The Japanese horror fandom is no stranger to Shiraishi Koji's films. However, not many people know the director himself. Several fans wouldn't be able to put his name to his ghoulish films despite him being named one of the top renowned Japanese horror directors of the modern era. After watching a number of his films, I wanted to recap some of his best, showcase his art and broadcast his hard work and talent.
He's considered as one of the iconic Japanese horror directors who have helped put J-horror on the map around the world, started an almost cult following of a fandom and helped spark the West to take inspiration from the genre.
New to Japanese horror and looking for some films to watch? Just here to discuss his films or learn more about him? Ghouls, ghosts and gore, that's Koji's forte; join me in a small journey through some of my favourite works from a director who handles horror with an enviable panache and some of his films that are classed as fandom favourites.
Note: Clicking on a film's poster will take you to the information page. Please note this is horror, so not all trailers are SFW; please watch with caution.
Name: Shiraishi Koji (白石晃士)
Born and raised in the Fukuoka Prefecture of Japan, Shiraishi Koji is a director, screenwriter, cinematographer and an occasional actor. After graduating from the Kyushu Sangyo University with a degree in filmmaking, Koji went on to be an assistant director on some films; notably, Ishii Gakuryuu's August in the Water and Yaguchi Shinobu's Waterboys.
He has cited Gakuryuu as his favourite Japanese director, and his 1980 film Crazy Thunder Road as his film favourite. He admires other directors such as John Carpenter, Brian de Palma, Abbas Kiarostami and Sam Raimi.
Koji's film Grotesque was banned from being shown and sold in England due to its high gore and violence content - Koji stated in an interview with 3:AM Magazine that this made him sad, but still happy that his film had the power to cause controversy.
NOROI: THE CURSE (2005)
Potentially Koji's most well-known film, Noroi: The Curse is a found-footage/mockumentary horror film.
A documentary filmmaker follows a set of apparently unrelated paranormal incidents whose only connection seem to be the legend of an ancient demon named the kagutaba.
Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Release Date: August 20, 2005
Average Rating: 7.4/10 from 324 users
Rating: Not Yet Rated
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Mystery, Psychological
Opinion: The found footage sub-genre in Japanese horror most definitely lacks in numbers. In Asian horror as a whole, there are only three prominent found footage movies; when I heard about Noroi, it was an immediate must-watch for me. I very eagerly went into this, settled back and binged on my first Shiraishi Koji film for the next two hours.
I'll be honest; I wasn't as impressed with this as I probably could have been - this was very built up to me, advertised as one of the best J-horrors I will ever see so that probably stunted my enjoyment to a degree. That being said, this is a perfect, excellent film. This is spooky, it's unnerving, it made me jump, and it made me paranoid when I was finished. It's a well-rounded horror, a pretty different take on supernatural horror - and a new take on found footage - which I adored.
As much as I didn't thoroughly enjoy this as much as I would have liked, Noroi has a special place in my heart for the way Koji took it, making it stand out against the crowd.
Personal Rating: 7.5/10
TEKE TEKE (2009)
Run Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Release Date: March 21, 2009
Average Rating: 6.4/10 from 160 users
Rating: Not Yet Rated
Genre: Horror, Urban Legend, Slasher
The upper torso of a female claws her way around Japan searching for her lower half. The person's lower half was severed in a train accident in Hokkaido. Anyone that hears of this story will see Teke-Teke's lower half wandering around the countryside within three days.
Opinion: I'm gonna be honest, I really don't like this film. In fact, you can read my full personal opinion on Teke Teke and its sequel in my Hit or Miss?: Teke Teke article.
However, since it seems to be a relative J-horror fan favourite, I thought it at least deserved mentioning and discussing and putting the distaste aside.
While this film isn't the best, you can see the amount of love that Koji put into this series. If it weren't for the few things that severely put me off, I would have loved this. It just needs tightening around the edges, rounded up and polished off and this would have been a much better movie - so it's not inherently terrible. The solidness of the film is there, just... not as solid as it could be. As someone who's now seen over 400 horror films, it wasn't fun to sit through this, even trying to watch it as a horror-comedy, but I do know a great horror lover that does have a soft spot for this film.
You either love or hate this one, I guess, or hate it or give it a somewhat high average, but I mostly leave this one up to your own viewing experience to decide on.
Personal Rating: 4/10
Legend holds that 30 years ago, a suburban town was terrorized by the spirit of a woman whose horrid face had been grotesquely disfigured. Roaming the streets wearing a long coat and carrying giant scissors, the spirit would approach her young victims and, while removing the mask, ask if she was pretty. The victim's response would almost always lead to their violent death. Now, one by one, children are disappearing again.
Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Release Date: March 17, 2007
Average Rating: 6.5/10 from 429 users
Rating: Not Yet Rated
Genre: Horror, Urban Legend, Slasher
Opinion: This one isn't one of the higher-rated films of Koji's but Kuchisake-onna and its sequel The Scissors Massacre (different director) hold an extraordinary place in my heart. Unlike in Teke Teke where I felt like Koji didn't make the film unique enough, this one holds its own as unique and its own creation within the urban legend sub-genre.
This is a small piece of art in the horror genre; the ending was very different, the tone was strong through the film and the emotions that Koji wanted us to feel shone through to affect the viewer as he so deemed. This film and its series have remained a favourite of mine for a long time, and I don't see anything knocking it out of that level.
With a level of beauty for the film it is, I definitely recommend trying Kuchisake-onna out the next time you're looking to curl up under the covers with a horror. You can read my fully detailed opinion on both films in the series in my Hit or Miss?: Kuchisake-onna article!
