Japanese Horror: Tales From Ghostly Kingdoms

**This is a guest post written by Jared Hill, a regular contributor to Ghost Hunting Theories**

Japan is known for being superstitious, so it’s no wonder that they constantly evolve their mysticism and folklore and the Japanese have one of the richest folkloric traditions - especially when it comes to ghosts. Japanese ghosts, often called yuurei, have a number of common traits that have been used to create some of the most frightening horror films in existence. Here are the five best examples of yuurei movies:


Created as a collection of four tales, Kwaidan is a horror classic from famed Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi. The sets and design are surreal, giving the viewer the impression of being brought into a dangerous otherworld, and each story explores how the clever and vengeful yuurei will not be stopped and cannot be ignored. Drawing heavily from folklore collections by Lafcadio Hearn, Kwaidan is all about atmosphere, and it creates that in spades.


Kairo is a much more modern story, but its sensibilities and presentation of ghosts is classically Japanese. In this story, yuurei are invading the world through the Internet. What stands out about it is that, despite the somewhat silly plot, it takes Japanese culture and stands it on its head. For example, the Japanese Obon Festival celebrates your ancestor’s spirits and is a welcome and festive holiday, so seeing them come back as malicious spectors forces the characters into unfamiliar territory as seen in Kairo.


Without a doubt, Ugetsu's greatest strength lies in its ability to blend the real and the uncanny into a deeply disturbing reality. At first it doesn't even seem like a ghost story, instead presenting as a period drama about two couples in wartime. It is only when the male side of one of those couples, Genjuroo, starts having an affair with a higher class lady do we start to realize that something isn't quite right. The film continues to show us how tricky the yuurei can be and gives them a range of motivations, even if they have similar abilities. When the movie takes a turn into another genre, you can definitely feel it.


The film that brought Japanese horror into the American mainstream, Ringu remains one of the most frightening films in the genre. Reiko Asawara, after noticing that her niece and niece's friends all died of unknown causes at the same time, starts investigating a supposedly cursed video that kills the viewer seven days after watching it. This leads her into a terrifying trip that has her questioning her own sanity. While this is largely a psychological thriller, it can't be denied that the monster in the film, Sadako, is the most authentic looking yuurei on this list from the white kimono to the long, black hair.


Ju-On is an ongoing franchise currently at 11 films that also made a huge splash in America with a remake starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. These films are particularly interesting in that the first two were shot in nine days and released direct to video, but they proved so successful that they started receiving theater releases. The neverending cycle of the ju-on curse is very reminiscent of Japanese folklore, as is the vengeful ghost trope. These are so popular than many can be streamed online through FiOS or U-Verse to help you catch up on who might be the next victim.

The Japanese ghost story has translated well to the screen for decades and continues to do so. As it builds and evolves its themes and tropes, we’re sure to be constantly provided with rich and diverse interpretations of ghosts and yuurei.