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Jap Unease

The recent trend in Japanese horror ...

Japanese cinema was once synonymous with monster movies such as their favourite, Godzilla (and all it's many sequels) and the likes of Destroy all Monsters, in the 50s.  It also gave us the weird, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, the story being about some bloke who lives in a place of twisted metal, drives a long iron screw into his leg (as you do) and as the film progresses gradually becomes a machine.  This was back in 1988, but then with the release of the American version of Ring (The Ring) interest was re-awakened in Japanese movies, especially of the horror variety.

You should be familiar wit the story of Ring or The Ring.  A videotape is being circulated and if you watch it you receive a phone call and then die seven days later to the day.  Made in 1998, there was a few sequels, including Ring2, and of course the American version, and even a TV series!

This is not the only Japanese horror movie to receive much attention, although it might be the one that everyone knows about (if not just because of the American version) There's a whole bunch of spooky, nasty, and usually highly original Japanese horror flicks to be viewed:  Bio Zombie, Freeze MeThe Eye (something of a Jap version of The Sixth Sense) Audition (pretty gruesome and bloody!) Battle Royale (school kids fight to the death on an island and there can be only one winner - imagine a reality TV show based on that!)  There are equally nasty animations such as Perfect Blue, imagine if Dario Argento had made an animated feature, this isn't that far removed from what that result might be!  There doesn't seem to be any let up either, as recently they came up with Dark Water, a film reminiscent of Ring in a lot of ways but none the less effective for that.

Now let's take a look at three very different Japanese horror movies to show just how diverse and original they are ... 

Ring 1998 Dir: Hideo Nakata With: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yuko Takeuchi

An urban legend is going around amongst Japanese teens concerning a cursed videotape.  It shows a strange woman and a series of relatively unconnected scenes.  If anyone watches the tape, immediately after they receive a telephone call, which tells them that, theyll die exactly one week later.

Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) is a television journalist working on a story about the legend; her investigations uncover a series of deaths.  Her break in the story comes, tragically, when her young niece Tomoko (Yuko Takeuchi) dies unexpectedly, and at the funeral she finds out from the girl's friends that several others who spent a trip with her, died the same night, from no apparent cause.  The rumour being that they all viewed the cursed tape while on the trip and that it was responsible.

She checks out the place they stayed and she chances on the tape they watched, and of course she watches it, and low and behold if the phone doesn't ring immediately after she's done so!

Now, believing that there might be something in the myth, her investigation takes on urgency; a race against time, as she desperately tries to put together the clues provided by what is on the tape.  Her college professor ex-husband Ryuji Takayama (Henry Sanada) assists her, they become even more desperate to solve its mystery when their young son Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka) sees the tape as well (and this is not a film that all the family should watch!)

The pair discover that the images where filmed in Indonesia and set off to learn more, but after gaining some leads, and discovering who the mysterious woman in the film is, a storm rages and they fear they wont' make it in time to save themselves and their son.

The rest of the story concerns the dead daughter of the woman in the video, who's remains they must recover from a well - they figure - to stop the curse. The scene where the pair are emptying the well of water with buckets as it grows darker and darker outside, and the clock is ticking steadily to the time when it is exactly a week later to the minute when Reiko watched the tape, is very eerie and suspenseful.

The film was based on a story by Koji Suzuki, and was first adapted in 1995 as a TV movie, which proved so popular that it was released in cinemas; this theatrical version was made two years later.

Audition 1999 Dir: Takashi Miike With: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura

Audition has probably the most unexpected, bloody ending of any of the films, reminiscent of Misery, but much worse! 

Seven years after the death of his wife, Aoyama (Ishibashi) decides to start dating again, encouraged by his son, in the hope that he may find a new wife.  Not quite knowing how to go about this, a movie producer friend helps him arrange a fake movie audition so he can meet 30 different women.  He is taken by one of their photos and information she supplies about herself, and at the audition he is quite besotted with this lovely young thing.  Her name is Asami, and he immediately falls head over heels with her.  He phones her to meet him for dinner and she agrees and they hit it off.

At the beginning this film seems like a sentimental, romance, with this older man wooing this younger woman.  Further along however, after this slow and uneventful beginning, things suddenly get weird!  While he's on the phone to her one night we witness something in the room behind Asami, something tied up in a large sack, making a noise like some kind of animal!

From here on in the film gets weirder and weirder, Aoyama goes away for the weekend with Asami, they stay at a hotel.  Next morning she has vanished however.

He searches for her, but at the ballet school she used to attend as a girl, he meets a man in a wheelchair who is unable to stand without difficulty, and we see that his feet are fixed to wooden boards!  Aoyama is disturbed by the mans behaviour and the things he says about Asami.  He also visits The Stone Fish, the bar where Asami said she worked, and he discovers that the bar was closed over a year ago when the owner was murdered. He learns from a man that the owner was cut to pieces, and that the strange thing was that they found more fingers than they should have done when they recovered the body, and an extra tongue (yikes!)  At this point you become convinced you are watching a ghost story.  However, nothing can prepare you for the shocking ending.

Perfect Blue 1997 Dir: Satoshi Kon

You may not think that animation could be disturbing or uneasy, but then you probably haven't seen any Japanese anime!  One good example is Perfect Blue made in 1997.  Pop idol Mima Kirigoe, who is part of a successful pop trio called Cham, decides to leave the group to pursue an acting career.

A fan letter given to her after her last show reveals the existence of a Website called: Mima's Room, and suggesting that she take a look at it.

Next, on her first day of shooting at the TV studio where she has a bit part in a drama called Double Blind, she receives another letter which explodes, fortunately one of her agents opens it and only receives a minor injury to his hand.

Her role in the TV show is that of a stripper, which eventually develops into leading role.  Some of the things she has to do to maintain her newfound stardom are entirely different her former profession as a sugar-sweet singer, and she has to film a traumatic gang rape scene.

Prior to filming this difficult scene she sees the reflection of her former self in the window on the train.  'I absolutely refuse to do it,' her reflection tells her.

After filming the scene, she arrives home to find her pet fish dead in their tank and she becomes upset, as she is sobbing on her bed, her former pop idol image makes another appearance in the mirror.

Next the writer of the TV show gets his eyes gouged out and is killed (do you get the impression that someone is a bit miffed at Mima's career change?)

Now she does a photo shoot in which she strips right down and has some full frontal adult photos taken of her.  Her pop image continues to appear to her and as she moves further away from that former innocent image, more and more of the people around her are murdered by the killer.  Mima is also becoming increasingly worried about the Website that has a diary which describes every intimate detail of what she's been doing each day to the letter.


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