Prenote: This was written by myself and was used in one of my lessons. Please enjoy.
This investigation will look at Japanese media, specifically Japanese horror films and how the Western film industry has responded to the rise of Japanese horror. To begin with, I will look into how Asian cinema has been influential worldwide and how Western cinema has also influenced Asian Cinema. For this investigation I will look at various articles in magazines and on the internet, and theories and speculations from books as well as films and their remake counterparts. In particular I will focus on films such as Ju-On: The Grudge (Takashi Shimizu, 2003) Ring (Hideo Nakata, 1998) and The Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982). I will also look at these films as referenced in popular culture. From this I expect to find that Asian cinema has a large influence worldwide upon the film industry.
Japanese horror, often referred to as J-Horror, stems from the Edo and Meiji periods and often focuses on old folk religion such as possession, Yokai, Precognition, shamanism and exorcism. (J-Horror, Wikipedia, 2008.) Many Japanese films, for example Ring, focused on Yurei, Japanese ghosts who have been bound to the physical world though strong emotions which don’t allow them to pass on. The particular type of Yurei depends upon the emotions. The most common to J-horror is Onryo, a Yurei bound by the desire of vengeance.
To demonstrate the difference with Asian audiences and Western audiences, I want to consider the film Kill Bill (Quentin Tarentino, 2006) In America, some scenes were shown in greyscale to tone down the violence; however, in the Japanese version, even the most violent and gruesome scenes were left in full colour with more emphasis on blood and violence. This establishes the idea that that Asian viewers may be less sensitive to violence and gruesome details as though they have been inoculated to violence over the years that cinematic horror has existed in East Asia.
Japanese Graphical Novels commonly referred to as Manga have always had this misconception in western society that the novels are all fantasy and sci-fi and have a heavy focus on sexual and violent themes and this is not true. Manga does covers a variety of genres including horror, romance, action, thriller, mystery, sexuality, science fiction and many more with many of these novels being aimed at children which do not include sexual themes (Gravett, 2004, p8). However a number of these manga books from Japan do focus on quite sexual themes. These are marketed at older men and sometime referred to as Seijin Manga or adult manga (Perper, 2002, V6, N1). The extremeness of some manga novels are beyond the imagination and a key example of this is Battle Royale (Koushun Takami, 2000). Although the graphic novel is an adaptation of the original Japanese novel Battle Royale (Koushun Takami, 1999) and follows the story line of the original we see more gruesome violence and themes of an explicit sexual nature. This is evident in the page where a female who has had a mentally damaging past due to a sexually abusive father is seen not only befriending two male characters but killing one of those male characters by violently stabbing him in his head but also simultaneously forcing sexual engagement to the guy who has just been fatally injured, all part of her plan to win the ‘game’. All of this in the story was seen as a reality TV show, as oppose to the government act which was the cause in the novel and film, and as the female character walks away after the murder she questions how many people would of seen her naked and states that she must now be famous (Takami, 2000, Volume 8, all pages).
Another form of media which has become popular in Japan is anime. These animations usually appear as films or TV series and have become famous in most of Asia and the West. One famous horror anime series is called Higurashi No Naku koro ni (Chiaki, 2006). A quite popular scene is the beginning of episode five. What is interesting about this scene, which involved a girl repeatedly stabbing herself in the head whilst another girl laughed evilly at her, in the Japanese version you saw the penetration of the skull with the knife, however in the English version the stabbing was censored and only implied by a small amount of blood falling to the floor. However, what is more disturbing in the genre of anime horror is the negative associations to the word Otaku used to reference fans of anime. The word took its most negative associations after the killing of four little girls in Tokyo 1989. Upon seizing the house, the killer’s interest in anime devoted to horror and little-girl themes became apparent (McRoy, 2005, p70).
Japanese Horror directors use the theory of Inoculation to their advantage to get what they want out of the audiences. McRoy (2005, p107) quotes Sato Hisayasu as saying that his aim is to compel the audience to the extreme of committing murder. In Jay McRoy’s writing on Cultural Transformation, he argues that Sato’s dream of an audience that is influenced to the extreme of murder is clearly seen in the film ‘Naked Blood’(Hisayasu Sato, 1996). The plot follows a scientific genius who creates the ultimate pain killer. To test the pain killer, he gives it to three oblivious girls, one whose greatest pleasure is beauty, one whose greatest pleasure is food, and an insomniac girl who hasn’t slept since the fifth grade. The scientific genius falls in love with the insomniac girl, the plot eventually approaching a violent end. Controversial in both Japan and the west it is said that Sato is questioning the censorship of Japan and the cinematic traditions (McRoy, 2005, p110).
There are many differences between the original Japanese horrors and American remakes: one noted quite often is the complexity in which the films are presented.
‘American horror usually tries to explain itself so that we know why some evil creature is doing what it’s doing.’ (The Grudge, Beth Accomando)
What this is trying to explain is that the American movies tend to be self-explanatory and simple. They don’t tend to bend rules or have many hidden meanings. However, Japanese horror can be a lot more complex with many hidden meanings. Sometimes rules are broken and logic is totally defied and you have to learn to see it as logical in the eyes of others. ‘In Japanese horror, 2+2 can equal 5, and you’re just asked to accept it’ (The Grudge, Beth Accomando).
