The second season of AMC’s anthology series THE TERROR melds the historical horror of Japanese American internment during WWII with a supernatural haunting reminiscent of many Japan’s iconic horror stories. Here are a few of our favorite J-horror masterpieces to accompany your binge of series.
Perfect Blue (1997)
At the time of Perfect Blue’s release, psychological horror was hardly something you would expect from the realm of anime. A Japanese pop idol finds herself menaced by stalkers and controversy after trying to change careers to dramatic actress. Eventually, her obsessive fans begin resorting to murder while her ability to tell the difference between acting and real life is slowly destroyed. It’s an extremely gripping and upsetting concoction of mental delusion and violence (some sexual). American director Darren Aronofsky paid homage to the animated classic in his film Requiem For a Dream. Many critics have also seen parallels between Perfect Blue and the similarly hallucination-filled Black Swan.
Ring (1998) Seven days after watching a cursed video tape, you die of a mysterious terror. The Ring offers up chilling themes of familial neglect combined with warnings on the dangerous combination of curiosity and technology. Laced with suspense and frightening imagery, by the time the movie gives away how its supernatural forces work, it raises up a new, equally terrifying moral quandary. Is is it worth damning others to keep you and your family alive? A testament to the story’s powerful simplicity and execution is the film’s success in Japan as well as the popularity and box office numbers of its American remake. It’s also a masterclass in how physical violence and gore aren’t always necessary for the genre. The less acclaimed Grudge and One Missed Call franchises owe style and setup to this work.
After a major hit in Ring, production company Omega Project wanted to continue to dominate the horror genre. They found an answer in Ryu Murakami’s disturbing novel. Audition tells the story of a widower who upon being asked to find a new partner by his teenage son holds a misleading audition for a young wife. He find a perfect candidate, who is willing to overlook the oddness of the situation. Unfortunately, as the courtship begins in earnest, plenty of red flags begin to pop up. Ms. Azami Yamasaki turns out to be an extremely obsessive, jealous, and vengeful lover that isn’t above mutilating or severely injuring her partners. Both praised and denounced in feminist circles for its handling of a meek abuse victim turned monster herself, Audition was an important contribution in the genre of torture porn, but contains a surprising amount of depth.
Battle Royale (2000) 42 9th grade students are pitted in a three day, brutal government-sanctioned fight to the death. They are dropped off on a deserted island and given weapons that run the spectrum between devastating and useless. Some cannot bear to inflict violence on their classmates while others find it extremely satisfying and easy. The person running the sick game? The students’ former, overwhelmed classroom instructor. While some purists might designate it solely as a dystopian thriller, Battle Royale certainly defined a generation of societal horror for film, anime, and video games and influenced such popular classics as Kill Bill and Fortnight. It also has plenty of shocking moments and gore. No official English adaptation was ever released because of concerns about real world analogues in school shootings, though for many, The Hunger Games trilogy offers a whitewashed, sanitized YA incarnation. The film helped solidify Takeshi Beat Kitano’s transition from eccentric gameshow host to dramatic film actor and also sparked Chiaki Kuriyama’s career as a schoolgirl slasher.
If you’re interested in Japanese horror, you can’t miss The Terror: Infamy. Each season of the historical horror anthology series covers a different tragedy. Season Two is centered around the Japanese-American internment camps, with veteran actor and activist George Takei as a consultant and star. Read our interview with the star here.