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Screens > Couch Trip

Couch Trip

Knoll's A.D.D. guide to J-horror (after Hideo Nakata)

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Published 9/9/2009


Welcome to Asian horror 101. And here're all the things you'll need to make your very own J-horror film (or at least peruse for greater understanding of the genre).

Invent an inescapable curse for your protagonists. Preferably one that involves the murder of a cheating spouse! 

The protagonist must be haunted by pale-faced ghostly versions of the deceased. The pastier the better; hell, pretend the little creep has English pigmentation, even if this means your makeup artist blows your budget on clown-white foundation.

Misogyny rules in horror. So make sure your ghosts are female. Nothing is scarier than a scorned chick, as some old playwright said. An innocent kid works too, if you're in a bind.

Don't fret over stray plot points. That's what straight-to-DVD sequels are for.

OK, so it's easy to rag on myriad Asian horror films that've flooded the U.S. market. But back in '89 when Hideo Nakata's Ringu (later made into The Ring) hit stateside it seemed revolutionary. But now even Nakata recycles his own clichés. His latest, Kaidan isn't a modern tale but rather homage to classic Japanese ghost stories — most notably 1965s Oscar nominated Kwaidan. Japan (Edo period) sets the scene for a doomed romance and marriage between a tobacco salesman (Shinkichi) and an older singing teacher (Toyoshiga). Neither is aware that her father killed his father over a debt 25 years prior, nor of a curse placed upon Toyoshiga's family because of it. Their romance starts all sticky-sweet but the bad family mojo quickly kicks in. Shinkichi cheats and Toyoshiga goes mad with jealousy. On her deathbed, she promises to haunt him to the grave if he remarries. Cue the bad CGI and dig clueless Shinkichi run.  It all plays out slowly, if predictably, and stylishly. Many scenes look like they came from a pop-up book — often gloriously surreal. Sadly, that's not enough to counteract the stale, melodramatic story. Nakata may have written the book on J-horror, but maybe it's time for a revision.

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