Your 10 year old niece might think Hello Kitty is the best pop culture import from Japan, but you know better. Japanese horror movies, commonly known as J Horror, have become fan favorites in the West. What is it about J Horror that makes it so memorable and disturbing? Critics say that J Horror is just as influenced by elements of Japanese myth and legend as it is by classic American horror movies. Here are just a few essential J Horror films…and why they work.
Ringu (The Ring)
No list of J Horror is complete without The Ring, a movie that is a modern twist (complete with haunted technology) on the classic Japanese ghost story. Japanese folklore is full of ghosts and evil spirits, including one scary female ghost called Yuki-onna (Snow Woman) who is pale, has long black hair, and dresses in white. Sadako, the Ring’s iconic female figure, is a perfect representation of this classic ghost.
Ju-on (The Grudge)
As in The Ring, ghosts also play an important role in The Grudge. The film is centered on the traditional belief that if a person is murdered or dies in extreme circumstances, their tortured spirits will put a curse on the place where the tragedy happened. The title itself can be translated as “curse” and the ghosts in the film can be viewed as ghosts in Japanese folklore called Onryo, the spirits of people who died tragically and continue to haunt the place of their suffering.
Toire no Hanako-san (School Mystery) and Shinsei toire no Hanako-san (Hanako of the Toilet)
A Japanese urban legend tells the story of the ghost of a young girl who haunts school restrooms (specifically the third toilet stall). If you knock three times and ask if she’s there, she will reply that she is. The origins of the urban legend are murky, usually she is a schoolgirl who was killed or committed suicide. The Hanako legend has been covered in many movies and other mediums like anime. The plots of School Mystery (1995) and Hanako of the Toilet (1998) are different, but they’re both centered on kids who encounter this bathroom spirit.
Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water)
Dark Water has the obligatory tortured ghost (the spirit of a young girl who was drowned) plus another classic element utilized by J Horror—water. Experts note that ghosts and spirits are often associated with water in traditional Japanese folklore. Dark Water is full of flooding, dirty water, and overflowing bathtubs, taking this element even further than the Hanako school toilets and the well in The Ring.
Images via IMDb