5 Japanese Horror Movies to Stream Now
We recommend five J-horror movies to stream and provide a watchlist of Japanese horror classics from the last six decades.
So you’re lookin’ for Japanese horror movies—we have five recommendations for you, including a Takashi Miike horror drama, an Evil Dead tribute/ripoff, a cartoonishly frightening haunted-house flick, cyberpunk body horror, and an adult animated psychological thriller. In other words, we’re not gonna shove Ringu and Ju-On down your throats again.
However, we include those bona fide J-horror classics on a list of more than two dozen more Japanese horror movie recommendations spanning six decades. Watch for us to add blurbs about these films in periodic updates. Or watch ‘em right now if you want.
1. Audition (1999) | Horror drama
Directed by legendary genre filmmaker Takashi Miike and based on the novel by Ryū Murakami, Audition is a frequent flier in J-horror listicles like this one. Chalk that up to its strange blend of horror and romantic drama.
Urged by his son to find a wife, a widower holds a fake audition to skip the soul-chewing, time-gobbling hassle of dating. The man becomes smitten with a mysterious former model, Asami, and they begin a whirlwind romance. Naturally, there’s something wrong with Asami, and we get a trickle of revelations about this, but not enough to learn the extent of Asami’s insanity—until it’s too late.
The film unfolds like an arthouse drama, lacking the usual musical cues, cinematographic style, and horror tropes. As such, Audition is a refreshing suckerpunch that will make you delete Tinder.
2. Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (2012) | The Evil Dead goes to Japan
Set in the ‘70s, shot in the mid-to-late ‘90s, re-shot until 2009, and unreleased until 2012, Shinichi Fukazawa’s Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell is a must-see—primarily due to its reputation as “the Japanese Evil Dead.”
Fukazawa’s first film draws liberally from Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror classic The Evil Dead and the third Evil Dead film, 1992’s Army of Darkness—but it’s not a remake. There’s no Necronomicon, no Japanese translation of “Klaatu verata nikto,” and the evil spirits don’t have a cool name (Deadites). But the film has mostly one location, cackling demons, and pretty good low-budget practical effects. And the cherry on top? A denim-clad Japanese Bruce Campbell lookalike with a boomstick.
We wouldn’t call Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell a great film, but it’s a fun horror deep cut, gooey gorefest, and cultural curiosity.
3. House (1977) | Supernatural, haunted house
We thought Steve Miner’s House (1986) was the wackiest haunted house movie we’d seen. Leave it to Japan to have made an even stranger one nine years earlier.
In Nobuhiko Obayashi’s film, seven girls named for their traits or talents—Gorgeous, Mac, Fantasy, Sweet, Kung Fu, Prof, and Melody—visit one girl’s elderly aunt, a virtual stranger. Thanks to haunted house tropes, you know what happens next: Strange things are afoot at Auntie Karei’s big, scary house.
No spoilers, of course, but the girls remain oddly cheerful as the house’s spectral residents torment them in a series of trippy, gruesome, supernatural happenings made even trippier by clever, though not perfect, visual effects work. Ultimately, Obayashi’s House is somewhat whimsical but not a horror comedy like Miner’s movie. Some scenes will haunt you as you lie awake at night.
4. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) | Science fiction body horror
Tetsuo: The Iron Man isn’t as gory as the films it influenced (Tokyo Gore Police, Meatball Machine, The Machine Girl, for starters), but it’s still a body-horror splatterfest.
Shinya Tsukamoto shot Tetsuo in black and white, which somewhat mutes the gruesome practical effects (which is probably a good thing). The film is a fascinating, sickly slapstick assault on the senses. Sure, we’ve seen worse things—in full color—from the films inspired by Tetsuo. But Tetsuo’s flesh, blood, maggot, and metal salad was gnarly in 1989, and despite 30+ years of desensitization, it remains so today.
It’s not only what Tsukamoto shows us that makes this film so disturbing. The film’s industrial/avant-garde soundtrack—tooth-torturing metal-on-metal sound effects with strange, sax-y tangents—paired with sped-up stop-motion mutations that’d make a Cronenberg cringe, make Tetsuo: The Iron Man a 360-degree assault on the senses. Think Mad God meets The Benny Hill Show meets Eraserhead, probably with a dash of Scanners, ‘cause Tetsuo might make your head pop.
5. Perfect Blue (1997) | Adult animated psychological horror-thriller
Satoshi Kon’s psychological horror/thriller (based on Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s 1991 novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis) is scary on two levels.
Mima, Perfect Blue’s pop star protagonist, lives a dream. She’s also someone’s cash cow—and, to countless strangers, a two-dimensional romantic/erotic fantasy. When Mima decides to leave the mega-popular J-pop trio she fronts to pursue acting, one fan gets pissed, and the threats and deaths start rolling in.
Kon shows us how all of this—plus increased exposure, pressure, and privacy invasions—affects Mima. Here, Perfect Blue becomes more than a psychological thriller. It’s also a commentary on the commodification and sexualization of young women in entertainment. And that makes Perfect Blue even more uncomfortable, claustrophobic, and terrifying.
More recommended Japanese horror movies
- Battle Royale (2000)
- Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman (2007)
- Confessions (2010)
- Creepy (2016)
- Dark Water (2002)
- Evil Dead Trap (1986)
- Evil Dead Trap 2: Hideki (1992)
- Ichi the Killer (2001)
- Jigoku (1960)
- Ju-on (2002)
- Kuroneko (1968)
- Kwaidan (1964)
- The Machine Girl (2008)
- Marebito (2004)
- Meatball Machine (2006)
- Meatball Machine: Kodoku (2017)
- Noroi: The Curse (2005)
- One Missed Call (2003)
- Onibaba (1964)
- Ringu (1999)
- Tag (2015)
- Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
- Tokyo Zombie (2005)
- Woman in the Dunes (1964)
- The World of Kanako (2015)
- Uzumaki (2000)