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Released: 2001
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Do you want to meet a ghost? Or rather, do you like your horror with a side of existential crisis? Is garden variety nihilism just too cheerful for your tastes? If the answer to any of these questions was yes, then Japanese horror has gifted you with a dark, unsettling gem that just may be up your alley.

Kairo was one of the most upsetting victims of the influx of American remakes of Japanese horror in the early 2000s. Some of these remakes got things right, or at least kept the spirit of the film intact (Dark Water is the best example of this), and some of them got things so very, very wrong. If you’ve seen the American remake of this film, Pulse, disregard everything you know about it.

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Sadako Vs Kayako

Sadako Vs. Kayakosadakovskayako
Released: 2016
Directed by: Koji Shiraishi

I don’t know why we love to take cultural titans and pit them against each other so much. What is it about characters who are able to dominate their genre so well that makes us want to watch them compete for our attention? From Batman V Superman to Freddy Vs. Jason, and all of the Godzilla Vs Monster-of-the-Day films, this has long been a tradition of film making. This time, it was the chance for some of our favorite Japanese ghost ladies to take the spotlight.

Sadako Vs Kayako is as much of a mess as you’d expect it to be, and you’ll love it all the more for that.

Sadako Vs Kayako begins its story with friends Yuri and Natsumi; after attending a class discussing urban legends, including one involving a cursed video tape, Yuri finds herself roped into helping Natsumi with a VHS transferring project she’s working on. When they go to purchase a VHS player from the store, they find it already has a tape inside. Curious, they decide to give it a watch, and soon wish that they hadn’t.

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Fatal Frame

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Released: 2014
Directed by: Mari Asato

“Have you heard of a curse that affects only girls?”

With this opening line, Fatal Frame draws us into its mythos almost immediately. A dark, brooding boarding school for girls sets the stage. And from there on, the mysteries only intensify.

The story begins with Aya, who is attending an all girls high school, and is quickly approaching graduation. Aya is charming and talented, so much so that many of her classmates begin to fall a little bit in love with her. When Aya shuts herself in her room and doesn’t emerge for weeks, rumors begin to spread about what has become of her. The obsession grows so intense that a ritual forms; girls bring her photograph to a certain part of the school and kiss it at midnight. However, an apparition resembling Aya begins to torment these girls, and after a short time they begin to turn up dead.

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Suicide Club

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Released: 2001
Director: Sion Sono

On a quiet spring day, a large group of school girls approach the edge of the platform in a train station. These girls, 54 of them to be exact, then grasp hands before throwing themselves in front of the oncoming train. This is how we are introduced to the world Suicide Club presents, and make no mistake: it only gets darker from there.

When the name Sion Sono is mentioned, there is one film that immediately springs to most people’s minds. While he has directed a number of chilling and intriguing horror tales, Suicide Club is by far the one he seems to be the most well-known for. Suicide Club has been hailed as a classic of Japanese horror in the years since its release, and it’s hard to argue against the reasoning for this – it’s visceral, violent, but not without a haunting philosophy at its core.

Suicide Club begins with the aforementioned mass suicide, but this is just one event of many. Many other instances of suicide happen at around the same time, and the coinciding tragedies cause a panic of people presuming there is a mass suicide pact. Three detectives begin to investigate the case, tying together the acts of suicide with one very disconcerting detail: a briefcase that seems to be left behind at multiple scenes, each one containing a roll of human skin. Together, they begin to dig further into the origin of the skin, and the club itself, finding themselves getting pulled into a much darker and more murky case than they could imagine.

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Tomie: Unlimited

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Released: 2011
Director: Noboru Iguchi

There reaches a point in many horror franchises where the people involved in making the movies just stop caring entirely. This is kind of the great equalizer between long-running horror series, there are always some terrible entries in the later parts of the series, no matter how strong the early entries are. Some of them stop caring relatively early on (A Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddy’s Revenge, a personal favorite film of mine), and some of them take a little longer to sputter out.

