The foundations of any culture in the world can be traced back to their folk tales. Passed down for generations, these stories are eerie tales that contain supernatural elements that help inform society of what is valued, how we should live life, and what we should fear. Rich history and constant retelling have always affected all future storytellers in subtle and significant ways, making original inspiration essential to understanding any culture.

A culture that is one of the most unique and rich in storytelling is the great nation of Japan. The island nation has always been a pioneer in the arts which the world has taken notice of a lot, and this couldn’t be more true than in their cinema. With such a rich culture and wealth of cinematic genius, many of Japan’s great films have tackled their distinctive folk tales, resulting in some of the most amazing films ever made. Here are 10 of the most incredible films about Japanese folk tales.

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The Mad Fox (1962)

Toei Kyoto

Many legends and tales tend to be tragic love stories of doomed lovers. They sometimes have messages warning listeners of what to be wary of, but more often than not they just seek to make you feel a bit tragic. Tomo Uchida Crazy fox is one of those stories that are more concerned with delving into the self-destructive nature of love, with not much to teach about it.

The film tells the tragic story of a man destroyed by obsessive love, and it’s sad to watch. Adapted from bunraku, a special kind of Japanese puppetry, it draws on this influence as well as traditional kabuki theater beautifully for a lifelike theatrical viewing experience. It’s a feast for the eyes that will leave viewers devastated at the repercussions.

Throne of Blood (1957)

Toshiro Mifune as Samurai Macbeth in Throne of Blood

The great William Shakespeare is an artist whose stories get re-told more than any other, with storytellers from around the world offering their own reimagined take on his classic tales. One of those artists who made many adaptations of Shakespeare’s work several times was none other than the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Among his many great adaptations, one of his strongest works is the classic samurai story Macbeth with blood throne.

It’s a movie whose plot you probably already know if you’ve ever seen a screening of it Macbeth. This is another masterfully told tale of corruption and evil except with the added measure of Kurosawa’s genius with him masterfully blending it into the samurai epic. It makes for a very dark film that feels as if it was always a popular folk tale originating from Japan, with its ending among Kurosawa’s best.

Related: Kurosawa’s relationship to modern cinema, and why he’s so influential

Ino Oh (2021)

Eno Oh-1
Your name is Ace

One of the most exciting and talented artists in Japan, Masaaki Yuasa is an animator who seems to do everything he can to never repeat himself. His latest work continues to showcase his penchant for reinvention with Ino Oha whimsical reimagining of the Japanese folktale as a rock opera that is sure to shock and delight viewers from all walks of life.

It tells the story of a blind biwa player who encounters a disfigured Noh dancer. The two become fast friends and work together to reinvent time shows from their traditional form into a new and exciting experience that is quickly loved by all people across Japan. It’s just as bizarre as any of Yuasa’s other projects, but it might be even more shocking for a mid-film shift that comes out of nowhere, which is what sets it apart the most.

Koroniko (1968)

Koroniko 1968

Creepy tales of vengeful spirits are common and potent in many cultures, and Japan has some of the best. Across its wide range of fine art forms, Japan has many stories of wronged men and women who sought justice by supernatural means. This is also true in cinema and is best illustrated by Kaneto Shindo’s unsettling ghost story Koroniko.

Shindou tells the tale of two women who suffered great ordeal at the hands of a traveling gang of samurai that led to their deaths. When samurai begin dying with their throats slashed near where the women died, a war hero who unknowingly has personal ties to the ghost is sent to solve the problem. It’s an expertly crafted film that uses black-and-white cinematography to great effect, with several disturbing apparitions that unnerve even the most intrepid of viewers.

Hell’s Gate (1953)

Hell Gate
Daiei Studios

Not all folk tales have to be supernatural, as much as they need a certain feel to them. This feeling can best be described as timeless, as these stories are from another time and place while still being relevant to modern audiences. One such film that lacks a supernatural edge yet still feels like a story passed through time is Teinosuke Kinugasa. Hell Gate.

