Korean Film Nights 3: Patchwork Unwrapping Korean Cinema

After the success of ‘Chills and Thrills’ and ‘On Foreign Ground: Visions of Migration’, the KCCUK is in the middle of its third mini-season of 2017. The title refers to Kim Hong-joon’s My Korean Cinema (2002-2006). Details of which are here. Kim leant his trade as an assistant to Im Kwon-taek, one of South Korean’s most noted and prolific directors. My Korean Cinema is a personal video series which stems from his work as a director at PiFAN Fantastic Film Fest and Commissioner for Korean Film Commission.
This strand has been curated by students on Birkbeck’s Film Programming and Curating MA.

Films coming up in this strand are as below:

The Knitting Club (Ya-geun Dae-sin Tteu-gae-jil, dir. PARK So-hyun: 2016).

This documentary focusses on Nana and her co-workers who start up a knitting club in order to bring some creativity and companionship in a world dominated by work and alienation. The underlying message of the documentary is that change is always possible, even if it happens in the most subtle of ways.

Date: 3rd August 2017
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: KCCUK
Booking: free via Eventbrite.

The March of Fools (Ba-bo-deul-ui Haeng-jin, dir. HA Gil-jong: 1977).

One of the most important and influential films in South Korean cinematic history, The March of Fools has rarely been screened outside of Korea. The film concerns the relationship between a philosophy student, Byeong-tae (Yoon Moon-seob) and a French literature student, Young-jae (Lee Young-ok) who get together after a group blind date between the male philosophy students and the female French students. The relationship between Byeong-tae and Young-jae has no future as he has passed the mandatory physical for military service. While the 1960s and 1970s was a time of youthful rebellion as documented in many films of the time, the protagonists in The March of Fools are represented as directionless: Young-cheol’s (Ha Jae-young), Byeong-tae’s best friend, goal in life is to catch a whale even though there are no whales on the Korean peninsula. While there is an implicit critique of the status quo in the film, scenes of student demonstrations (keeping in mind that this was produced by a director who experienced those of 6th May 1961) were cut from the theatrical version.

Date: 10th August
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: KCCUK
Booking: free via Eventbrite

Garak Market Revolution (Janggiwang: Galaksijang Lebollusyeon, dir. Jung Da-won, 2016).

This social-issue class based comedy focusses on the lives of contemporary youths in South Korea especially in the light of high unemployment. The protagonist, Doo-soo, doesn’t want to become a white-collar worker, instead he starts working at Garak Market as a labourer. Doo-soo is also a master of the Korean chess game, Janggi and when he discovers that the local homeless centre is due for demolition, he attempts to save it by challenging the owner to a game of chess.

The short film A Tent (Cheon-mak, dir. Lee hee, 2016) is also being screened.

Date: 17th August
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: KCCUK
Booking: free via Eventbrite

La Vie En Rose (Jangmi bit insaeng, dir. Kim Hong-joon: 1994) and conversation with the director

Set just before the Seoul Olympics of 1988, La Vie En Rose focuses on the disparate lives of a group of people who frequent a comic book rental shop which is run by Madam (Choi Myung-gil). The patrons are almost all men, and those who stay overnight at the shop get the extra benefit of being able to watch pornographic films. One day, Madam’s life is irrevocably altered when one day Dongpal (Choi Jae-sung), a gangster, seeks sanctuary from the police at the comic shop. He becomes obsessed with her and rapes her, altering both of their lives forever. Set at a time of turmoil in South Korean history, La Vie En Rose offers a nuanced exploration of the lives of people on the margins of society and their attempt to escape from the harshness of their lives.

This is a great opportunity to learn more about Korean cinema from the director, Kim Jong-hoon’s whose work has inspired this mini-season of South Korean films.

Date: 24th August
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Birbeck Institute for the Moving Arts.
Booking: free via Eventbrite

A Talk on the Homage Film: Director Kim Hong-joon

Kim Hong-joon

This mini-season comes to an end with a special event at Birkbeck in which the director Kim Hong-joon will talk about the ‘homage’ film in relation to the idea of the video essay film. Videoessays are a much more entertaining way of learning about film than by reading alone and feature prominently on most film studies curricula.

