Tag Archives: japanhorror

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.

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Tokyo Tribe (Sono, 2014)

 

Sono is one of the most prolific Japanese directors, although not up to the standards of Miike who manages more than one film a year without a noticeable drop in quality. Ever since Suicide Club/Jisatsu Saakuru (2001) and Exte/Ekusute (2007), I have been a big fan of his work. Suicide Club has perhaps the best opening sequence in horror.

Unfortunately, I found the overt misogyny of  his 2010 film Cold Fish/Tsumetai Nettaigyo (2010) very hard to come to terms with. Humour, black or not, around rape is highly problematic. I didn’t feel that I could watch it again, and therefore never wrote a review as films need repeated viewing in order to write a proper review – at least for me it is the case. I suspect that part of my problem with it was culturally located as rape itself, is unfortunately, a common component of Japanese cinema. Since then, I have avoided Sono’s films but the trailer of Tokyo Tribes was interesting and I felt that perhaps I had been too hard on Sono. After all missteps are common in any field of the arts and most great directors have one or more turkeys in their back catalogue.

So back to Tokyo Tribe, a film that sets out – consciously  or unconsciously – to offend women and members of the LGBTQIA community in the first 10 minutes. The overall concept is great. A hip-hop musical about competing tribes in a dystopic Tokyo, who eventually come together in peace against a common enemy, is both inventive and innovative. Tokyo Tribe is based on the best-selling manga by Santa Inoue (1987-2005) which was published in Boon, a street fashion magazine which is now published by Shodensha, and feels like a throwback to the mid to late 1980s. The fact that Sono choose to introduce the tribes to the audience by having Mera – the boss of Bukuro Wu-Ronz – trace the geography of the different tribes over the half-naked body of a policewoman (who tries to arrest him on her first day on the job) alerts us to the insistent discourses of male voyeurism and fetishism than run throughout the film. The fact that the female tribe members, are either prostitutes, or dressed up like 2000s Missy Elliot and coded in non-normative terms,  is highly problematic. In addition, the schoolgirl heroine, Erika, who has some kick ass moves – we are told that she comes from Wong Kong (Hong Kong) – is often freeze framed or in slow motion as the camera pans in up skirt to linger on her white underwear is even more troubling.

Image result for sono tokyo tribe

Not another panty shot please!

While as other critics have argued, Tokyo Tribe like other Sono films, embeds a social critique of Japanese society, politics and patriarchy, it seems to me that the film simultaneously constructs figures of female empowerment and strips them off that empowerment by overt sexualisation through the use of  terms ‘cultural scopophilia’. I use the term ‘cultural scopophilia’ here to foreground the othering of cultural and ethnic difference in Tokyo Tribe through the visual lexicon of fashion as signifier of Otherness. Erika’s innocence – or sexualized innocence as connoted by her schoolgirl uniform at the beginning – is the opposite to the hyper-sexuality and non-normative sexuality of the Kabukico Gira Gira girls. In addition, while the Mushashino tribe might be all about love and peace, there are limits to this love and peace – as the transcribed lyrics go “No homos, we ain’t Kissing Dudes”. While homophobia, unfortunately, remains at the heart of contemporary hip-hop and rap, Sono did not have to replicate and foreground this homophobia.

Nkoi gets his ‘freak on’

Further the son of the film’s bloated baddy, Lord Buppa (Riki Takechi), Nkoi (Yosuke Kubozuka) keeps slaves that they don’t eat for dinner and pleasure, as his personal puppets cocooned in an ivory room in which his harem have to position themselves as furniture or perform for him in order not to incur his wrath. Once again, suppressed homosexuality is coded as inherently deviant and monstrous, in its opposition to dominant heterosexuality which is capable of ‘peace and love’ but not, as I pointed out previously, to all.

There is much to be enjoyed in its visual excesses and poetic raps, it is just necessary to be aware of what problems such excesses may mask. Excess is not necesssarily subversive. Here excess functions as licenced rather than unlienced carnival, the former  of which props up the dominant ideology by allowing space for subversion and by controlling that space. While I always enjoy Sono’s visual mastery, I was uncomfortable with the gender and sexual politics on display here. As much as it could be claimed that Sono is critiquing such politics, in the end he reinforces such politics at the level of image and sound. In repeating the visual and aural legacy of hip-hop which is predicated on the oppression of women and non-normative sexualities, the message of ‘love and peace’ rings rather hollow.

 

 


Curse, Death and Spirit (NAKATA Hideo, 1992).

Curse, Death and Spirit is a compilation of 3 episodes of the popular Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi/Scary stories that really happenedNorowareta Ningyō/The Cursed Doll; Shiryō no Taki/The Spirit of the Dead and Yūrei no Sumu Ryokan/The Haunted Inn. Although Nakata had previously directed a short thirty minute film, Natsugetsu Monogatari/Summer moon story, Curse, Death and Spirit  arguably are what brought Nakata to the attention of Hiroshi Takehashi who co-wrote the script for Ghost Actress, Nakata’s directorial debut and with whom Nakata worked with on both of the Japanese Ring films.

The episodes are pretty bog standard Japanese ‘scary tales’, but the brevity of the narratives are well suited to Nakata’s minimalist directing style – which has not changed much over the years – and the focus on horror as emanating from within the family, in particular the relationship between the mother and child, a solid foundation for both Ring and Dark Water. The now over- familiar figure of the vengeful female ghost or yurei, functioning as the return of the repressed, adds a consistency of theme as well as vision which unites the three episodes.

THE CURSED DOLL

The Cursed Doll has a doll possessed by the spirit of a young girl who returns to haunt her sister, who has no memory of her. While the theme of dolls coming to life is sufficiently creepy, the doll never appears life-like and is obviously being positioned, pulled and pushed in scenes affecting the believability of this so-called scary true-life story.

