I remember watching the classic horror movies with Freddy, Jason and Michael Meyers and having the ‘I almost peed my pants’ feeling as they jumped out of the dark to slash at their victims, only to be destroyed and miraculously reincarnated in the sequel so I could live the same experience all over again. But then in the late 1990’s there came a new kind of horror movie from across the Pacific. These movies lacked many of the urine inducing scenes and instead used a more psychological approach for the scare tactic. An approach that takes queues from modern society, plays on those fears and culminates them into something that will make you not only afraid of the dark but afraid of daily life!
So why have these stories become so popular and gained an almost cult following? To answer this question we need to look at what came from Japan before J-horror. Japanese animation and manga already had a strong following in America. I think the reason for the popularity of Japanese media is due to the fact that the stories and characters are unique and so different from anything produced by Hollywood because they originated from a culture that has such a rich and different background. American horror has become a cliché gore-fest, almost to the point to where it’s just not interesting to watch anymore. So it was only a matter of time until Americans started searching for something new and it was a short jump other genres such as horror since many anime and manga stories are about fantasy and other similar topics. In The first one to come to American theaters was the remake of Ringu (1998), known as The Ring (2002) for the American remake.
Then in 2004, the remake of the modern Japanese classic Ju-On (2002) was released as the The Grudge starring Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. The backstory revolves around a family that was killed in the house, causing it to become cursed. In fact, the title translated into English means ‘the curse’ and is an interesting part of Japanese culture. In Japan a real estate agent is required to tell prospective buyers/tenants if a property has been ‘cursed’ due to a death there. These properties are usually difficult to sell and can sometimes be had at a bargain price because no one wants it.
Chances are, if you are reading this you have already seen these two movies. But if you haven’t you should definitely take some time to watch both the original Japanese version and the American remakes. They are all good in their respective ways and I won’t choose one over the other and say this one is better or that one is better. It’s important to remember that these movies were made in a different culture, with different beliefs and social influences that ultimately formed the foundation these films used to build on. These differences are apparent when you watch the films keeping these facts in mind and makes for an interesting experience in cross-culture storytelling.
Part 2 goes into more detail about the differences in the two versions.
Here are some other Japanese horror movies you should definitely check out!