Japan has a special bond with horror films.
They create work unlike any other country. Throughout the years, Japan has crafted some of the most memorable moments in the genre. The same country that gave us classics like Gojira and Kuroneko also brought the glorification of things like breast milk and joyful suicide to cinema. The bizarre in Japanese films has been a major part of cinema since the 50’s and remains that way to this day.
Guinea Pig: Film Series (1985-1988)
While I believe the collection of films known as Guinea Pig is the freakiest and most disgusting of any of this list, it’s hard to just include one of the films because the project should be looked at as a whole. Though, the second Guinea Pig film titled Flower of Flesh & Blood gained massive mainstream controversy when actor Charlie Sheen mistook the film for an actual snuff film.
10. House (1977)
Young children getting devoured by a house is the perfect place to start when talking about the Japanese tradition of freaking out moviegoers.
Legendary Japanese production company Toho produced House in 1977. The film was an attempt to switch up their usual non-profitable “normal” films and create something a bit more avant-garde.
What they created was something that lives on in horror film infamy!
The only film on this list to make its way onto the legendary Criterion collection; House is a surrealist horror film known for the purposeful low budget effects and almost unwatchable acting.
Imagine if sometime during a viewing of The Amityville Horror, you decided to drop acid...you’d probably end up in a situation similar to this film.
(You can find this streaming on Hulu)
9.Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
Tony Stark isn’t the only Iron Man.
A strange man with a fetish for metal completely takes the title of Iron Man to another level. This body horror film directed by obscure Japanese film personality Shinya Tsukamoto mixes the industrial feel of David Lynch's films with the gore of a David Cronenberg movie.
Viewing this should be landmark for any horror fan.
The final scene of the film is one of the most lasting impressions in film since Sleepaway Camp shocked us all. The image of a ball of man and metal speeding down the street in a rapidly edited sequence is something that will never leave your mind for weeks after.
With two sequels that followed, Tetsuo set a standard for extremity in film very early. 10 years before Miike took over as the king of the extreme, Shinya mixed metal and flesh in a disgusting way.
8. Audition (1999)
Takashi Miike is the name of a director who will come up often on this list. He's an impressive filmmaker with over 98 directing credits on IMDB.com. He also has done an insane amount of things for cinema in Japan but what he is most known for is creating graphic & shocking pieces of art.
Audition is his greatest piece of art; the film is Miike’s “Mona Lisa”.
The slowest of all slow burn movies, Audition drives you mad with the pacing until you get to the final act where you wish you were still in the happier tone from earlier in the film. The torture featured in this movie is some of the most chilling and intense in film history.
Eihi Shiina plays the villain with a beautiful smile to perfection; every scene she is in, she commands you pay attention to her. What starts out sweet and turns into deeply disturbed, Eihi's performance as Asami is brilliantly handled.
If you can handle the cerebral viewing experience that is Audition, I think you are made to love Japanese cinema.
7. Versus (2000)
The closest thing to a Japanese Evil Dead, Versus is a melting pot of everything you want in a movie. It has zombies, guns, sword fighting, martial arts, comedy, and even a samurai warrior for anyone wanting that.
Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura, who is known for his work on America’s Midnight Meat Train and Japan’s Gozilla: Final Wars, crafted the most fun out of any film on this list. Versus feels like a Tarantino fever dream; the violence is plenty, the humor is well placed, and the story barely makes any sense but keeps you on the edge of your seat till the credits roll.
The thing that stands out about Versus is the brutal action mixed with traditional horror elements as well as the incredible rock filled soundtrack. These things would become signatures for Kitamura's future films but it all started out in his cult classic Versus.
(You can find this on Ryuhei Kitamura's Youtube Page)
6. Battle Royale (2000)
A lot has been said about Battle Royale due to Hunger Games seeming like a rip-off of the idea but Battle Royale goes further than any "young adult" movie.
When the teens of Japan become unruly and need to be taught a lesson, the government and parents come up with the idea of the “Battle Royale”; a horrifying game of murder. I guess detention wasn't good enough...
