The Best Japanese Horror Movies And How To Watch Them

Rie Ino'o as Sadako in Ringu
(Image credit: Toho)

There is an endless number of different subcategories associated with horror -- many that are defined by different styles and cultures. For instance, great Asian horror movies – like thrillers based in Japan like Audition – are so distinct in tone and their means of shock that they have essentially become an entire subgenre with its won shorthand term: J-horror. 

With how many great examples of J-horror there are, I had to go beyond my normal list of 13 “best horror movies,” fearing that I might leave off something essential. Hopefully, I have covered all the best Japanese horror movies available on streaming, to rent digitally, or purchase on physical media below.

The monster from the original Godzilla

(Image credit: Toho)

Godzilla (1954) 

Experimentation with nuclear weapons leads to the development of a gargantuan, reptilian beast that wreaks havoc on Tokyo. 

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Out of the ongoing franchise of innumerable disaster flicks it would spawn, most fans still consider the best of the Godzilla movies to be the one that started it all from Ishirô Honda, which was originally released in Japan as Gojira.

Stream Godzilla on Max.
Stream Godzilla on Tubi.
Rent/buy Godzilla on Amazon.
Buy Godzilla on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Scene from Pulse

(Image credit: Toho)

Pulse (2001)

Two groups of people begin to suspect that the dead may be trying to communicate with them through the Internet.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: While it was later remade for American audiences into a thriller starring Kristen Bell, most fans still prefer the viscerally frightening original Pulse from iconic writer and director Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Stream Pulse on Tubi.
Stream Pulse on Peacock.
Rent or buy Pulse on Amazon.
Buy Pulse on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Ghost from Kwaidan

(Image credit: Toho)

Kwaidan (1964)

This collection of Japanese folktales tells the story of a poor man’s regrettable decision to leave his wife, a woodcutter’s strange encounter in a winter storm, a blind musician enlisted by a ghostly court, and a man who sees a face in his tea.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Feature, Kwaidan is a beautifully shot, exquisitely eerie anthology horror movie classic from director Mayasaki Kobayashi.

Stream Kwaidan on Max.
Rent or buy Kwaidan on Amazon.
Buy Kwaidan on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Takako Fuji in Ju-on: The Grudge

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)

A disparate group of people each become tormented by a vengeful spirit, and all for the same reason: each of them entered a house which was the site of a brutal crime. 

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: The third of an ongoing series, Ju-On: The Grudge is arguably the scariest installment, but undeniably the most recognizable, thanks to the 2004 English-language remake that writer and director Takashi Shimizu helmed himself. 

Steam Ju-On: The Grudge on Plex.
Rent or buy Ju-On: The Grudge on Amazon.
Buy Ju-On: The Grudge on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Sadako from Ringu

(Image credit: Toho)

Ringu (1998)

A reporter (Nanako Matsushima) investigating strange deaths supposedly linked to a “cursed” videotape races to uncover its secrets after she watches the bizarre footage herself.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: The terrifying hit Ringu is what essentially sparked Hollywood’s obsession with Americanizing J-horror, following the success of Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake, which spawned a follow-up (2005’s The Ring Two) that original director Hideo Nakata returned to helm.

Stream Ringu on Tubi.
Rent or buy Ringu digitally on Amazon.
Buy Ringu on DVD/Blu-ray on Amazon.

Scene from Dark Water

(Image credit: Toho)

Dark Water (2002)

A newly divorced single mother (Hitomi Kuroki) is forced to move into an apartment building plagued by severe water damage and something deadly lurking beneath.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: The same year his own Ringu's English-language remake opened, Hideo Nakata released Dark Water -- another creepy, emotionally distressing instant classic that was inevitably reimagined for American audiences with Jennifer Connelly leading.

Rent/buy Dark Water digitally on Amazon.
Buy Dark Water on DVD/Blu-ray on Amazon.

Eihi Shiina in Audition

(Image credit: Basara Pictures)

Audition (1999)

A widower (played by Ryo Ishibashi) receives help from his film producer friend to find love again by hosting a fake movie casting session.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: I personally hope we never see an American update of Audition -- a masterful slow-burn horror movie I would rather not disclose any more details about, but one fans of Takashi Miike should be able to expect is an unflinching exercise in terror.

Stream Audition on Tubi.
Buy Audition on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Nao Ômori in Ichi the Killer

(Image credit: Toho)

Ichi The Killer (2001)

While searching for his missing boss, a Yakuza enforcer (played by Thor: Ragnarok’s Tadanobu Asano) crosses paths with a repressed psychopath (played by Nao Ômori) whose inventive methods of murder inspire much awe and admiration in the sadomasochistic criminal.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: While not quite as subtle and suspenseful as Audition, the visually unique Ichi the Killer would prove that director Takashi Miike is also a master of balancing relentless brutality with cheekily macabre humor.

Stream Ichi The Killer on Peacock.
Stream Ichi The Killer on Tubi.
Rent or buy Ichi The Killer digitally on Amazon.
Buy Ichi the Killer on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Ballet dancer from Three... Extremes

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Three... Extremes (2004)

Stories about a housewife discovering a groundbreaking aging cure's dark secret, an attention-seeking actor challenging a successful filmmaker to a deadly game, and an author tormented by traumatic childhood memories make up this unholy trinity that certainly lives up to its title.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Takashi Miike also put his stamp on one segment from Three… Extremes, which, of all the best anthology horror movies, makes a damn good case for being the most viscerally unnerving and emotionally distressing.