Excerpts from the following five short homage films will be presented:

  • The Cinematic World of Im Kwon-taek: Four Keywords-Tradition, Love, History and Road (2010)
  • 12 Shorts for Chung Chang-hwa Retrospective (2011)
  • Life Imitates Film: Looking Back on Choi Eun-hee (2013)
  • Kim Ki-deok: A Frontier-man of Chungmu-Ro (2016)
  • Ahn Sung-ki: A Persona of the Korean Cinema (2017)

Date: 25th August
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Arts
Booking: free via Eventbrite.

 

Advertisements

Masculinity & Popular Culture

Last week, I added Harvey Weinstein to my growing list of producers, actors, distributors, musicians and artists that I actively avoid. Already on this list are Johnny Depp, Woody Allen, Bill Crosby, R-Kelly, Chris Brown and Brian Singer for reasons that I won’t list but should be clear enough without me having to do so.  Weinstein’s alleged proclivities were brought to light by Ranon Farrow’s harrowing piece of investigative journalism for The New Yorker.

The report of Asia Argento’s encounter with Weinstein when she was 21 saddened me a great deal as I spent six years writing my thesis on the giallo films of her father, Dario Argento. Asia Argento played the central role in the later two of Argento’s ‘Diva Films’: Opera, Trauma and The Stendhal Syndrome. In The Stendhal Syndrome, Argento plays Detective Anna Manni, who is captured and violently raped by Alfredo Grossi (Thomas Kretschmann) before escaping from the serial killer’s lair: the encounter leaving Anna so traumatised that she begins to suffer from DPD (Dissociative Personality Disorder). The film was released in the same year that the alleged assault took place with film imitating life in the most depressing way possible. In the Italian Press, Asia Argento is being assaulted once again through reports which contend that no assault happened, as she willingly prostituted herself, and therefore consented to the encounter. such as the one in the Libero Newspaper.

bts-love-yourself-10

In a series of posts that will deviate from my usual musings on East Asian gothic and horror cinemas, I intend to open up a space for thinking differently about masculinity outside of the dominant hegemonic and toxic forms: the consequences of which we are seeing at the moment across Western society. I am interested in how non-conforming and expressive transgressions of gender, race and sexuality (Phillips and Stuart, 2008, p. 380) can disrupt binaries of oppression and repression and provide a more productive space through which to contend with a culture of patriarchal privilege. Sadly, despite second and third wave feminism in the West, patriarchy doesn’t seem to have changed much in 30 years given the most recent events.

My approach is one of intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism acknowledges that oppression is experienced differently depending on the intersection of race,  sexuality and class that forms one’s identity. My argument here is that it is not enough to teach girls how to negotiate a patriarchal culture that deems them as second class citizens, but doing this without tackling how we teach boys about being men, will never be enough by itself.

As a gothic scholar, I am fascinated by anomalous bodies that exist outside of the symbolic and have the potential to disrupt heteronormative identity constructions. Usually, my focus is on the monstrous body in horror cinema whose difference is clearly marked through a mutation of the flesh. However for the purpose of these series of posts, I am focussing in on East Asian Popular Culture and in particular K-POP with specific reference to BTS, fandom and the construction of a community of care. This is an extension of a conference paper that I gave at ‘Teenage Kicks: Global Teenage Cultures’ at Kingston University, 10th September 2017.

 

M8DFAMY EC002

However in order to do so, and in order to highlight the contradictory nature of East Asian masculinities in which non-conformity to traditional gender, sex and sexuality binaries is simultaneously encouraged as performance and repressed as authentic identity as part of this journey, I will be going back in time. Specifically I will be discussing  Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing (12th September 1956 – 1st April 2003) – one of Hong Kong’s brightest stars – whose gender crossings and performativity are echoed in the soft masculinity of contemporary K-POP boy groups.

