghost/horror films ever made. The stylised nature of the film creates the feeling “haunting” in a way that few horror films could ever even imagine. The aesthetics informed many other ghost stories, particulary those from Asia, for example A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), but few other films are as undiluted as Kuroneko.