How to Appreciate J-Horror Movies

Do you want to know how to appreciate J-horror movies? Who doesn’t like horror movies or foreign movies, would have trouble appreciating J-horror movies. My assumption though is that if you’re reading about how to better appreciate Japanese horror films, you’re interested in Japanese cinema, horror cinema, or both. So here’s your step-by-step guide to appreciating J-horror movies.

Learn about kaidan. Kaidan (or kwaidan) refers to traditional Japanese ghost stories and folk tales. These stories typically include some kind of karma theme. J-horror movies are firmly rooted in the Japanese kaidan tradition, so a better understanding of that type of literature will result in a better understanding an appreciation of the horror movies inspired by it. A good book to start with is called Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. The Tale of Genji is another good one to read.

Watch J-horror movies. The best way to appreciate any movie genre is to watch the films of that genre. Want to know more about silent films? Watch two silent movies every night for a week, and you’ll have a better understanding and appreciation of the silent film genre. The same holds true for the J-horror genre. If you want to appreciate J-horror movies, then watch J-horror movies.

Start with some of the earlier J-horror movies. Understanding and appreciating movies is easier when you consider the context of those films. Reading the fiction that inspired J-horror movies is one way of providing context. Another way to get context is to watch the earlier movies and think about how the genre has progressed over time. Start with Ugetsu Monogatari (1953), Kwaidan (1964), and Jigoku (1960). Those movies will familiarize you with the roots of J-horror.

Watch movies by specific Japanese directors. If you wanted to appreciate American science fiction films, you’d look at movies from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. If you want to appreciate J-horror movies, watch movies that were directed by Takashi Miike, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and Hideo Nakata.
Watch the big movies in the genre. Some of the more famous J-horror movies include Ringu, Ju-on, Dark Water, Kairo, and Chakushin Ari. These were all big hits, and most of them spawned several sequels (as well as American remakes). Skip the American remakes though.

Discuss J-horror movies with other fans. One way to appreciate any kind of film is to watch it with other people and then discuss what you’ve just seen. Find two or three friends and start a J-horror movie club, and get together once a week and watch a couple of J-horror films. Once you’ve gotten together every week for a year, you’ll have seen and discussed enough J-horror movies to be real experts. You can also discuss J-horror movies with other fans online at a horror forum. It’s not as good as getting together and watching the movies and then discussing them, but it’s still a way to gain a broader appreciation of J-horror.

Read the book J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge, and Beyond. This book goes into great detail about the major J-horror movie franchises and directors, so it will help you achieve a better understanding and appreciation of the genre. Think about whether or not you agree or disagree with the author’s observations about the films. Critical thinking is the key meta-skill to appreciating any kind of art.
I hope this brief guide to appreciating J-horror movies gets you excited enough to watch some of the wonderful horror films available from Japan.

Extra Credit:
Learn Japanese. If you truly want to appreciate J-horror movies, then being able to understand them in the original language will help.
Visit Japan. The more familiar with the culture you are, the better you’ll appreciate its movies.

However, we recommend to start with the Top 10 Japanese Horror Movies.