In ‘Indonesian Fan Girl’s Perception towards soft masculinity as represented by K-Pop Male Idol’, Ayunigtyas writes:

Sun Jung (Tunstall, 2014) has defined this as East Asian soft masculinity. She has said that soft masculinity is a hybrid product constructed through the amalgamation of South Korea’s traditional seonbi masculinity (which is influenced by Chinese Confucian wen masculinity), Japan’s bishonen (pretty boy) and global metrosexual masculinity. Masculinity in K-pop seems to be in contrast with Korean traditional masculinity that defined by patriarchal authoritarian masculinity, hard masculinity rooted in compulsory military service for men and true seonbi (Confucian, traditional masculinity referring to young noblemen) (Leung, 2012) (2017, p. 53).

The conflict between soft and hard masculinities in South Korea can be seen in the recent coverage of G-Dragon, one of the members of Big Bang, who is coming up to having to enrol for compulsory military service and who I will also be discussing.  He has recently completed a gruelling world tour, Act III, M.O.T.T.E. (Moment of Truth the End), during which he attended the Chanel Spring 2008 show wearing a woman’s sweater from the 2017 collection.

Source: Koreaboo

Elizabeth Peng in Vogue comments:

Often deemed androgynous or gender-bending in a society that maintains traditional, patriarchal values and a noted adherence to manufactured beauty ideals (and plastic surgery), G-Dragon has no qualms sitting atop a white throne in an effete burgundy velvet smoking tuxedo with a matching choker and drop earrings, or crooning a ballad one minute and spitting rhymes among a scantily clad, all-female ensemble the next.

It is clear that despite all this praise, G-Dragon is struggling to separate his Idol status from his authentic identity (if that it is at all possible) – Kwon Ji Yong  – and has recently admitted to feeling overwhelmed by his schedule and expectations. There are reports that G-Dragon, talking about his impending enlistment in his final concerns in Taiwan, said “I have to go somewhere so I can become a man“. What then does it mean to be a man seems to be the question? Is it to put aside those things that are not considered ‘manly’? Research shows that manliness is imprinted at a very early age with the need for comfort, food and protection from the parent being overcome by gendered expectations. In ‘Toxic Masculinity is Killing Men: The Roots of Men and Trauma’, Kali Holloway points out that:

The emotionally damaging “masculinization” of boys starts even before boyhood, in infancy. Psychologist Terry Real, in his 1998 book I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, highlights numerous studies which find that parents often unconsciously begin projecting a kind of innate “manliness”—and thus, a diminished need for comfort, protection and affection—onto baby boys as young as newborns. This, despite the fact that gendered behaviors are absent in babies; male infants actually behave in ways our society defines as “feminine.” (2015)

As such, boys learn to be emotionally distant in order to ‘become’ men, which means that they need to put aside ‘feminine’ attributes. G-Dragon mentions not painting his nails any more in his reflections on his upcoming military service in order to adopt the appropriate hegemonic masculinity which is necessary to become a ‘man’ in South Korea. However at the same time, we need to be cognisant that as Connell and Messerschmidt point out that: “Masculinities are configurations of practice that are accomplished in social action and, therefore, can differ according to the gender relations in a particular social setting” (2005, p. 843). This is clear in the gendered aesthetics of K-POP:

Most commentaries on gender and sexuality in K-pop focus on male idols’ androgynous presentations.  Men with “soft” or “delicate” features, commonly referred to as a kkonminam (“flower man”), have been central to the visual branding of K-pop and to Korean hallyu more generally. The dissemination of new images of male bodies creates space for a vibrant aesthetic imaginary around male fashions, friendships, and intimacies, and the heightened visibility of the kkonminam in superstar groups like BigBang, BTS, Infinite, SHINee, and Super Junior also has particular resonances in a Korean context (Laurie, 2008, p. 221).