Stream Three... Extremes on Amazon Prime.
Stream Three... Extremes on Tubi.
Stream Three… Extremes on Plex.
Buy Three… Extremes on DVD on Amazon.

Tomorô Taguchi in Tetsuo: The Iron Man

(Image credit: Original Cinema)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

An ordinary business executive (played by Tomorô Taguchi) suddenly begins to transform into a grotesque, mangled hybrid of man and machine.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Not to be confused with the blockbuster that would kick-off the Marvel movies, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a profoundly bizarre and dream-like piece of skin-crawling body horror that I guarantee is unlike anything you have ever seen.

Rent/buy Tetsuo: The Iron Man digitally on Amazon.
Buy Tetsuo: The Iron Man on Blu-ray on Amazon.

A disembodied head from House (1977)

(Image credit: Toho)

House (1977)

A teenage girl's friends suddenly start to disappear while visiting her aunt in her seemingly idyllic country house over summer vacation.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Not to be confused with the popular TV medical drama House, this cult favorite (originally titled Hausu) is a thoroughly captivating and irresistibly ludicrous fever dream that I guarantee is unlike any of the other haunted house movies you have ever seen.

Stream House on Max.
Rent/buy House digitally on Amazon.
Buy House on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Ren Ôsugi in Uzumaki

(Image credit: Tidepoint Pictures)

Uzumaki (2000)

The citizens of a small town slowly become tormented by a deadly obsession with snails and other objects bearing similar imagery.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Not to be confused with a sequel to Saw starring Chris Rock, the English translation of Uzumaki actually is “spiral,” which describes the image that the cursed characters of this unforgettable adaptation of Junji Ito’s twisted manga cannot seem to get out of their heads.

Stream Uzumaki on Amazon Prime.
Buy Uzumaki on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Reina Triendl in Tag

(Image credit: Shochiku)

Tag (2015)

As every single person around her suffers an increasingly brutal and inhumane death one by one, a meek schoolgirl (played by Reina Triendl) struggles to not become the next victim.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Not to be confused with a 2018 ensemble comedy of the same name, Tag sees someone take a once wholesome backyard game way too far in writer and director Sion Sono’s unapologetically gory adaptation of Yûsuke Yamada’s wild ride of a novel.

Stream Tag on Night Flight Plus.
Buy Tag on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Girls in Suicide Club

(Image credit: Toho)

Suicide Club (2002)

After a horrifying tragedy seems to spark a string of self-inflicted deaths all across the country, a detective races to figure out the cause.  

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Audition star Ryo Ishibashi stars in Suicide Club -- yet another film from writer and director Sion Sono in which school girls suffer grisly fates, but in a comparatively more tasteful, grounded, and thought-provoking way.

Rent or buy Suicide Club on Amazon.
Buy Suicide Club on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Eihi Shiina in Tokyo Gore Police

(Image credit: Media Blasters)

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

A young, vengeful cop slices her way through armies of rebellious mutants while in search for her father’s killer in a futuristic society in which the police force has become a privatized, reckless entity.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Audition star Eihi Shiina stars as the vengeful, samurai sword-wielding hero of Tokyo Gore Police – a dizzying display of pretty much everything you could ask for from a satirical, dystopian J-horror splatterfest fantasy.

Stream Tokyo Gore Police on Tubi.
Stream Tokyo Gore Police on Crunchyroll.
Buy Tokyo Gore Police on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Mai in Battle Royale.

(Image credit: Toei Company)

Battle Royale (2000)

As punishment, a group of minors are kidnapped and forced to participate in a fight to the death as part of a recently passed government law. 

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Despite a familiar premise, Battle Royale came out years before the Hunger Games movies, is based on a dystopian book written before author Suzanne Collins' series was conceived, and is widely considered to be the more clever and thrilling film about a juvenile death match.

Stream Battle Royale on Tubi.
Stream Battle Royal on Freevee through Amazon.
Stream Battle Royal on Plex.
Buy Battle Royale on Blu-ray on Amazon.

The demon mask from Onibaba

(Image credit: Toho)

Onibaba (1964)

Two 14th-Century contract samurai killers experience bizarre changes in their lives as one indulges in an affair and the other crosses paths with a warrior in a horrifying demon mask.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: Legendary filmmaker Kaneto Shindô put his stamp on Japanese folklore with Onibaba – a supremely creepy tale boasting one of the most indelible mask designs in the genre's history.

Stream Onibaba on Max.
Rent or buy Onibaba on Amazon.
Buy Onibaba on Blu-ray on Amazon.

A scene from Jigoku

(Image credit: Shintoho)

Jigoku (1960) 

A series of sinful decisions leads a group of people closer and closer to damnation.

Why it is one of the best Japanese horror movies: The surreal, grim descent into Hell that is Jigoku would earn Nobuo Nakagawa the honor of being referred to as the father of the Japanese horror movie.

Stream Jigoku on The Criterion Channel.
Buy Jigoku on Blu-ray on Amazon.

When was the last time you saw such a diverse assortment of styles and concepts that all exist in the same genre? That, indeed, is what makes Japanese horror such a rich and essential entity and we just showed you the best of the bunch.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.