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June 27, 2017

Introduction to Japanese Horror Film

intro to japanese horror film cover.jpg

Colette Balmain - 2008
Edinburgh University Press

Dr. Balmain's book is not a historical survey. It would be a blessing to have such a book, especially one that would, as thoroughly as possible, review Japanese films of the silent and pre-World War II era. Most of the films discussed are from the 1950s, ending with films released about a decade ago. What Dr. Balmain has attempted here is put the production of the Japanese horror film within the context of Japanese culture and history.

Jasper Sharp has written about several of the weaknesses in this book. What does interest me here is the discussion of how one should approach serious appreciation of film, and to what extent does one need to acknowledge any or all contexts of film production. Part of this question comes from the more recent Japanese horror films having been marketed under the "extreme" banner, with the emphasis strictly on visceral thrills. Also, the greater part of the audiences for the English language remakes, at least anecdotally, were not always aware that Gore Verbinski's version of The Ring, for example, was a remake. I've followed cinema and its history long enough to know that there is never a final word, only a series of jumping off points for the more serious student to investigate for themselves.

Taking a break from reading, I saw the recent Sadako vs. Kayako (Koji Shiraishi - 2016). For those unfamiliar, the two characters of the title are the vengeful female ghosts from the original Ring and Ju-on: The Grudge respectively. Balmain discusses Japanese girl culture to some extent as it exists in horror films. The two main protagonists are both young females, university students. Much of Balmain's writing is about the role of females in Japanese horror films. What is not discussed is whether the audience, particularly for some of the more recent films, would be young women as well. In addition to not examining the difference between those films designed for a niche audience, often via home video, and those film getting mainstream theatrical release, there is little acknowledgment of production practices where the filmmakers often appear restricted in their careers.

I bring up this point because with the emphasis on women in front of the camera, nothing is said about the few women filmmakers who have worked in horror films. There may well be others, but Shimako Sato, Mari Asato and Kei Fujiwara come to mind. Of these three women, only Sato is mentioned in relation to here Wizard of Darkness films. For those who choose to take on Introduction to Japanese Horror Film I would suggest to glean judiciously. Definitely see what you can from the filmography, and let the films speak for themselves.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 27, 2017 07:13 AM