Japan has a rich storytelling tradition, a big part of which is horror. And that tradition feeds directly into film. That means Japan’s horror cinema is amazing…if you know the right films to watch.
We here at Tofugu have compiled the definitive list of the best Japanese horror films of all time. Three of us (Rich, Kaitlin, and Michael) teamed up to watch movies and write reviews. This article is the fruit of our terror-labor.
If you’re looking for the absolute best and scariest Japanese horror movies out there, look no further. It doesn’t get better than this.
13. BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
In a dystopian future, Japan is a police state that rounds up one high school class a year and forces the students to kill each other. The film primarily follows a pair of students, Shuya and Noriko, but also jumps around to other groups of kids (at least the ones who survive the first act), weaving subplots and characters into a cohesive story that mixes teenage melodrama and war-like violence.
The horror comes from the over-the-top deaths caused by bullets, crossbows, axes, and neck explosions. It’s like a teen slasher film with 42 teens, all of them doing the slashing. But unlike teen slasher movies, the characters and their relationships are surprisingly deep. Sure, there are weak characters and flimsy plot points, but for a movie about kids killing each other, there’s a lot going on. This could have easily been a cheap exploitation flick. Instead we get themes like adult fear of youth and the cruelty of adolescence. There’s even solid character interaction and memorable performances, especially from film buff heartthrob Takeshi Kitano.
Though far from a perfect film, there’s a lot to love here. If you’re over The Hunger Games and looking for a grittier, more complex (and more fun!) teen murder romp, give Battle Royale a try.