If you've been even a little interested in cinema during the last few years, one thing that you
will notice is the prevalence of Japanese horror. Japanese horror movies are making their way
into the American viewing audience's attention and if you've watched any, you'll notice that
Japanese horror sends a different chill up your spine than American horror does.
One thing that distinguishes Japanese horror movies from their American counterparts is the origins.
In American cinema, vampires derive from Bram Stoker's Dracula, while in Japan, vampires are
derived from sources like Akinari Ueda's Ugetsu Monogatari. Tales of Moonlight and Rain, as
the title translates, is a vast collection of tales that would do Poe proud and the tradition of
zombies, demons and monsters gives Japanese horror a distinct flavor and look. Japanese horror
also tends to have a more psychological tone. Japanese horror will usually go for the creepy,
spine-tingling scare over one that leaps out of the closet with a chainsaw! When taking a critical
look at Japanese horror, you will also find that the protagonists are usually no one special. Rather
than being pretty teenagers, or journalists invested in the supernatural, the people you'll find
being terrorized in Japanese horror are nurses and security guards, people that could easily be
your friends or neighbors. In this way, Japanese horror brings the impact down to a very familiar level.
There are a few similarities between the Japanese horror and its western counterpart. One thing
that you will notice is that both American and Japanese horror make gleeful use of the supernatural.
While the fur and claws of the werewolf are familiar to an American audience, Japanese horror fans
will instantly recognize the vengeful spirit known as the yurei, with its chalk-pale face and long,
stringy black hair. The yurei's distinct appearance is based off of kabuki theater tropes, and for
American audiences, can be quite alarming. Japanese horror relies on things like the audience
knowing of the yurei ghost, but American fans of Japanese horror are smacked in the face with
an unsettling image for which they have no defense. Japanese horror lends the element of the
unknown to appreciative foreign viewing.
One classic example of a Japanese horror film that's made it big in America is Ringu. Like a great
deal of Japanese horror, Ringu relies on a psychological scare as opposed to the special effects
gore that is important to American horror movies. Ringu was remade into the American movie
“The Ring” and the debate rages on about which is the better movie. The answer is more complicated
than a yes or no; it all depends on what you're looking for when you think of a good movie. In Ringu,
there is a sneaking sense of horror at the normality of it all. The ghost featured in Ringu seems to be
a part of the landscape, albeit a terrifying one, typical of Japanese horror. In The Ring, it's more like
the protagonists have been plunged into a foreign realm where things get increasingly out of control.
Like a great deal of Japanese horror, Ringu goes for a quiet sneaking scare, rather than for the startle
moment that is so much a part of American horror movies. While The Ring is better known, both have
made their marks for fans of both American and Japanese horror.
One thing that draws American moviegoers to Japanese horror is of course the novelty. Instead of old
trope of the serial killer with the hockey mask, we have the yurei, the traditional Japanese ghosts that
have returned for vengeance. Japanese horror is introducing us to an entirely new landscape of ghosts
and goblins to keep us awake at night. Japanese horror, in some ways can stick with you longer than
the typical American horror film. After an American horror film makes you jump out of your seat,the thrill's
over, but the Japanese horror movie will make you do things like startle at rings of water (Ringu) or empty
Japanese horror has also given American movie makers the fun of having new templates and looks to
work with. In this way, they are using both the expectations of the American and Japanese horror fans
against them. With a film like The Grudge, which was derived from Ju-on, the writers and director get to
play with what the audience “knows” about the story and the movie. Key elements are changed and what
was Japanese horror becomes something that draws from the best parts of both cultures. Re-imagining
Japanese horror movies brings them to new appreciative audiences on both sides of the ocean.