The fandom surrounding K-POP groups focusses in on close physical and emotional intimacies (which I want to clearly differentiate from sexual intimacies) between young men, and it is this intimacy which is key to the construction of a community of care that exists around any particular fandom. I have chosen to focus on BTS due to the interaction between the group and their fans as well as the group’s well documented desire to be a voice for the young. Their 2017 single ‘Not Today’ has a powerful anti-suicide message behind it, which given the high rate of youth suicides in South Korea (and Japan), gives their work an activist edge which is missing from some of the other K-POP groups.

 

References

Ayuningtyas, P (2017). Indonesian Fan Girl’s Perception towards soft masculinity as represented by K-Pop Male Idols, Lingua Cultura, 11(1), May 2017, 53-57

Laurie, T. (2016) Toward a Gendered Aesthetics of K-Pop In: Chapman, I. and Johnson, H. (eds). Global Glam and Popular Music: Style and Spectacle from the 1970s to the 2000s(Vol. 11). Routledge, pp: 214-231.

Phillips, L. and Stewart, M.R., (2008). “I Am Just So Glad You Are Alive”: New Perspectives on Non-Traditional, Non-Conforming, and Transgressive Expressions of Gender, Sexuality, and Race Among African Americans. Journal of African American Studies, 12(4): 378-400

 

 

 


Korean Film Nights: On Foreign Ground

Starting in May and finishing in June, the Korean Cultural Centre is running their second curated mini-season of the year.  This season is focusses on stories of immigration to South Korea: from North Korea, Vietnam, Burma, Vietnam, and Bangladesh along with diasporic Koreans. It has been curated by students from the Film Studies Programming and Curation MA at the National Film and Television School: Maria Bolocan, Mark Donaldson, Andrew Espe, Irene Silvera Frischknecht, Roberto González, Maureen Gueunet, David Perrin and Nicolas Raffin.

 

 

The programme was launched on Thursday, April 27th at 19:00 with the UK premiere of Burmese on The Roof (2016)which follows three “unnamed” Burmese migrants from very different socio-economic backgrounds who live together on a prefabricated hut on the rooftop of Masoek Furniture Industrial Corporation. The film captures their everyday life in fine detail without constructing them in terms of irreducible difference providing an insight into the struggles of living and working away from home.

 

Bandhobi (Shin Dong-il: 2009).

Date: 3rd May 2017

Time: 7:00 pm

Bandhobi centres around the relationship between Min-seo (Baek Jin-hee), 17-year old Korean girl who has a difficult relationship with her mother and her mother’s lover with whom she lives, and Karim (Mahbub Alam), a 29 year old migrant from Bangladesh whose work visa is about to expire.

The film is showing at the Korean Cultural Centre in London, which is just a three minute walk from Charing Cross Station. Tickets can be booked through Eventbrite.

 

Scenery (Zhang Lu: 2013)

Date: 11th May 2017 & 31st May (Deptford Cinema)

Time: 7pm

Venue: Korean Cultural Centre

The third film in this mini-season is Scenery, a documentary which follows fourteen migrant workers as they live and work in a foreign country. Clips of interviews with them are combined with footage of their everyday lives. Zhang Lu is a Korean-Chinese film director, who prior to directing was a Professor of Chinese Literature at Yabain University,  whose films focus on the marginalised and disenfranchised. Scenary is adapted from his 30 minute short documentary, Over There, which was shown at the 14th Jeonju Digital Film Festival as part of a strand on the theme of strangers. Scenery is Zhang Lu’s first full length documentary and has won multiple awards including the Critics Prize at the 15th Black Movie Independent Film Festival in Geneva.

Booking via Eventbrite

The Journals of Musan (Park Jung-bam: 2011)

Date: 1st June 2017

Time: 7pm

Venue: Korean Cultural Centre

In The Journals of Musan, a North Korean defector Seung-chul (Park Jung-bam) who barely makes a living putting up posters of sex shops in Seoul. He lives in a crumbling apartment house on the outskirts of the city with another defector, Kyung-chul (Jin Yong-ik). Unlike his roommate who embraces the South Korean ‘dream’, Seung-chul finds it difficult to adjust to his new life. The Journals of Musan offers an insight into the often marginalised and alienated lives lived by those who cross the border from North to South Korea.