The film is about a brave samurai who rescues a beautiful young woman and quickly falls in love with her. When he is offered a reward for saving the woman, he asks for her hand in marriage, but is denied due to her already being married, yet he persists, which eventually leads to a murderous obsession with her. It’s a tale-like story that’s one of the first color films ever to come out of Japan, and that comes strong with one of the most vibrant films ever developed, making it feel like a fairy tale or a dream. A beautiful yet tragic story about misplaced love.

Related: 12 Movies With The Most Incredible Color Palettes

Onbaba (1964)

Onibaba by Kaneto Shindo

The nature of folk tales is proportional to metaphor and symbolism. By being stories with supernatural elements intended to teach audiences about life and the world, each aspect can mean something more than just what it is. Rich in secondary meanings expressed in miraculous means, the film is yet another troubling story from Koroniko Director Kaneto Shindo with Unbaba.

It is a famous Japanese horror movie that revolves around two women, an old mother and her youngest daughter-in-law, who survive the harsh conditions of war by killing samurai who roam their swamp. The delicate balance of their lives is threatened when a friend of the young woman’s husband returns, alienating her from her mother-in-law, causing her to use unorthodox means to prevent him from leaving her. It’s a tough, desperate film that offers a wealth of alternative reading, making it a beloved classic even today.

House (1977)

House 1977

Although many folk tales tend to take place in the distant past, that doesn’t mean you can’t fuse them with more modern times and meanings. That’s exactly what director Nobuhiko Obayashi did with this exceptionally insane horror classic a houseA movie about seven girls who go on summer vacation to a haunted house that kills each one of them in increasingly absurd ways.

The film is a bold metaphor for teenage ignorance and the lasting effects of wartime tragedies that Obayashi expresses with a uniquely candy-colored sheen of madness infused with insights from Japanese folklore. Magical cats, young-devouring witches, and blood-soaked rooms abound for a more modern and highly entertaining folk tale. It is an unforgettable experience that is likely not to be repeated.

Zeal Away (2001)

Spirited Away 2001 (1)
Toho Co., Ltd.

Few movies are as beautiful or as delightful as those made by the great Hayao Miyazaki. With stunning animation and imaginative stories, his films made with the Studio Ghibli team are some of the finest animated films in the world. Although each film has its own individual merits of greatness, the one that many consider his finest work is the one without equal. kidnapped.

It’s the poignant story of a young girl who was cursed to work in a bathhouse in order for wandering spirits to win not only her freedom but her parents’ as well. Every moment and character is unforgettable, which makes it a super if perfect movie for both adults and kids in how it delivers a story that can be understood on multiple levels. The greatest testament to the power of animation that deserves to be ranked among the best ever.

Ugetsu (1953)

Masayuki Mori and Machiko Kyo as Genjuro and Lady Wakasa as Ugetsu
Distributed by Daiei Film

Kenji Mizoguchi’s wonderful ghost story Ujitsu It is a true masterpiece of the movie. It is the story of two men who leave their families in order to gain fame and fortune from the ensuing war, and the terrible price they pay for that choice. A beloved work of art adored by many great filmmakers, Martin Scorsese and Ari Aster are two big fans of the film.

What makes it so exceptional is the way it weaves the supernatural with reality for a story that somehow manages to capture both transcendent and grounded emotion. It all serves the deeper themes Mizoguchi articulates in the film—treason and the way greed blinds us to the most important. A movie that is sure to amaze and move movie fans the world over.

Quidan (1964)


Masakai Kobayashi’s film best captures the full range of Japanese folktales Quidan. The horror film anthology is a selection of stories adapted from a popular collection of traditional Japanese ghost stories. Each is expressed in an artistic pinnacle that combines multiple styles of Japanese art and aesthetics to deliver an unparalleled cinematic experience.

While it’s a horror movie, every story doesn’t have anything that jumps out and shakes viewers with screams. Instead, Kobayashi tells each story with a subtle grace that always seeks to destabilize rather than outright horror, which is an apt target for a ghost story. It is a haunting epic that envelops viewers in a web of fear that won’t soon leave them in this stunning masterpiece that is one of Japan’s greatest cinematic masterpieces.


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