Noroi: The Curse (2005)
Written by Kōji Shiraishi and Naoyuki Yokota
Directed by Kōji Shiraishi
By 2005, J-horror popularity in the United States was peaking. There were so many poorly made and poorly received adaptations that producers began looking elsewhere for something to exploit. That’s a shame because Noroi became a film criminally overlooked by audiences in the States. This is one of the best found-footage horror films I’ve ever seen, and I’m someone who typically hates this subgenre. Noroi works because it doesn’t just stick with the framing of seeing the movie through the eyes of someone walking around, holding a camera the whole time. Instead, it engages in mass media as part of its narrative, cleverly telling its story through complex structures that add up to a single disturbing whole.
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Written by Hiroshi Takahashi
Directed by Hideo Nakata
The origin point for much of modern Japanese horror can be traced to Ringu. This horror film has all the elements I’ve previously talked about: techno-horror, child murder, investigation that reveals the truth behind the horror. These things speak to the existential fears of not just the Japanese but almost all people living in our neoliberal present, attempting to make sense of modernity and the collapse of myths. Technology is going to lift humanity out of suffering, we are told. But has it really? Or does it fix some problems while creating new ones or exacerbating existing troubles? There’s currently a fervent discourse around child murder/molestation/etc. in America right now, but it mostly feels like political factions using the concept as yet another cultural divide rather than genuinely attempting to protect young people. The great pit in your stomach moment of horror that is well-written is the realization that the forces you are up against cannot be stopped, and so the protagonist is often warped in some way for the rest of their lives.
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Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Written & directed by Takashi Shimizu
One of the common themes I’ve seen in my look at J-horror thus far is an exploration of loneliness and a focus on the victimization of women & children. If you’re making existential horror in Japan, then it makes sense there will be some big ideas to tackle. They apply to almost every nation on Earth, but these movies look at them from the Japanese perspective. This movie is also a weird anomaly in that many viewers assume it’s the first in the Grudge franchise but is actually the third picture, just the first to get a theatrical release. You wouldn’t know it by watching Ju-On as one of its strengths is that it slowly lays out the core haunting and the bits of history behind it. It’s a franchise encompassing 13 films, including the horribly bad 2020 sequel. The less said about that one, the better.
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Written by Daisuke Tengan
Directed Takashi Miike
Takashi Miike is a cinematic force of nature I stumbled across one night while sitting in the Belcourt Theater in 2001. I can’t remember the film I was waiting to see, but the trailer for Audition played beforehand. If you’ve seen this trailer, then you understand what I mean when I say it was one of the most jarring things I’d seen at the time. In a matter of a minute and a half, I was wholly intrigued about what this insane, bizarre movie was. A month or so later, I returned with friends and watched Audition. At the time, I didn’t think I fully appreciated it. My vocabulary and understanding of film were much more limited than when I recently revisited the movie.
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Written & Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Japanese horror cinema didn’t come into existence in the late 1990s/early 2000s, but it certainly reached a peak in terms of its exposure to the global movie-going market. You likely know of the ones that got American adaptations, The Ring and The Grudge. Pulse also got a less well-received American version, but I have always heard positive things about the Japanese original. With this in mind, I decided to do a short dip into the J-horror of this period, focusing on the “classics” to get a sense of what was popular. These were movies I was aware of, some of which I actually saw, and seemed to have a significant impact at the time in American popular horror.
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