The Tomie films – a Japanese film series based on Junji Ito’s dark and disturbing manga – have been arguably a mixed bag right from the start, but the series managed to persevere and put out quite a few entries. I’m not sure what the consensus is on when the films stopped trying to scare anyone or take themselves seriously, but I do know this: by the time they reached Tomie: Unlimited, they were entirely out of fucks to give.

Tomie: Unlimited follows Tsukiko, a teenage girl who is traumatized after watching her sister, Tomie, die in a freak accident. Her family greatly mourns her sister’s loss, and she tries to cope with what happened to her. However, things take a strange turn when someone turns up at the door later on claiming to be her dead sister, entirely changing the balance of their home, and giving Tsukiko’s life a turn for the worse.

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Released: 2005
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Have you ever watched a film that left you so completely puzzled that you’re not even quite sure if your feelings lean towards positive or negative? A film that, if questioned on what the film was actually about, you’d probably stammer for a few minutes before vaguely describing a few scenes in the hopes that somehow you’d start to comprehend it yourself?

That, my friends, was my experience with watching Loft.

I’d heard of this film before – it is, after all, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the person behind such brilliant films as Kairo and Cure. I am unabashedly a fan of Kurosawa’s other work, so I certainly was excited to give this film a watch. And it does carry certain traits over that are common in his other works – a crawling pace, for example. Make no mistake, this one has a lot of the same atmospheric charm the others do as well – there’s just a strangeness to it that’s difficult to reconcile with his other films.

Loft follows Reiko, an acclaimed writer who is suffering from writer’s block when trying to work on her new novel. As a way of combating this, she moves into a quiet and isolated house to try and finish up the new book. She becomes intrigued by her neighbor’s strange behavior, and soon learns that the loft she is living in once housed a woman that has since gone missing.

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Noroi: The Curse

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Released: 2005
Director: Kôji Shiraishi

There are few films that use the much-maligned found footage approach in a way that feels fresh, effective, and truly scary. There are even fewer films that I’m willing to give a full five stars to, because they were just that terrifying and enjoyable to watch. Noroi: The Curse is a film that somehow manages to meet both criteria, and is delightfully creepy along the way.

The words “found footage” have, in recent years, become synonymous with “poor quality,” usually drawing to mind shaky camera work, nonstop screaming by amateur actors, and long, drawn-out sequences in which nothing happens whatsoever. In many ways, the reputation is deserved – which is why it’s such a nice surprise when you’re able to find something that bucks the trend and proves why found footage was ever considered scary to begin with.

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Released: 1999
Director: Ataru Oikawa

We all like a good love story. You know the kind: boy meets girl, boy likes girl, boy becomes girl’s mind slave, boy murders girl in a jealous rage, girl respawns to spread her evil enslavement powers across the world. You know, the usual.

Many people are familiar with Junji Ito’s famously deranged manga, Tomie, and its depiction of a monster that takes the form of a teenage girl and ensnares the mind of every man she meets. Being such a well-loved piece of horror fiction, I imagine there was a lot of clamoring for a film adaptation of his work, and anticipation for what kind of terror it could bring to the screen while telling Tomie’s unsettling tale.

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Released: 1964
Director: Kaneto Shindo

Onibaba has long been considered a classic of Japanese cinema, particularly when talking about early horror films. With its harsh depiction of life during time of war and its frank look at sexuality, it’s easy to see why it has managed to stick out in the minds of so many viewers over the years. The question then becomes this: does it deserve its distinction as a horror classic?

Onibaba follows a woman and her daughter-in-law, as they struggle to get by in 14th century Japan, a countryside torn by war. While the older woman awaits the return of her son, Kichi, she and Kichi’s wife attempt to make ends meet by murdering passing samurai and selling their armor. This helps keep the two women fed, but when news of Kichi’s death reaches them, both are devastated. And when Kichi’s mother comes upon a samurai wearing a strange demon mask, things begin to fall apart entirely.

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Released: 2012

Starting in a new school is hard enough. Starting up late in school due to illness is even worse. And if you start up late, with a mysterious and secretive class council hovering over you, plus a quiet and morbid girl with a patch over her eye, and only you seem to be able to see her… well, that’s just anime for you.

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