Tickets can be booked via Eventbrite.

Seoul Searching (Benson Lee: 2015)

Date: 8th June 2017

Time: 7pm

Venue: Korean Cultural Centre

Seoul Searching is a South Korean teenage movie. Set in 1986, the film focusses on experiences of ethnic-Asian teenagers at a Summer camp in Seoul which seeks to teach the teenagers about their Korean heritage. Loosely based upon Lee’s own experiences, Seoul Searching has been compared to the US teen pictures of the 1980s such as The Breakfast Club (John Hughes: 1985). In Justin Chang’s review for Variety, he makes a direct comparison by calling the film the “Bibimbap Breakfast Club.” It examines the complexity of cultural identity for second and third generation diasporic Koreans.

Tickets can be booked via Eventbrite.

He’s On Duty (Yook Sang-hyo: 2013)

Date: 15 June

Time: 7pm

Venue: Korean Cultural Centre

He’s On Duty explores the racism and marginalisation that migrants working in South Korea face through the experiences that Bang Tae-sik (Kim Im-kwon), a South Korean national, who pretends that he is from Bhutan in order to find work as he feels that he is discriminated against because he doesn’t look ‘Korean’ enough. The film uses comedy to expose the hardships that migrant workers face when working in a country with a strong sense of national identity which is based upon ethnic difference.

Tickets can be booked from Eventbrite.

The film is also showing at SOAS, on 12th May at 5:15pm. Tickets can be booked via SOAS.

The students at the National Film School have done a really great job curating this season. In post-Brexit Britain, we can all learn something from the experiences of ‘Others’, whether they are fictional or factual. I would highly recommend that people catch at least one if not more of the films in this season.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Missing (Lee Eon-hee, South Korea: 2016) – Screening 10th April 2017

Director Lee’s second feature, Missing/Lost Child follows the desperate search of a single mother, Ji-sun (Eom Ji-won), recently separated from her physician husband, for her young daughter, Da-eun (Seo Ha-nee), who goes missing one day seemingly abducted by her Chinese nanny, Han-mae (Gong Hyo-jin). Following Princess Aurora (Pang Eun-jin: 2005) – which was screened as part of the recent Chills and Thrills mini-season at the KCCUK – and The Truth Beneath (Lee Kyoung-mi: 2016), Missing explores the fragile bond between mother and daughter through a female perspective. Starring Eom Ji-won, who played the mother in Lee Joon-ik’s heart-breaking Hope (2013) and the Principal of the strange girl’s school in The Silenced (Lee Hae-young: 2015), and Gong Hyo-jin – a prolific actresses – whose most recent film is A Single Rider (Lee Joo-young: 2017), Missing boasts a stellar cast and recorded over 1 million admissions on its release in South Korea last year and an award by Korea’s Film Actor’s Association for Gong Hyo-jin.

It is nice to see ongoing recognition of the work of female directors by The London Korean Film Festival and Korean Cultural Centre UK and as such, it is important that we support such work as the spotlight all too often fails to fall on female directors, relegating them a secondary status and as a consequence silencing female voices and perspectives in the process.

The film is the second in the series of Teaser screenings for the upcoming London Korean Film Festival 2017 and is the UK premiere of the film. It will be introduced by Evrim Ersoy, Head Programmer for Fantastic Fest (Austin, Texas). The screening takes place at Picturehouse Central on Monday 10th April 2017, at 6.30pm.

Tickets can be booked direct at the following link: https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Picturehouse_Central/film/lkff-preview-screening-missing/tickets/24224

Hope to see some of you there.

 


Chills and Thrills: Princess Aurora – additional screenings

 

On 16th February, the ‘Chills and Thrill’s mini-season at the KCCUK began with a screening of Princess Aurora (Bang Eun-jin). Thanks to everyone who attended the screening. Many apologies that I had to leave immediately after the introduction as I would have liked to have stayed and discussed the film with you after the screening. Please get in touch on social media if you would like to talk about the film with me as I would love to hear your thoughts on it. You can find me on Facebook: Colette Balmain and on Twitter: @colettebalmain

There are two additional screenings of Princess Aurora as part of the Korean Cinema Echoes programme if you were unable to make the first one.

