Japanese horror is significantly different from American horror in many ways. Typical American horror makes use of quick cuts and snappy editing to create frantic moments of tension or sudden and horrifying occurrences. There is usually a reason for an American haunting that goes beyond the indiscriminate and radioactive anger of a vengeful spirit in a Japanese haunting.

While there is a much more literal aspect to the American horror genre, Japanese horror can be much more psychological and interpretive. Sounds play a major role ranging from grotesque to vaguely sexual, but the source of these noises is elusive at times, forcing the viewer to let their mind wander. Tapestries of woe and torment riddled with blanks that beckon your mind to fill-in with the very things that torment us each as individuals. In theory, two different people could watch a Japanese horror story and get scared for very different reasons.

The Tales of Terror From Tokyo DVD isn’t one full movie, nor is it[break] a set of short stories. Instead, the disc is packed with nothing more than bite-sized moments of discomfort and anxiety. In theory, the short and abrupt nature of each of these vignettes is meant to raise the emotional tension felt by the viewer, but for the most part, these short shorts are hit or miss. Instead of reviewing all 15 segments on the disc, I have chosen 6 of my favorites to talk about which vary from disturbing, to heart warming, to downright weird.

I’ve tried to briefly summarize and/or make heads or tails of each of these shorts. Accompanying each summary is a set of thumbnails which you can click on to view the full version.

The School Excursion
Run Time: 4:59

Two students take a much needed break from the stress of high school at an old hotel. The two girls speak in hushed tones as they have been out past curfew. One of the girls ventures into the restroom alone only to be confronted by a disjointed and possibly decapitated ghost. Screaming for help, the haunting seems to pass and the apparition vanishes…until the girl closes the door of a nearby bathroom stall, revealing the ghostly girl standing right next to her.

This story, if I can call it that, felt more like a cautionary tale told to make children come home on time. There wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy about this vignette but the sound design mixed with the imagery is what saved this story.

Split Warer
Run Time: 4:59

A daughter struggles to cope after the recent passing of her father. On the eve of the anniversary of his death, the mother and daughter decide to celebrate early as she is unable to reschedule at her job. While on the way, both the mother and father briefly encounter the spirit of the father as he walks past them (evidenced by his distinct sneakers). In this instance, the mother comes to the realization that in adopting both the responsibilities of a mother and father, she had forgotten the fundamentals of being a good parent. She apologizes for her harshness towards her daughter and the two resolve to live better lives together.

I honestly didn’t think it was possible to evoke an emotional experience in such a short time span, but I was mistaken. The pacing, music, and acting serve to introduce the characters in such a way that you feel like you’ve known them the entire time. This is easily one of the best “ghost stories” on the disc.

The Backward Suit
Run Time: 4:59

A father and daughter experience the rare joy of that awkward phase in a girl’s life where she despises her parent(s)! The daughter, annoyed with her father’s antics of coming home late drunk (his method of opening up) leads to frequent curt acknowledgments or lack thereof until one day…the father comes home a different route only to discover that his suit has mysteriously been reversed on him. Claiming it was because he walked behind an old school on his way home, the daughter isn’t interested believing this to be some bizarre ploy to pull her into a conversation. However, the daughter walks home that same route and the exact same things happens to her. Looking to her father in confusion, he simply grins an “I told you so” grin.

This was weird. Either mysterious forces were employed to bring this family closer together in the most idiotic way possible, or Japanese ghosts are just real assholes. Either way, this story wasn’t really scary or depressing. Just…WEIRD! Moving on…

Examination Room #3 (Parts 1 and 2)
Run Time: 9:18

A young couple explores the remains of a disused hospital, however the girl wanders off when the boy gets a little too rowdy. The boy, realizing he probably shouldn’t have forgone the foreplay, decides to track down his girlfriend so they can both go home. Upon finding her, the girl appears to be having a conversation with a doctor who isn’t there. After bringing her unconscious body back to her house, the boy is called by her and asked to return to Examination Room 3.

Upon returning to the hospital, the boy follows the vaguely sexual moans and groans that echo down the hall. Tracking down the source, the boy is terrified to discover that the girl has been possessed by some malevolent presence and, unlike her former conservative self, this version of her is much more deviant and promiscuous. In terror, the boy flees. Flashforward to a couple years, the boy and girl pass each other on the streets. She says she still goes to hospital with an almost demonic inflection on that word before turning her back and leaving.

Unlike the previous stories that dealt with ghostly encounters, this one seemed to involve a ghostly possession. The girl clearly wasn’t the same person she was after her visit to the hospital, and for all intents and purposes, the only reason she was ever in that building is because the boy brought her there to “fool around.” This too could be construed as a cautionary tale: kids, it’s much safer to mess around at somebody’s house instead of a haunted building.

Run Time: 4:59

Two sisters reunite after the older of the two has just recently moved into a new apartment. While visiting, the younger sister turns on the television in her sister’s apartment only to discover the ghostly reflections of people standing behind her. When the younger sister attempts to flee, the older sister inquires what’s wrong in a manner suggesting she might be part of the ghostly presence. Unable to speak, the younger sister stares in horror at a dark, ominous blur that approaches in the background.

This one was actually a little bit creepy because I, for one, have had numerous occasions where my eyes have played tricks on me with the mirror. It’s very easy to do when you live alone, especially. Your eyes have a way of associating light and shapes and sometimes they like to fill in the blanks: a strange coat rack or a jacket hanging off your chair might, in a brief instant, look like a person standing behind you in the mirror. There really wasn’t much of a story to speak of in this piece. You have a somewhat established history of envy and rivalry between the two sisters, but it doesn’t really play any major part in the story and all the events in the plot seem to only lead up to one closing shot of a bunch of ghostly reflections in the tv. Unsettling, sure, but there wasn’t really any substance to it.

Waiting Time
Run Time: 4:59

In a rare instance of continuity, this particular short is apparently the third part in loosely associated group of three (so far) vignettes. A business man is cheating on his soon-to-be bride when he is suddenly terrorized by the adolescent manifestation of his fiancee.

To be fair, this seems more like a psychological horror about guilt manifested rather than an actual ghost story. Subconsciously, the man feels guilty for having an affair behind the back of a woman he’s not even married to (yet). However, the case that this is an actual haunting could also be made. For instance, the ghostly little girl is the child version of Rika, the woman that this man is supposed to marry. In an earlier vignette that I didn’t review here, Rika (as an adult; before the wedding) is looking through a journal she kept as a little girl and at the very end she finds an entry she doesn’t remember making. The entry tells her not to marry the man she is betrothed to. In Waiting Time the ghostly little girl is holding that same journal in her hands while she haunts and torments the man for his infidelity.

It’s hard to really get too infuriated or annoyed by some of the vignettes that aren’t so great. This is largely due to the fact that they are usually no more than 5 minutes long. Even if you dislike a certain story, it never overstays its welcome and is gone just as quickly as it arrived. Some of the more enjoyable vignettes are over all too soon for that exact same reason. Tales of Terror isn’t the essential Japanese horror collection that no horror connoisseur can be without, but it’s definitely worth a rental at the very least.