Friday, October 13, 2006

Why I hate Japanese Horror Movies

So it's Friday the 13th— click the link to learn all about the holiday.

Marking agencies have been working very hard to make the most of this day of misfortune. How far in advance do you think they planned the release of the final book in Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events? Isn't that a stroke of marketing genuis? Release the thirteenth book of a series famous for its misfortunate on the "unluckiest day of the year."

Another big, big push is the release of The Grudge 2. The sequel to The Grudge, which was the English version of the Japanese horror movie, Ju-On.

I hated that movie. Hated it. Well, ok, when I watched it, I was pretty impressed, but you try to sleep when you're worried that whatever her name is going to crawl up under your covers and steal you away to... uh, wherever dead grudge people go. (I think it's the time lost between the four vignettes of the original Japanese movie.) Over a year later, I'm still terrified of that echoing clicking noise that the dead woman made—which, by the way, was because her throat was crushed and that was the only scream for help she could emit.

Why did that particular movie scare me so? Simple, you can't win in a Japanese horror film like Ju-On. Nor can you really win in one like Ringu. Why? Because evil in Japan is really, really... evil. It's not stupid, it's not forced to obey a set of rules. It's Evil. It's Spooky, Spooky Death Evil.

That's what is terrifying about Ju-On. Not the story, not the visuals—the idea itself. Is there any marking to distinguish the house of death from any other house on the street? Not unless someone's just been killed in it and you can count police tap, but all of those people are already screwed so it doesn't matter. You see, Ju-On functions on a very simple principle: if you go into the house you will die.

No exceptions. Enter house, earn Spooky Spooky Death.

Think about it, killed for no reason other than your real estate agent showed you a house. You didn't anger the house, you didn't offend the spirit. You went inside. That's it.

Western mythology tends to function along the lines of "if you don't do A, B, and C, then you will survive" or "this creature can be defeated by X." Supernatural is a great example of this difference. Each episode the Winchesters defeat evil (ok, almost every episode, that season finale and opener are questionable "victories,") because there are rules that the creatures have to obey. Or look at our horror movies, which have rules so entrenched they've been mocked in Scream and mocked again in Scary Movie.

As writers who work with supernatural elements, we learn the rules. Vampires have to drink blood. Werewolves transform during the nights of the full moon. Vampires are killed by wood, usually a stake to the heart, or by decapitation and occasionally by silver. Even when the mythologies are reinvented like in Blade and Buffy, there are still rules.

There's never a villain who can't be defeated. (Someone correct me if I'm overlooking one.) Or in the case of Ringu, a villian that can only be defeated by exchanging your fate for someone else's.

functions on the principle that you have seven days to live after seeing a video, and the reason that the protagonist survives isn't because she solves the mystery of the video—it's because she makes a copy of the video and forces someone else to watch it. (Which has something to do with the effort to have as many people as possible watch the video because it spreads like a virus, and since I haven't managed to find paperback translations of Spiral and Loop, I don't know what the whole purpose of the infection was. I suspect it allowed more beings like Sadako to enter the world.)

So you can win, but at what cost? Do you really win if you survive by assisting the dark forces?


Katy said...

Loop hardback comes out at the start of next month. At bloody LAST...

We've had paperback Spiral for a while, if you can't get the US one maybe you could import the UK one?

Rachel Vincent said...

Fascinating! I've never seen the Japanese version of either of these movies, but I've seen the American ones, and did NOT like them. In movies, I don't like unhappy endings. Especially undefeatable evil.

Oddly enough, in books, I think I'd like it. But in film, it scares the living crap out of me (which is the point, I'm sure), and seems pointless. I don't understand why we should bother to fight evil if we can't possibly win. Why not just join the dark forces in that case?

Still, I really liked this post. I had no idea about the Japanese ideas of evil. ;-)

c.rooney said...

It's not necessarily the common idea of evil, but it's a difference in the movies that the director of Ju-On mentioned on the DVD features for the Grudge (as he directed both the Japanese and the English versions.)

But I totally agree with your comment about why fight evil if we can't win? It's just such a bleak view of life, but maybe that's a reflection in the difference between Western and Eastern cultures?

Katy said...

On fighting undefeatable evil... all evil is undefeatable if nobody tries, and ofter a character wins in an overarching sense even if they loose personally... I think the drive for a happy ending is kinda like people's desire for a concrete answer. Often the things with the most interesting journey to get to the end or the answer, don't deliver what you want at the end and are actually better for leaving you unsatisfied.

Haha, and I was about to offer The Departed as an example of the west being just as depressing, but then I remembered that's a remake of a hong kong movie anyway. (PS go and see that.)

Sorcha Chumomisto said...

Fallen is a western film that has a not happy ending. its a good ending, and the only ending it could have had and still made sense considering the premise, but not the typical 'and the evil thing dies and goes away and everyone left alive gets to live happily ever after' ending. to the bestof my knowledge its not a remake of anything, but i've been wrong before.

c.rooney said...

No, you're right, Sarah.

Fallen didn't have a happy ending for the humans, but maybe one could argue it had a happy ending for the entity. Who was the character telling the story, but the audience doesn't realize that until the end. I loved that movie. Such a fantastic twist.