Personal Rating: 8/10
SADAKO VS KAYAKO (2016)
Run Time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Release Date: June 18, 2016
Average Rating: 6.4/10 from 219 users
Rating: G - All Ages
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Curse
Yuri, a female university student, sees a video of Sadako calling her and saying that she would surely die two days later. Suzuka, a high school girl, steps into a house haunted by a ghost called Kayako. It is said that the house makes people disappear when they enter it. Kyozo, a medium, tries to save Yuri and Suzuka who were cursed. He comes up with a secret plan to make Sadako and Kayako fight against each other.
Opinion: I can't not include Sadako vs Kayako after having the article photo as Koji being a goof at the premiere. Bringing together Sadako from The Ring and Kayako from The Grudge this film brings us a Freddy vs Jason battle of the two ghosts that have terrified Japanese audiences since the nineties.
Maybe a cliche, perhaps both franchises are just doing their best to money grab, maybe everyone genuinely wanted this.
I didn't want this, at first. Then I wanted to watch The Grudge series in full, and this was the last film I had to watch. I loved this.
Okay, it's pretty cliche, somewhat cringe and a bit overexposed, but it's just great. It's comedic almost - it's somewhat bad horror, horror taken too seriously when it should have been taken with a grain of salt, but it pays off with some laughs. With mostly decent CGI and some pretty decent acting by those involved, this was a brilliant film to round the series off with.
Don't expect too much of a serious film going into this - have a laugh with it, enjoy it for what it is, and your enjoyment will go up much more. Alternatively, this is also pretty scary considering how long both series have been going for. An all-rounder and with a way to be viewed by everyone in a way they'll enjoy, definitely one of my 'guilty' pleasures. (
I don't feel guilty at all)
Personal Rating: 6/10
Three female idols appear on a television show to investigate an exorcism. An exorcist with psychic powers named Unsui claims that the show’s subjects, the Kaneda family, are cursed by a demon that’s too powerful for him to banish on his own, so he calls in a fellow exorcist to help. Soon, a reckless ghost hunter enters the fray as the three idols witness a series of terrifying events.
Run Time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Release Date: July 20, 2013
Average Rating: 6.0/10 from 83 users
Rating: Not Yet Rated
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Demon
Opinion: I just love a good mockumentary. I love when they're serious - like Noroi - and I love when they're serious but with a side of comedy, like CULT. While this is a good film, and its horror is well done, do go into this remembering there's a casual side of humour here, with some ridiculous looking demons.
CULT is brilliant at building up tension, making the viewer uneasy before an almost relieving moment of a somewhat ridiculous looking monster that still makes the skin crawl a little. I was uneasy, I was paranoid while watching this, and I kept jumping at the slightest of noises.
I did have my doubts about this at first - the majority of the main cast is an idol in some form. The main three actresses are all actresses playing themselves (Iwasa Mayuko; Iriki Mari; Abiru Yu), and Mr. Neo is played by Miura Ryosuke, a singer in J-pop boy group PureBoys.
Usually, horror featuring idols isn't all too good - it's usually quite censored and formatted to show the idols as cute as possible for the fans, rather than being a horror film in format.
Koji doesn't do this; although there are a few times obviously presented to have the idols look good and make fans happy, it's not coherent throughout the film and doesn't break the illusion in a way that ruins the film. For a horror that features mostly idols, this is done extremely well, and it's something that I would heavily enjoy watching it again.
You can see PureBoys' most recent music video here.
Personal Rating: 7.5/10
IMPOSSIBILITY DEFENSE (2018)
Run Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Usobuki Tadashi is a mysterious man in a black suit who will perform without fail a request to have someone killed. His targets unequivocally die from illness, suicide, accident, etc., but there is never proof of murder. The investigation is proving difficult, and the police detectives are being led around by Usobuki's power to manipulate people. However, a female detective, Tada Tomoko, seems to be the only one Usobuki is unable to command.
I did not know what to expect when I sat back to watch Impossibility Defense. It's adapted from a manga, which usually means, I'm looking at a bad two hours ahead of me or at least a very mediocre time frame. On top of that, I don't usually like films like this in general; normally there are too many plots going on or too much to follow or, sometimes, even too little going on.
This film surprised me greatly. I found myself very into it, very on edge, eyes wide and trying to figure out what was going on – in a good way. Matsuzaka Tori's role as Usobuki Tadashi/Man in Black Suit was wonderfully creepy and unnerving which left me with chills multiple times; Sawajiri Erika as Tomoko Tada created the term "strong female lead" and I was absolutely enamoured with both of them. After watching this, I want to go on to watch everything both of them have done. All three main leads (with Mackenyu playing Asao Momose) were cast perfectly and watching them bring this universe to life was just mind-blowing.
A solid mystery film that I would gladly watch again in the future - definitely give Impossibility Defense a try when you get a chance.
Personal Rating: 9/10
Teketeke 2 - The second in the Teke Teke franchise, also directed by Koji, further explores the legend of the teke teke.
I'm not responsible if you don't like this one (rating: 2/10)
Occult - I love this one, but similar in ways to CULT. Shiraishi Koji is curious about an attack and murder at a sightseeing resort. He goes behind the camera to investigate.
Ju-Rei: The Uncanny - I wasn't too big of a fan of this one, but it's a lovely look into where Koji started, and how he's adapted in his works. I recommend trying this one first, if possible.
So what do you think?
What do you think of Koji - or his works?
Is there another horror director you'd like a closer look at? Let me know!
Are you interested in more Japanese horror directors?
Takashi Miike Guide
All film data and Shiraishi Koji's films were updated for this article and are as accurate as can be at the time of submission. Ratings were accurate at the time of submission.