Jigoku is a truly unique movie. The narrative loosely follows a series of deaths and murders that all happen in the protagonist’s life as if he is cursed, and the final scenes of the movie follow the dead characters and the protagonist in hell. The addition of the afterlife journey gives more depth to the characters.
My favorite part of the movie was the brutal death scenes. They were bold, like bodies falling off a rope bridge, and gruesome. As a bonus, the final hell scenes went full throttle on the gore, and it was great!
Nakagawa, Nobuo. Jigoku, Shintoho, 1960.
The 1964 Japanese horror movie Onibaba is a slow burn. Much of its horror centers around the crimes and abuses caused by a war, particularly against women. Set in the past in a rural area, it evokes the discomfort of a very difficult era in history. From the start of the movie, death is ever present, and you know you are watching a horror movie.
The slow burn was worth it, for me. The struggles of the relationships between a small group of people transformed throughout the narrative, ending with a final paranormal twist that was believably built into the story.
Shindo, Kaneto. Onibaba, Toho, 1964.
I discovered A Page of Madness from a curated list of Japanese horror films on an Instagram account (@cathodecinema). I start with this note because the movie was not a typical horror movie. It was a fascinating piece of surreal art and storytelling that did culminate around what seemed to be a murder, but it was not the paranormal creepiness or crime I was expecting from a horror movie.
The movie was easy to find online, and I would recommend it. A silent film, the narrative is told through vivid imagery. The story is woven through scenes of patients of an insane asylum who are shown living their fantasy while living their suffering in an asylum cell. Madness abounds throughout the movie, but it is balanced by scenes of a dancer and her escapism fantasy.
I can’t say I have seen anything like it, and I marvel at the fact it was made in the 1920s.
Kinugasa, Teinosuke. A Page of Madness, Kinugasa Productions, 1926 (US: New Line Cinema, 1975).
This Halloween, I revisited the Ring and Grudge series of movies. In addition to the classics, the US remakes and the Netflix Grudge series, I discovered movies that were new to me, Ring 0, a Japanese prequel to the Ring series, and Sadako vs. Kayako, a mash-up movie of the two franchises.
Ring 0 was good and worth the watch, but it was Sadako vs. Kayako that captured my imagination. I was ready to like it because the director was Kōji Shiraishi, who made possibly one of my all-time favorite horror movies, Noroi: The Curse. The style of Sadako vs. Kayako is nothing like Noroi, but Shiraishi succeeded in making another scary movie.
I fully expected and even wanted the cheesiest, corniest movie out of a Ring-Grudge mash-up, akin to Freddy vs. Jason. It held up to my expectations in the best possible ways, with jump scares and spooky scenes with Sadako, Kayako and the cat-crying boy, Toshio. What I liked more was how unforgiving and cruel they were.
What I liked best about the movie was how it told the story of two cursed girls: how they got cursed, crossed paths and fought together to break their curses. I cannot say that I loved the ending of the film, but the way it took a flimsy and kitschy idea and turned it into a tale of two cursed girls was enchanting and lasted with me.
Shiraishi, Koji. Sadako vs. Kayako, PKDN Films (via Universal Pictures), 2016.
Images from IMDb and Fear Forever.
I waited for years before finally seeing Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, and I think the excitement and expectations were too high for what the movie ended up being. I was expecting a mix between Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Tim Burton’s early 1980s Hansel and Gretel, which were both great and far superior than House. The majority of the good scenes were all in the trailer, except for my favourite, which was the eye in the mouth.
I guess I should have done more research into this movie other than watching trailers and hearing about how great it was from friends and family. Warning to those who have yet to see this, expect something more light-hearted with a light plot.
Obayashi, Nobuhiko. House, Toho, 1977.
I was mesmerized by Kōji Shiraishi’s 2005 Noroi: The Curse from beginning to end. Told through a compilation of television shows and interviews and documentary-style footage, it tells a spooky ghost story in a very modern way.
Shiraishi, Kōji. Noroi: The Curse, Xanadeux Company (Production Company), 2005.
Visit 10 Famous Japanese Ghost Stories on the 百物語怪談会 Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai blog for a great collection of spooky tales.
Searching for scary Japanese ghosts, I came across the legend of bakeneko, cats that shape-shift into humans, or near humans. They are tormentors and tricksters.
They appear as a popular monster in kabuki productions, like the one pictured here.
Visit Bakeneko — The Changing Cat on the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai blog to learn all about this spirit’s origins and some of its stories.