Something about watching extremely youthful looking actors kill each other with machine guns and swords is a bit unsettling.
The Hunger Games franchise could never reach this level of nihilism but that's what makes Battle Royale such a legendary film. In fact, it's so legendary that Quentin Tarantino has named it his favorite film since he has started directing.
(You can find this streaming on Netflix)
5. Ichi The Killer (2001)
The second best known Takashi Miike movie; no other viewing experience can top watching Ichi The Killer for the first time. The insane editing dizzies you as you go to the next scene, the violence is beyond graphic, and I can’t name another film that uses actual semen…
Ichi the Killer is a yakuza themed horror action film. But it’s not limited to any certain genre; Ichi mixes elements of surrealism, comedy, and torture porn. Every scene brings something new to the film, never allowing you to take a break from all the insanity.
The main character Kakihara is a sadomasochistic that draws heavy inspiration from The Joker from the Batman series. He has the sides of his mouth craved open and cut together with two piercings. Also, he looks stunning in purple...
After seeing Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight, I kept thinking about to Ichi and how similar The Joker was to Tadanobu Asano performance as Kakihara.
The film also has a special connection with another film on this list; a major character in Ichi is also the director of Tetsuo: The Iron Man!
4. Visitor Q (2001)
Any film that starts with the line "Have you ever done it with your Dad?" will found its place on films that will freak you out.
Yet another film by Takashi Miike, Visitor Q is a departure from action or horror and dives into something much more disturbing. Miike shows us the life of a incest loving, breast milk drinking family and the strange visitor who comes to stay with them. Yes...this movie is certainly like nothing else on this list.
With the sexuality and humor of an early John Waters movie, Visitor Q is bizarre and disgusting without once going for gore or horror. Rigor Mortis, feces, breast feeding, and murder are subjects that are warmly welcomed in this movie. Name something else other than Pink Flamingos from 1972 that has any thing like this?
Also, the film is filmed on digital video. Everything in it feels all too real but this isn't even the strangest film from Mike on this list.
3. Suicide Club (2002)
The idea of suicide has never been glamorized as much as Suicide Club did.
It’s the hottest trend for some mysterious reason and the police can’t seem to find the cause. Starting the film with the death of 54 schoolgirls is certainly a way to become a groundbreaking piece of cinema.
Suicide Club is a jarring viewing experience. Nothing quite seems to make sense and once you think you understand something, a musical dance sequence will come out of nowhere to confuse you further.
The mystery of the movie is what keeps you going through all the craziness.
You constantly try to find the cause of these suicides but the answer slips past you until the director Sion Sono slaps you in the face with it.
(You can find this streaming on Hulu)
2. Gozu (2003)
The final time Miike appears on this list, he surely makes his presence known as we get to the end. Gozu is the David Lynch movie that he didn’t get to make; Takashi Miike turns his usual disturbing films and makes them more surreal.
I’ve personally seen this movie about 4 times now. Each time I understand less about the movie. It’s mind-blowingly strange and doesn’t answer the million of questions it brings up. Gozu features two resurrections of the same character and the oddest birthing scene I've ever seen.
And no one can ever explain why a man with a massive cow head seems to keep appearing and licking people!
It is by far one of the strangest thing in the already strange Gozu.
It also has breast milk but this time it's being secretly served to this nearly deserted small Japanese town.
Something about Takashi Miike and mother's milk really seem to go together.
(You can find this on Vimeo On Demand)
1. Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
If Herschel Gordon Lewis created Power Rangers, you would get the very bloody and sort of hilarious film Tokyo Gore Police.
When a special police force named the "Tokyo Gore Police" and their leader Ruka fight disgusting monster human hybrids, it will take rocket launchers, snipers, and plenty of chainsaws to handle this hilariously graphic situation.
Starring the wonderful Eihi Shiina who was previous mentioned in Audition, Tokyo Gore is a cartoon-ish take on the splatter genre; never taking itself too serious but still being able to provide a great story.
I think the amount of blood shed in this movie equals the amount of blood shed in all the other films combined.
(You can find this streaming on Hulu)
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