When Ring was released in Japan, it garnered a lot of viewers, making it the highest grossing movie in the country and twenty-three positive reviews out of 24 (http://www.imdb.com/, 19/06/2008). The ‘Ring’ swiftly became one of the most talked about films across Asia. However it wasn’t until American director Gore Verbinski set his eyes on this movie for a Western remake that the Japanese Yurei tales became popular in Western society. Once the remake came out it was almost instantly re-created in popular culture appearing in all forms of media from web-comics to ‘The Rugrats’. (The Ring, http://xkcd.com/396/, 14/03/2008, Accessed 30/06/2008)
The original Japanese Ring saw two sequels, Rasen (Joji Iida 1998) and Ring 2 (Hideo Nakata 1999), as well as a prequel Ring 0: Birthday (Norio Tsuruta 2000). There was also a Korean remake Ring (The Ring Virus Abroad). The international success of the film sparked the revival of horror filmmaking in Japan, resulting in films like Ju-On: The Grudge, Dark Water (Hideo Nakata, 2000) and Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001).
It could also be argued that just the idea of supernatural horror was uncommon in Western society up until Asian cinema bombarded the world with mysterious phantoms ready to play havoc on the world’s subconscious. After the release of Ring, Western society started to become more and more associated with mystery. Regardless of whether it was a phantom or a physical human murderer, they still remained more concealed. For example in Identity (James Mangold, 2003), there was a more hidden feel and psychological horror embedded, linking closely to the Japanese idea of playing with the sub-conscious mind. However, this argument is disproved by the American movies Poltergeist and The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) which were both released prior to the novel Ring (Koji Suzuki, 1991); the author of Ring claimed he got his inspiration from Poltergeist. Nevertheless, an argument can remain that since the release of The Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002), far more Western movies have moved towards mysterious themes. Identity isn’t the only example of this, and other movies carry over even clearer codes and conventions of Asian horror, in particular J-Horror.
Films like Ring have also influenced the creation of films such as the European Feardotcom (William Malone, 2002): ‘Four bodies are found in New York City. Why, why, why? The coincidence? They all died 48 hours after logging on to a site named feardotcom.com’ (http://www.imdb.com, 24/06/2008). The movie brings across traditional J-Horror codes and conventions, this particular example tackling internet technology. (Asian horrors such as Ring tackle VHS, One Missed Call (Takashi Miika, 2003) involves mobile phones, and The Shutter (Wongpoom, 2004) tackling cameras). This film follows the classic codes and conventions of Onryo. A Yurei bound to the earth through vengeance is the J-horror motif in this Western film. A girl dies after being slashed violently (she is haemophiliac). This event is filmed and the video is accessed on the internet by four people who consequently die. Similar motifs are found in Ju-on: The Grudge, Ring and One Missed Call.
US horror has slowly been coming to a standstill which is being revived by Asian cinema.
‘US horror has had no new ideas since the slasher movies of the 1980s’ (Ross, 2002).
Steve Ross is stating that a lot of horror movies being released from Hollywood are starting to get repetitive and predictable. He therefore tries to explain that audiences want to move to something new like Asian horror because they are too familiarised with the US slasher movie style. ‘This process of over-familiarisation could explain why the Asian strain is now so in demand.’ (Ross, 2002)
It could be argued that western horror cinema is following the stages of genre evolution, an idea proposed by Thomas Shatz (Whitehouse, 2008). The genre evolution follows four stages: experimental, classic, refinement and baroque. The experimental stage would be the start of the genre where the film makers and writers experiment with what they can do and we see the rise of films such as the original Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932). We then move into the age of horror cinema where it reaches its peak or equilibrium, which would be the slasher movies, everyone’s watching them and anticipating the next film to be released. However, this then runs dry and horror cinema moves into a stage of refinement. Western cinema starts to look for more influences and therefore Asian cinema is used as a big influence of something new for audiences to watch.
In conclusion it is clear that Japanese mainstream media is much more extreme both in terms of violence and sexual themes. I found that there are many different ways in which Japanese horror has so called influenced audiences and has influenced the film industry internationally but also the influences run both ways. American horrors have influenced Japanese horrors which have been refined to re-influence the American horror industry, The poltergeist being the influence for The Ring. Another refinement stage is then entered by the American’s to create a mass media friendly production, The Ring influencing the USA to create remakes and simplify them for the audience with settings and character that Americans can relate to. This supports Eddie Dick’s triangle (The Media Triangle, Frank Baker) where he states that the text, production and audience all link together and influence each other as well as the meaning of the media text. The audience is also two way, the film industry is responding to the audiences needs for example the American film industry knew that the audience like things to be explained and thus included this in the Asian remakes and Directors such as Sato Hisayasu who have included aims and goals within films such as trying to convince the audience to kill and audience members have supposedly responded to such messages through many mediums such as manga, anime, films etc. and caused incidents, such as the killing of the four young girls in Tokyo.
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Dark Water, Hideo Nakata, 2000
Exorcist, The, William Friedkin, 1973.
Feardotcom, William Malone, 2002.
Grudge, The, Takashi Shimuzu, 2004
Higurashi No Naku koro ni, Chiaki Kon, 2006
Identity, James Mangold, 2003
Ju on: The Grudge, Takashi Shimuzu, 2003
Kill Bill, Quentin Tarentino, 2003
Mummy, The, Karl Freud, 1932
Naked Blood, Sato Hisayasu, 1996
One Missed Cali, Takashi Miika, 2003
Poltergeist, The, Tobe Hooper, 1982
Pulse, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001
Rasen, Joji Iida1998
Ring, Hideo Nakata, 1998
Ring, The, Gore Verbinski, 2002
Ring 0: Birthday, Norio Tsuruta, 2000
Ring 2, Hideo Nakata, 1999
Shutter, The. Parkpoom Wongpoom, 2004
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