 

 

 

 

On 24th February, there is a short talk followed by a screening at SOAS (School of African and Oriental Studies). Details are available here.

 

On 25th February, there is another screening at Deptford Cinema, at which I will also be in attendance. You can book your ticket here.

 

Don’t miss the other films in the season. Details can be found here: Chills and Thrills: Korean Film Nights

 

 


School Horror Talk: New Malden Library (21st February 2017)

1whispering_corridors

 

The School Horror genre is most associated these days with the Whispering Corridors (1998-2009) series of films from South Korea, set in single sex schools, where teenage girls attempt to deal with the vagaries of peer pressure and exam competition while living in a cloistered and closeted environment. To date, the series consists of five films: Whispering Corridors (Park Ki-Hyeong: 1998), Memento-Mori (Kim Tae-Yong & Min Kyu-Dong: 1999), Wishing Stairs (Yun Jae-Yeon: 2003), Voice (Choe Ik-Hwan: 2005) and A Blood Pledge (Lee Jong-Yong: 2009). In a similar way to Gakko no Kaidan, and influenced by the former, The Whispering Corridors series are linked thematically rather than through the presence of continuing characters and/or connected spaces as in for example the Halloween (1998-2009) or Friday 13th (1980-2009) series. In a comparison is to be made, then it would be with Brian de Palma’s Carrie, and indeed visual allusions to Carrie abound in the Whispering Corridors films.  At the same time, and unlike Gakko no Kaidan, each film has a different director which is demonstrated through the markedly different aesthetics that constitutes the architecture of horror, both visually and aurally, from which fear is generated.  While the fact that the primary demographic or target audience of these films is female is no surprise, their implicit ‘queerness’ – coming from what is still an extremely conservative country – perhaps is.

Join me to discuss this and more at New Malden Library on 21st February, 6pm.

 

 

 


Celebrating Women in Horror Month: Princess Aurora Screening

The directorial debut of Pang Eun-jin, who won the Korean Association of Film Critics 2005 award for Best New Director, Princess Aurora kicks off the ‘Chills and Thrills’ mini-season of films hosted by the KCCUK. It is also the ‘Women in Horror’ month which celebrates and showcases the work of women in the horror industries and therefore seems appropriate that this mini-season should begin with a film directed by a woman.

princessauroranew

 

Princess Aurora is revenge thriller told through the perspective of a grieving mother. The female voice, of the director and of her protagonist, offers us with a feminine perspective of the female victim, too often a trope in contemporary horror film functioning simply as a narrative device for masculine agency and activity. Women in Horror are a vital part of the contemporary horror scene and too often overlooked in histories of the genre. Princess Aurora demonstrates that diversity that female directors bring to the genre and as such, we should celebrate their work.

I will be there to give a short introduction to both the season and the film.

The screening is free but I recommend booking via the KCCUK website 

The screening starts at 7pm.

Venue: Korean Cultural Centre, Korean Cultural Centre UK, Grand Buildings, 1 – 3 Strand, London WC2N 5BW. It is 5 minutes walk from Charing Cross Station.

 

 


Chills and Thrills: Korean Film Nights

 

Starting from the 16th February, Korean Film Nights begins the first in three mini-seasons that comprise of a year long screening programme. Each season will showcase six films, many of which are being screened for the first time in the UK.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to curate the first mini-season: ‘Chills and Thrills: Korean Horror Cinema.’ In 2016, South Korean Horror Cinema went global with the critical and commercial success of The Wailing (Na Hong-jin), Train to Busan ( Yeon Sang-ho) and The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook). With this mini-season, I wanted to showcase the breadth and depth of South Korean horror. As such, the films chosen act as a primer for both genre enthusiasts and cinephiles. From a desperate mother whose loss of her daughter is unbearable and can only be assuaged by killing those responsible, to a pair of high-end shoes whose surface beauty hides a deadly secret, a suicide pact between young high-school girls which is not quite what it seems, a sadistic serial killer who forces his victim to tell him scary stories, a young boy whose life is blighted by the fact that he can see ghosts , and an adolescent girl whose life is brutally cut short, these films show the rich tapestry of K-horror. Each film will have an introduction. Film critic Anton Bitel will be introducing  Mourning Grave and Horror Stories.

