Tuesday 30 October 2012

World Cinema; Is Japanese Horror The Best?

Japan has a long history of disturbing and influential horror films, ever since the release of silent film 'A Page of Madness' back in 1926. I was lucky enough to see this innovative film at university but for the majority of film fans, it is the more recent horrors that have catapulted Japan to the forefront of terrifying world cinema. The past decade has seen the most popular of these films copied and parodied to a ridiculous extent so I think it is worth taking a look back at the originals, to see what makes them classics of the genre. In this post, I have chosen my three favourite Japanese horror films to try and determine whether Japanese horror really is the best. Obviously, not every fan favourite could make it onto such a short list so some popular releases like 'The Grudge' and 'Pulse' might be notably absent to some. My apologies. But let's see if you agree with my three choices...

Ring (1998)

Where do I begin?! With this one film, Hideo Nakata completely altered the way that we perceive horror in the West, drawing on the supernatural traditions of Japan's past to create one of the definitive ghost films. 'Ring' opens with a shocking beginning that freaked me out when I watched this film on my own... at 2 in the morning... in the dark (why did I do that!?) and its a scene I'll never forget. The premise is simple and yet extremely effective; people who watch a surreal video tape (old school right?) receive a phone call that contains a warning, 'seven days', and when their time is up, each person is found dead and disfigured. The pace slows somewhat after the opening but keeps you gripped as the mystery unravels. This is the film that put Japanese horror on the map and while it has spawned countless sequels, remakes and 'hilarious' parodies, the original is still one of the most chilling stories ever put to film.
Scariest Moment: 'Ring' is full to the brim with terrifying set pieces but for my scariest moment, I would have to choose that CLASSIC scene at the end, where the ghost crawls out of the well, towards the viewer, and then just keeps on coming, right through the TV. It sounds corny when described but the fact that she is actually crawling towards you, through a TV, when you're also watching her ON TV makes you almost believe that she really could come out and get you. Sure I'm sick to death of seeing little Japanese ghost girls with long black hair now but this film still has the power to scare the crap out of you. Trust me.

Dark Water (2002)

Now this is an interesting one. 'Dark Water' was also directed by Hideo Nakata and served as his follow-up to 'Ring' and the two films were both based on short stories by the author Koji Suzuki, yet 'Dark Water' is a very different kind of ghost story. While 'Ring's' main aim was to terrify beyond belief, 'Dark Water' is a quieter film, with chilling moments but a slower pace throughout. The story revolves around a mother and her child who have just moved into a new apartment block in the midst of a difficult divorce. Of course, bizarre events begin to occur, with lifts going up and down by themselves and freaky Hello Kitty bags appearing out of nowhere and it soon transpires that there is a supernatural cause for these occurences. If you hadn't guessed already, water also plays a big part in this. While 'Dark Water' is one of the more famous Japanese horrors to have been remade poorly in the West, the original has divided many horror fans, with some deriding its slow pace and others applauding the atmospheric build-up of events. While it is certainly no match for 'Ring', I would still definitely recommend 'Dark Water' for its skilled direction and heartfelt drama. Just make sure you don't leave the taps on next time you go the bathroom... 

Scariest Moment: The relationship between the mother, Yoshimi, and her daughter Ikuko is quite touching, which makes my freakiest scene all the more horrendous. Towards the end, Yoshimi carries her daughter to escape the ghost that is pursuing them but when she turns around to see that it is actually Ikuko chasing her, a horrible realisation dawns as you discover that Yoshimi has not been carrying her daughter after all, but someone else entirely. That was definitely the most chilling moment for me!

Audition (1999)

Takashi Miike is probably the most disturbed person to ever work in cinema. Croneberg is the Walt Disney of horror in comparison and yet because Miike has directed SO many films, not all of them are exactly winners. However, every now and again, Miike strikes gold, melding an interesting plot with his usual brand of perverse and messed up cinema. 'Audition' is arguably Miike's most famous film and it is all down to one of the most horrific endings I have ever seen in cinema. The basic premise sees a lonely widower, Aoyama, hold auditions for a fake film in order to meet a woman who he can strike up a relationship with. For anyone out there who actually thinks that could be a good idea, please watch this film now. As you might expect, Aoyama is happy at first, meeting a beautiful woman called Yamazaki who seems to take a real interest in him but things don't go to plan... I've read in the past that Miike deliberately made the first half of the film dull, solely to lower audience expectations so that viewers would be even more shocked and appalled when the plot veers into more disturbing territory. Despite this, I think 'Audition' is a must see for any fan of horror, if only to show respect to a filmmaker so brave and off his head! You may not want to watch it more than once but 'Audition' is a film that must be experienced firsthand to truly understand the controversy. 

Scariest Moment: It would be easy to pick out any moment from the final scenes of torture, which are almost unbearable to watch, but for me, the creepiest moment arrives much earlier. Yamazaki is sat in her almost empty apartment, by the phone, waiting for the widower to call back. In the background, there is a sack but the viewer can't see what's inside it. Then, just when you least expect it, the sack begins to move on its own. The torture scenes towards the finale are more famous for their nauseating body horror but it's the sack scene that stayed with me for longer. Messed. Up.  

So what do you think? Does Japan produce the best horror films? And do my picks represent the best of what Japanese horror has to offer? Let me know your thoughts and remember to like and share. Thanks!

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