THE SPIRIT OF THE DEAD

In The Spirit of The Dead, the ghost of the past who threatens the present is a mother who lost her young son while camping in the woods, whose unquiet spirit haunts the woods attempting to be reunited with her lost son. However, unable to differentiate between her son and those of other women, she takes their lives in an attempt to have her son with her in the afterlife. While the performances are nicely realized, and the appearances of the ghost eerie, the end is a tad predictable.

THE HAUNTED INN

The best episode, or the one I like the most, is The Haunted Inn, which to me seems to have a great deal of potential as a feature length film. Here, three young school girls visit an old inn and come face to face with the unhappy ghost of the family of the previous occupants of the inn. The use of a video-camera by the girls to capture their break, and the appearance of the ghost with her long black hair obscuring her face, broken body and white costume are precognitions of the future which become fully visualized in RIng.

The three episodes are available as an extra on the Tartan release of Nakata’s  Kaosu/Chaos (1999).

Or they are available on DVD, via Amazon –  Curse, Death and Spirit


HENGE (Hajime Ohata: 2011)

When her husband, Yoshiaki Kadota (Kazunari Aizawa) starts suffering from strange fits and hallucinating that he is being taken over by giant bugs, Keiko (Aki Morita) tries to help him by calling in an old friend, Minoru Sakashita (Teruhiko Nobukuni) that Yoshiaki was at medical school with. At a loss of what to do, Yoshiaki allows Sakashita to take Yoshiaki away in order to try and discover what is causing his fits. However Sakashita is more interested in Keiko than curing Yoshiaki and coveting his friend’s wife will turn out to be a deadly affair when Yoshiaki discovers Sakashita trying to convince Keiko to run away with him. The bonds between husband and wife however are threatened when Keiko discovers that not only does her husband transform into a giant monster but that he is behind a series of brutal murders that have left the police baffled. Will Keiko stand by her man/monster?

With shades of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915) as reconfigured in Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), Henge manages to combine almost seamlessly a powerful love story and the daikajiu genre. This is due both to the skilful direction of Ohata and the nuanced performances of the leads, which means by the time that Henge becomes an out-and-out monster film; we are already invested in the characters and care more about Yoshiaki and Keiko than the monster being defeated. Henge is a must see for anyone who is a fan of the daikajiu genre and/or monster films more generally as well as fans of Japanese horror cinema. This is a film that transcends genre restrictions, and I would highly recommend seeing it on the big screen.

Henge is playing as part of the Terror Cotta Horror Night, in association with Fright Fest that is taking place Friday, 7th June 2013. You can book tickets directly from Prince Charles Cinema


Zomvideo (Kenji Murakami: 2012)

A normal day in the office turns out to be not so normal when zombies come knocking on the door. Without recourse of the conventional weapons that are commonly used to dispatch zombies, the office staff are forced to make do with stationary supplies in order to evade the shuffling hoards. A set of videos made in the 1970s seem provide the staff with ammunition on how to deal with the zombies – including how to make the ultimate zombie weapon out of office furniture and sundries  and a supposed video signal cure for zombification – or do they? Is there in fact something more sinister and demented as work?

Japan specialises in offbeat and innovative horror, although sometimes Japanese cinema pushes through boundaries that are there for a reason – especially in terms of gendered violence. Happily though Zomvideo is the former rather than the later and is a great deal of fun to watch especially if you are familiar with the zombie genre. There is also a nicely embedded subtext about the human rights of the zombies, which manages to implicitly critique the U.S colonization of Japan and the way in which popular representations of the Japanese by the West functioned to dehumanize and demonize the Japanese Other.

Zomvideo reminded me of the deranged fun of Stacy (Kenji Otsuki: 2001), another low-budget Japanese zom/com, and was a great deal more entertaining than Tokyo Zombie (Sakichi Satô: 2005). There is no doubt that Japan has produced some of the most interesting and original video films of late, and Zomvideo is one of the best.

Zomvideo is playing as part of the Terror Cotta Horror Night, in association with Fright Fest, that is taking place Friday, 7th June 2013. You can book tickets directly from Prince Charles Cinema.


The Ghost Story of Yotsuya (1959)

The Ghost Story of Yotsuya concerns a deceitful Samurai, Iemon, who is down on his luck and wishes to pursue a profitable alliance with the daughter, of a rich merchant. Unfortunately his wife, Oiwa, and newly born son stand in the way of his ambition and so, Oiwa has to die. Poisoned and driven mad by pain, Oiwa dies cursing her unfaithful husband with her last breath, returning from the dead in order to avenge her untimely death.

The strange and sad story of Oiwa is one of the most popular Japanese ghost stories (kaidan), and has provided the template for numerous plays, television dramas and films. Deceived by her husband, Oiwa dies – directly or indirectly as a result of Iemon’s behaviour – returning as the archetypal vengeful ghost (Onryou) to torment her betrayer. Of the many cinematic versions, Nobuo’s is one of the finest – a cinematic tour-de-force of operatic dimensions, beautifully designed sets and suitably nuanced performances by   Shigeru Amachi as the devious Iemon and Katsuko Wakasugi as the betrayed wife/vengeful ghost.

The opportunity to see Nobuo’s version of this classic tale on the big screen on its own is reason enough to attend Terror Cotta Horror Night, 7th June 2013. This is a film, although deemed a classic of Japanese cinema, is not readily available in the West, which makes this a rare opportunity to see one of the foundational films of Japanese Edo-Gothic cinema that should not be missed.

Tickets can be booked directly from Prince Charles Cinema