Twenty years ago, people packed theaters to watch a couple of Japanese teenagers view a strange videotape and soon after receive an ominous phone call with a cryptic message: "Seven days."

Hideo Nakata's 1998 film "Ringu" (known as "The Ring" overseas) was just one of a number of films — Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Cure" (1997), Takashi Miike's "Audition" (1999), Takashi Shimizu's "Ju-on: The Grudge" (2002) — that brought terror to cinemas around the world under the label of "J-horror" around the turn of the century.

Unlike the horror flicks of Hollywood, with their voracious zombies and inhuman serial killers, J-horror was typically populated by vengeful female ghosts who would attack their victims with single-minded implacability. The roots of such characters lay in kaidan, ghost stories from Japan's past.