A Horrifying Comeback

Japanese horror films became popular during the 1990s with Takeo Nakata’s The Ring (リング、1998) and Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on (呪怨、2000). Not only were these films visually invigorating and revolutionary for their time, they also directed the audience’s attention to the ignored problem of abused women during the 1980s in Japan. They were interesting because instead of overusing jaded jump-scares, Nakata and Shimizu exploited psychological scares to instill fear about societal dangers.

But if we look at some recent horror films, we find a lack of emphasis on the significance of the content and more of a focus on the use of good-looking models for poor recreations of past successes, an example being Nakata’s latest film Ghost Theater (劇場霊、2014), which did not do well at the box office and received poor reviews.  Likewise Takashi Muike’s Kuime (食い女2014), which was enticingly scary and engaged once again with the issue of abused women in Japan, was ultimately rushed and confusing. Thus I was left asking: have Japanese horror films had their day? The answer, in my opinion, is that they have made an incredible comeback.

Yoshihiro Nakamura’s Inerasable (残穢, 2015) has brought new life to the Japanese horror scene. In the film a novelist referred to as ‘I’ and her helper, Ms. Kubo, work together to learn about past tragedies in order to write a novel. With its frequent use of hors-champ (off screen) eerie audio, prolonged camera shots of slow movement, and first-person visual shots, the film produces real suspense and authentic scares.

Steady shots of Ms. Kubo slowly looking over her shoulder at uncanny noises in the distance instills a natural and analogous feeling with viewers, for humans have an identical response when we fear what we cannot see or comprehend. In addition the director uses a dark and grainy color palette during flashbacks or inside of a house, which is a similar and very successful technique for creating a disturbing atmosphere found in Ju-on

There is also a message imbedded within the film’s plot. Several references to death, murder, suicide, and hate compounded with the theme of construction, develop Nakamura’s allusion that Japanese society is built on these attributes. Society continues to build on top of past tragedies of death and anger, and these negativities become foundational frameworks of Japanese metanarratives. Just as Shimizu subtly provided the audience a warning at the end of Ju-on, Nakamura, too, seems to suggest that Japanese society has been plagued with sadness, death, and anger from the past, and if Japan continues to walk the same path, society will become consumed by this evil. Nakamura’s revolutionary national level of fear in Inerasable has achieved new expectations and for me has restored faith in Japan’s horror film industry. 

Jonathan Pelz is studying on the MSc in Japanese Society and Culture at the University of Edinburgh