The programme is as follows:

16th February: Princess Aurora (Pang Eun-jin: 2005)

23rd February: The Red Shoes (Kim Yong-gyun: 2005)

2nd March: A Blood Pledge (Lee Jong-yong: 2009)

9th March: Horror Stories (Kim Gok et al: 2012)

16th March: Mourning Grave (Oh In-chun: 2014)

23rd March: Fatal Intuition (Yun Jun-hyeong: 2015)

There will also be additional screenings in the Echoes programme including a screening at Deptford Cinema on Saturday 25th February 2017.

In addition, I will be giving a talk on ‘School Horror’ at New Malden Library on the 21st of February between 6pm and 7pm. Tickets are free and can be booked at the following link: Talk at New Malden Library


Over Your Dead Body/Kuime (Miike, Japan: 2014)

MIIKE is one of Japan’s most prolific contemporary directors with rarely a misstep in his extensive body of work. In Over Your Dead Body, Miike takes on one of Japan’s most noted ghost stories, that of the betrayed Oiwa, whose spirit won’t rest until her deceitful and murderous husband Iemon pays for his sins. The acts of the  ‘erotic evil character’ (iroaku), who was simultaneously attractive and repulsive, of Kabuki, who thrilled audiences in Japan in the 19th century, gave birth to the most prevalent archetype – that of the wronged woman –  who continues to haunt Japanese horror cinema, the vengeful ghost (onryo) with her long dark hair, white skin and disfigured features.

Miike, as should be no surprise, gives the ghost story of Oiwa a particularly modern twist, by merging together fantasy and reality through focus on the manner in which rehearsals for a production of Yotsuya Kaidan bleed into the ‘real’ lives of the cast. Evoking Todorov’s concept of the fantastic, Over Your Dead Body operates on dual levels merging the psychological with the supernatural. The story of Iemon and Oiwa on the stage is mirrored by the tempestuous relationship between Lousuke (Ebizo Ichikawa) and Miyuke (Ko Shibasaki), with Miyuke’s understudy (Miho Nakanishi) for the part of Oiwa forming the final part of the dangerous triangular structure of the original play (in Yotsuya Kaidan, this role is taken by Ume – the beautiful granddaughter of a wealthy businessman).

Dennis Harvey in Variety (September 5, 2014) dismisses Miike’s film ‘a boring movie’ and ‘ a handsome tedious rather tedious exercise’. Yet for me, Over Your Dead Body is a triumph of slow building tension and the awful visceral horror for which Miike is noted. In this regard, it reminded me of both Miike’s Audition/ Odishon R and Imprint (Masters of Horror, TV: 2006) If the purpose of the original Kabuki play was to depict a decaying socio-political order and the subsequent loss of the spiritual, then Over Your Dead Body draws our attention to the fact that at the centre of history is repetition. Thus the purpose of intertwining rehearsals of the play with the unravelling world of its actors is an essential part of the narrative and not merely an empty formalist gesture as suggested by Harvey.

To say much more would be to say too much, except to suggest that Over Your Dead Body is worth seeking out, not just for Miike’ completionists but for fans of Japanese horror more generally. Evoking the colour palate of Japanese Edo-gothic, Over Your Dead Body is sumptuously horrifying reminding us of that in contemporary Japan, a stagnant economy and corresponding ‘youth bulge’, has lead to social isolation and alienation as marked by the increase in lonely deaths (kodokushi) among the middle aged and elderly population and the withdrawal from society (hikikomori) among the younger generation as well as high suicide rates. If we fail to listen to the past, we are doomed – a salutary lesson that underpins much contemporary Japanese horror cinema with Kurosawa’s recent Creepy/Kuripi Itsuwari no Rinjin  (2016) a case in point.

