The Japanese have mastered the art of brilliant horror films. How else can you explain masterpieces like Ringu, Kwaidan, and Audition? Once you watch them, your mind keeps playing the scenes repeatedly.
The best Japanese horror movies don’t rely on the usual seat-jumping tactics. You know there’s something scary, yet it doesn’t reveal itself right away. Perhaps the concept of fear in Japanese movies has something to do with that, which the article will discuss later.
A good horror movie doesn’t just end when you leave the hall or switch off the TV. For a few days, it remains with you, clinging hard to your thoughts despite your best attempts. Even a well-lit room is no consolation, as you turn over every few minutes, suspicious of something standing beside you.
But that is what separates true horror from the not-so-good ones. The Japanese have shown how you can instill fear without CGI shocks or silly jump scares. What are some things that make these movies so good? Find out.
Concept of fear in Japanese movies
The Japanese have a different concept of fear than, say, the Americans. For the Americans, fear works in a fairly direct manner. That is to say, you see the ghost, get scared, and then move on with the story.
In other words, the focus is more on the physical side. The audience expects the ghost, demon, or devil to cause destruction, chaos, and panic. Flying beds, window panes crashing, and blood flowing everywhere are common in most Hollywood productions.
In contrast, horror works differently for the Japanese. It does not show itself directly or rely on scary brute tactics to evoke a sudden reaction. The audience waits in anticipation, knowing fully well about evil lurking somewhere.
Rather than action, the emphasis is on the moment. For example, a ghost staring at a person without doing anything is scarier than one that screams or yells. The spirit is troubled, plagued by unsettling memories and unfulfilled desires, hanging between life and death.
What made Ringu so successful?
Most horror movie experts consider Ringu as one of the best Japanese horrors. It managed to do something that nobody else could. The movie revolved around a videotape, cursing everyone who watched it, leading to their death within seven days.
In one of the scenes, Sadako Yamamura, the vengeful ghost, ascends the well and emerges from the TV.
What makes this scary is the destruction of false safety. You know the entire thing is fictional and a story. But the ghost breaking the TV screen blurs the line between reality and non-reality. You feel as if the devil was out to get you, and no glass screen could protect you from that.
Interestingly, you never get to see the entire face of Sadako Yamamura. At the most, you see an enlarged black eye with the most menacing look you could ever expect.
Everyday things and the supernatural
Horror movies in Japan introduce evil supernatural elements into regular household items. By doing that, they unsettle your normal state of being. Television, chair, sofa, or the telephone, nothing escapes the menacing presence of evil.
It is far easier to believe a lonely tree, an isolated cabin, or a deserted building to be haunted. But the thought of evil spirits sharing a regular household is unsettling, especially when they exhibit their presence in subtle ways.
The focus, as mentioned earlier, is on the psychological rather than invoking a bodily reaction. The best horror movies like One Missed Call keep building the element of surprise, combining it with excellent cinematography to produce the intended effects.
Some of the best horror movies you should see
- One Missed Call
- Ringu 2
- Dark Water
These are some things that go into making the best Japanese horror movies. The next time you watch or rewatch one of them, focus on the suspense and sense of doom lurking throughout the film. The more you watch such movies, the more you appreciate them.