Japanese horror movies are always great to watch. They are scarier and very different than typical Japanese drama films. Fans of British and American Horror films will not be familiar much with most of the films on the list.

Japan’s contribution to the horror genre has changed horror movies forever for the better (and scarier). Japan has a long tradition of ghost tales and other frightening stories and legends, helped along by long harsh winters. As people moved to cities and modern life, these stories came with them, resulting in some excellent cinematic horror stories from masters of the art.

There are a lot of great horror movies out of Japan, but which ones should you start with? Here are ten of the best Japanese horror movies of all time.

1. Onibaba (1964)

A historical drama set in the fourteenth century, during a civil war, this film focuses on a pair of women who kill soldiers to steal their possessions. They have been driven to desperation by the war and it is their recently returned neighbor who comes between them.

This is a dramatic tale and its horror is deeply interpersonal. The symbolism is intense and it is R-rated for sexual activity, of which there is plenty, though it is unsettling rather than titillating.The music is weird and contributes to the film’s unsettling feel. A strange and disconcerting film, Onibaba demonstrates how different Japanese horror movies can be.

2. Kwaidan (1964)

Kwaidan is an archaic transliteration of the term Kaidan which means “ghost story” in Japanese. The film is based on Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folk tales. The four stories told in the movie are all traditional ghost stories. Artistic and dazzling, this movie has won praise and awards around the world.

It is not as frightening as many horror movies and has a unique folkloric feel that may sneak into your dreams anyway. As fits for a collection of ghost stories, this anthology film a haunting experience that will stay with you long after it is over.

3. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)

This famous horror movie earns its accolades. Japan has a long tradition of vengeful ghosts and The Grudge brings them into the modern world. Its particular horror comes in how the curse that is the movie’s villain devours a whole family and then hunts whoever they have been in contact with.

The story is told in a complex nonlinear narrative, drawing viewers in. This is a downright creepy movie and is especially unsettling because of the ordinariness that it is set in. These are not unusual people being haunted, but modern everyday people who are now faced with an unstoppable horror.

 4. Audition (1999)

Considered one of the best horror films ever made worldwide, Audition tells the story of a widower who has finally been persuaded to look for a new wife. He and his son hold an audition for the position and he instantly falls for the lovely Asami Yamazaki. Not all is as it seems with this lovely young woman, however, and things take a dark and gruesome turn.

The tension builds throughout the film, taking on the form of true shock near its end. Many reviewers have found Audition genuinely disturbing and it touches on the heart of many issues relevant to Japanese society today. Don’t eat right before you see this one.

5. Kuroneko (1968)

This black-and-white, 1968 horror film is set during a civil war in Japan’s feudal past. The spirits of a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law seek revenge after their brutal murders. Their son returns from war to be quickly tangled in their rage and sorrow.

Strange, disturbing, and sad, the film is eerie more than gruesome and has many of the aspects of a traditional Japanese ghost story. There’s a kind of beauty to it and it has a unique mood that makes it one of the classics of Japanese horror films. Watch it here.

6. Ringu/Ring (1998)

Famous worldwide and spawning not one but two remakes, Ringu is the story of a hunted and deadly cursed videotape that will kill the viewer in seven days. It was a revolutionary film on its release and spawned a whole following and many imitations.

It combines the terror of old folktales with more modern fears into something new. Ringu’s international success revived Japanese horror film-making as an industry. Between this and the quality of the movie, it is a must-see for any horror fan.

7. House/Hausu (1977)

In House/Hausu, seven schoolgirls travel to visit one’s ailing aunt and are slowly devoured by the foreboding and supernatural home. It is a very odd film, with special effects that were made to look unrealistic on purpose.

The movie follows a wild dream logic and owes a lot to the childhood fears of the director’s daughter. It’s the cheesiest of cheesy haunted house movies, which gives it its own sort of bloody charm. It’s a ridiculous yet slightly scary movie.

Watch this movie on Amazon Prime now.

8. Dark Water (2002)

This eerie film follows the chilling tale of a divorced mother and her daughter living in a run-down apartment with a persistent water leak on the ceiling. Strange supernatural events start occurring. It is not only a creepy movie but a sad and even touching one as well.

It is not as suspenseful as many of the other movies on this list, but it has a heavy atmosphere that more than makes up for it. Dark Water is an intriguing ghost tale set in modern times and an excellent scary watch.

9. A Page of Madness (1926)

This is a silent horror film with an interesting history. First released in 1926, it was lost until rediscovered in 1971. Set in an insane asylum during a pouring rainstorm, the film follows the complex life of the asylum’s janitor as it spirals out of control.

This is a difficult film to follow and the surviving version is about a third of what was originally shown in theaters. Originally, there would have been live musical accompaniment and a live narrator at the theater. Even with these issues, A Page of Madness (kurutta ippeji) is a vibrant work. It’s very unsettling and retains a lot of its original power even if what we have is only a remnant of the original work.

10. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

This cyberpunk horror film follows an ordinary man as he slowly turns into metal. It is a strange and genuinely disturbing movie, with bizarre grotesque deaths and transformations. It is a fast-paced film, with wild acting and a sick sense of humor that makes it a cult hit.

Follow this link to see the film on Amazon Prime.

Are you going to watch these movies this weekend? Watch at least one from the list above and then feel why Japanese horror movies are widely popular. If you are not interested in watching these horror films, then watch these great Japanese drama movies instead.