The DVD can be bought via Amazon although I would recommend pay a little bit more for the Bluray

References

Harvey, D (2014). Toronto Film Review: ‘Over Your Dead Body’, Variety, September 05, 2004, http://variety.com/2014/film/reviews/toronto-film-review-over-your-dead-body-1201299283/ (accessed 18 October 2016).

Shirane, H. (2013). Early modern Japanese literature: an anthology, 1600-1900. Columbia University Press, pp. 456-457.

Todorov, T. (1975). The Fantastic. Trans. Richard Howard. Ithaca: Cornell UP.

.


Creepy (KUROSAWA, Japan: 2016)

 

One of my favourite Japanese directors, KUROSAWA Kiyoshi has made one of the most significant contributions to Japanese horror cinema starting with Sweet Home (1989) – which is well worth watching if you can track down a copy – and most recently with Creepy/Kuripi Itsuwari No Rinjin, based upon the novel by Yutaka Maekawa. His 2001 techno-horror Pulse/Kairo is one of the most haunting, evocative explorations of the alienated state of late capitalism: people disappear leaving just burnt ashes in their wake, signifiers of the fragile nature of existence and the processes of personal and historical amnesia. Creepy explores psychological rather than supernatural horror: here the monster – that which disrupts the narrative and needs to be removed in order for order to be restored – could be anyone/is everyone.

Creepy takes place in a seemingly normal neighbourhood where a retired policeman, Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) lives with his wife, Yasuko (Yuko Takechi) after retiring from the police force after a confrontation with a particularly brutal serial killer, changes his world forever. On the surface the neighbourhood seems idyllic, yet the neighbours are less than welcoming and Yasuko is increasingly isolated while Takakura becomes distracted looking into an old case where a family went missing in a neighbourhood similar to theirs, leaving behind their youngest daughter, Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi). Meanwhile the strange neighbour who lives next door, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) who has a sick wife and teenage daughter, latches onto Yasuko’s loneliness and a strange, creepy relationship develops between them.

Image result for creepy kurosawa

 

Unlike the phantasmagoric threats of his earlier films, here the threat is other people, particularly those living in close contact. In a sense, this makes Creepy more frightening than his  supernatural horror films. How well do we know our neighbours when the concept of a community has been fractured and fragmented by our modern lifestyles in which technology has become a replacement for connection and personal communication? While Takakura begins to realise that the neighbourhood that the Honda family lived in ‘looks like a crime scene’, he fails to recognise that it is in fact a mirror image of his, and that in fact from a distance the two neighbourhoods including the placement of the houses are exactly the same.  The slow build-up to the eventual dénouement is creepy, as in the title of the film, and as past and present convalesce in a shocking final 30 minutes and a refusal to offer the review a neat resolution: the circularity of time and double structure which brings together different and disparate temporalities* articulates Kurosawa’s mediation of the nature of time, memory and the past which unifies his work, whether ‘horror’ or ‘not’.

 

Creepy, has been, unfairly in my opinion, compared to his other films and seen as lacking as a result. I would argue that Creepy is one of the most accomplished films that Kurosawa has directed: I found it genuinely frightening and horrific and compulsive viewing. I would highly recommend seeing it. Creepy is on at the moment and will have its premiere at the London Film Festival: details available here: http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff.

Full Screening Dates in the UK are as below and are reproduced from Eureka’s website:

London, Haymarket Cinema (2016 LFF – UK Premiere), 8 October 2016  Book Now

London, Vue West End Cinema (2016 LFF Screening), 9 October 2016  Book Now

Nottingham, Broadway (Mayhem Film Festival), 16 October 2016  Book Now

Sheffield, Showroom (Celluloid Screams), 22 October 2016 Book Now

London, Curzon Soho (2016 London East Asia Film Festival), 23 October 2016

(more to be announced… )

 

*See Lim, Bliss Cua. Translating time: Cinema, the fantastic, and temporal critique. Duke University Press, 2009.