Your guide to obscure Asian horror films: 'Cold Fish' and more
Only a mass-murdering aquarium store owner would be evil enough to make his employees dress this way.
October 28th, 2011
10:05 AM ET

Your guide to obscure Asian horror films: 'Cold Fish' and more

When the Japanese horror craze swept Japan and then subsequently leaked into the U.S. (resulting in a ton of less-than-stellar remakes of movies that were perfectly good in the first place) even people who weren't horror enthusiasts found themselves wrapped up in some spooky folk tale about a curse that you somehow get by sticking your nose where it doesn't belong.

This movement was spearheaded by a film by Hideo Nakata called "Ringu," which told the tale of a cursed videotape which killed anyone who watched it a week later. The 2002 American remake, called "The Ring," enlightened people to the J-horror craze, which continued to snowball until it burned out due to oversaturation.

People have mixed feelings about Asian horror and suspense now, partially due to the quality of the remakes and the repetition of the themes. After all, how many times can you be scared by a girl whose face is obscured by long, inky hair? And yet, perhaps you may have enjoyed one or two of those original films and wondered if there were more like it out there that you might be missing because you didn't know where to look.

An excellent place to begin is with "Cold Fish," a Sion Sono film from 2010 that tells the story of a weak-willed aquarium store owner and his encounter with a fellow businessman that goes terribly wrong.

The plot was loosely based on the real life Saitama Dog Lovers murders, and although Sono wanders into creative territory with his own retelling of the tale, he ultimately creates a film that may leave a viewer deeply shaken but also unable to forget the questions left behind.

Much like Takashi Miike's classic horror film "Audition", these movies might leave you thinking a bit more carefully the next time something seems too good to be true.

As long as we're wading into spooky territory, we may as well introduce you to one of the best names in Japanese suspense film.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is mainly known for his strong contributions to the J-horror genre while it was in full swing, including "Cure", "Seance", "Charisma" and "Retribution." Kurosawa took on the themes of technology in its budding stages with "Pulse," known as "Kairo" in its original Japanese release.

As people quietly vanish and turn into ghosts, leaving only the faintest traces behind, the film expresses its true theme - the suggestion that technology was growing at a pace that could simultaneously alienate and swallow people whole. The haunted images of belongings left behind are portrayed with a simplicity that only a director like Kurosawa could pull off with such subtle success.

Not every great scary film goes the same route, however, as proved by camp classics like Dario Argento's "Suspiria."

An excellent campy selection in the same vein can be found in "House," originally released in 1977 but recently retooled for fans thanks to The Criterion Collection. Featuring schoolgirls with names like Fantasy and Gorgeous on an outing to a mysterious aunt's house in the country, this psychedelic thriller uses every bit of schlock you can imagine and then dishes out a bit more just when you think it's gone as far over the top as it can go. Absurd, fantastical, and yet still engaging, "House" is the definition of a conversation piece for fans of vintage horror and psychedelia.

Although the horror-fantasy genre has stayed alive thanks to entries like "Pan's Labyrinth," it still doesn't have as many entries as it should.

The Chinese-born Pang Brothers broke onto the Asian horror scene in 2002 with "The Eye," and have had a series of hits and misses ever since. They were spot-on with 2008's "Re-Cycle," which kicks off with typical Asian horror tactics but soon segways into a dark fantasy universe which pits the main character up against her own past in order to reach absolution.

Frame after frame of gorgeous landscapes and still shots that look like perfect photographs will easily immerse you in this fantastical adventure.

Not to be outdone by Japan and China, Hong Kong filmmaker Fruit Chan shook up the horror genre significantly with the debut of "Dumplings," a tale about one woman's desperate struggle to regain her youth through the ingestion of dumplings which contain a very unique ingredient.

The film was cut down in short form and featured in a collection called "Three Extremes" in 2004, but the full length film is the real masterpiece, including more characters and a much more haunting ending. While not an ideal recommendation for those with a weak stomach, it certainly leaves a lasting impression. On the other hand, if you were unphased by "Ichi the Killer," you ought to do just fine here.

What are your favorite Asian horror films, and what made them so memorable to you?

Posted by
Filed under: Otaku
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. SyntheticLolita

    I think the best asian horror film that I've seen to date has to be "A Tale of Two Sisters" by Kim Jee-Woon. It is incredibly haunting and lingers long after the credits roll. A few other notable absences are "Chakushin Ari" (One Missed Call), "Dark Water", "Ju-On" (the first one, not Ju-On: The Grudge), and "Noroi: The Curse".

    November 5, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  2. earl

    I'm sorry, but "Suspiria" is not a camp classic. It is a classic, period.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:15 am |