Japanese horror is one of the best among other countries due to the way the scares and the plot are constructed. Japanese horror movies are among one of the most highly rated among the unlimited array of horror movies from other countries. What makes Japanese horror so different and unique than other countries’ horror movies?
Firstly, what mainly differentiates Japanese horror compared to Western horror is the lack of multiple jump scares, and even if it was used it is usually done in moderation. The main thing that these movies use is mostly their excellent use of silence to increase tension and thus enhances the atmospheric horror aspect of the movie. There is also the focus or plot of the movie which is usually on folk lores or urban legends which to some believers makes the movie have an added realness to make the movie seem that much more plausible and scary.
How J-horror does scares too is vastly different from its Western counterpart, they tend to like scaring viewers in the things that they don’t see for example, a unfocused shot of a scary apparition behind someone or a pair of hands appearing from behind a person’s head whereas most Western horror relies on jump scares or loud unsettling music to execute the scare. It is also not as predictable as some Western horror movies due to the contrasting tropes used in the movie, for example in some Western horror you are aware of the scare that is coming due to the loud build-up of music however in J-horror, it is usually when you least expect it such as seeing something crawl out from under a bed and this is usually done in silence as well.
Furthermore, J-horror directors tend to use a common trope which is the un-natural line of sight to put the viewers on edge. For example, we tend to usually get a typical line of sight in horror movies which is usually from the character’s viewpoint towards something or some place however for J-horror they tend to line up the camera to face an unnatural angle such as towards the side of the actor or actress to show something behind them to unsettle the audience and make them paranoid of what is about to happen. There is also the use of un-natural movement of body parts but this is done universally in most horror movies, but it is the sounds they use that is so frightening.
Another trope is the use of un-natural sounds to terrify the viewers such as the death rattle used in the Ju-On films where the main supernatural entity which is Ju-On emits this weird rattling sound from the back of her throat to scare the characters in the movie unlike most of Western movies which uses more screams as the voices of their ghosts.
The plots for most J-horror films too typically are of Yūrei which are figures in Japanese folklore synonymous to Western notion of ghosts. The name consists of two kanji, 幽, meaning “faint” or “dim” and 霊, meaning “soul” or “spirit”. Alternative names include 亡霊, meaning ruined or departed spirit, 死霊 meaning dead spirit, or the more encompassing 妖怪 or お化け. Due to Japan being very religious and having deep rooted beliefs in Buddhism and Shintoism, and their beliefs in reincarnation and the human spirit, the movies made with that kind of plots make it all the more interesting and unique and horrifying for viewers that are not from Japan.
Most horror movies tend to use generic plots such as a haunted house, zombies or a psychotic serial killer which tend to get quite boring unless the plot is executed well and the director has a clear understanding of what is horror and how to scare the viewers for example, The Conjuring and Oculus. J-horror likes to use plots that are suspense heavy and deals with creepy or bizarre themes. For example, Junji Ito’s collection of stories such as Glyceride which talks about a family that is always surrounded with grease which made them become monsters or Uzumaki which talks about a whole village’s obsession with spirals.
Though they are not movies but a manga, it still is interesting to see new unique concepts like that. Not to say that Western horror does not have unique plots, they do but most movies we see are the typical plots but there are more directors now taking the plunge and creating some serious masterpieces with refreshing plots such as director Jordan Peele with ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us’ or Ari Aster with ‘Hereditary’ and ‘Midsommar’.
Finally, there is also the emotional aspect in J-horror where they tend to explore the backstory of the spirits and explain the reason of their grief and vengeful attitude and this makes us empathize with them and sometimes actually root for the spirit to win. With western horror, they don’t always include a backstory for their antagonist and even if there was, it usually is a backstory that doesn’t allow for much empathy for them. Most J-horror features more complexity, emotion, empathy, fear, psychological twists, and more thought put into the backstory of the ghosts.
In conclusion, J-horror does so well internationally is due to all these contrasting features in the movie. But that does not mean that Western horror is bad, there are some true gems hidden in their wide array of movies. Horror directors need to know that sometimes jump scares are not the answer to scaring an audience but the atmosphere and music, and also the camerawork but most importantly the execution of the plot. It does not matter if the plot sounds far fetched as long as the director is able to execute the idea coherently and steadily in their movie while keeping in mind the best elements of horror to use to scare the audience : sometime’s the simpler the better.