Tag Archives: turning Japanese

Dark Water (2005)

mv5botcymdq3mjetnjzkos00zdq0lwe1ywmtytnknmnizju0mzhhxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi-_v1_There’s nothing about doing a job search via the internet that really sucks up a lot of your time, assuming you have a pre-made résumé just waiting to go. And I do. Which leaves me with no good excuse for going most of a week with two more movies under my belt, and yet, here I am. If I hadn’t conveniently lost my out of print Brust novel, I’d be a book behind by now, too.

In any case, the J-horror invasion continues, this time menacing Jennifer Connelly with some Dark Water, which is worse than it sounds because, seriously, said water looked very, very gross. As usual, the dread builds up pretty well over time, and also as usual, the Eastern plotting style never quite gels with my Western expectations. There’s a whole plot wrapped up around Jennifer having issues with being late, dating to her childhood, and then halfway through the movie, it’s dropped completely. More damning, though, is that she didn’t spend half as much time soaked as I was expecting from the title and previews. So much for my predictions about ‘the role she was born to play’. Don’t despair, though. Tim Roth’s lawyer is worth the price of admission, if perhaps not the amount of time it takes to get him on the screen. (Note: he doesn’t spend any time soaked, so that’s not why.)

I’m starting to wonder what the deal is with the Japanese psyche that so much of its fear elements are wrapped up in motherhood issues. Not every single movie I’ve seen in this particular horror genre hits the topic, but it’s holding steady at 75 percent. I bet there’s a paper in this that I would be forced to write if I were in film school, and I’d pass because of how it’s a foreign film thing, even though otherwise I’d fail because it’s horror and that’s not real film-making. Or perhaps I’m unnecessarily bitter.

Chakushin Ari

MV5BMjE4ODQ0Mzc4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODA3MzEzMQ@@._V1__SX852_SY468_I have a sense that I’m occasionally going to have to plan trips to Austin solely for the movie-watching opportunities. You know, after I move. Right now, all the planning it takes is remembering to walk out the door a touch over an hour before the movie starts. Which is sufficiently non-trivial that I skip out on lots of stuff I’d love to see, already. So, yeah, that whole going to Austin thing is gonna suck. Perhaps I’ll plan weekends around it, based on cool-movie density. Until then, though, I get to review randomly awesome movies that nobody else has ever heard of.

Such as the one I saw last night, One Missed Call. Yet another Japanese horror movie (as you could probably already tell by the confluence of the imdb-transliterated entry title and my well-documented movie tastes), and it’s getting to the point where there are definitely tropes for the genre. A couple of obvious ones are that the scary avenging spirit must have bad, face-concealing hair and that mirrors are more trustworthy windows on reality than unaided eyes. Plus, there’s the thing where technology has a terrifying dark side. I think that’s what keeps me coming back, and why American horror can’t compete. There’s nothing that terrifies us as a people united, the way that Japan was terrified by the atom bomb in 1945. Without that cultural consciousness to lend gravity to generations of authors and film-makers, we’ve just got people throwing darts and then duplicating the things that work, over and over again, without any solid idea of why they worked. Thus endeth my sojourn into the comparative anatomy of 25 years of US horror movies vs. 10 years of Japanese horror movies.

As far as the movie at hand: It was longer than I’m used to a horror movie being, because it was trying to be a lot of things. “They’ll kill us through our cellphones” is one of them, and it worked now as well as Ringu must have in 1998, because everyone has a cellphone / everyone had a VCR, so immediately your audience is going to identify with what makes it fundamentally scary. So, that was successful. It was also trying to be “The media does not care if it destroys your soul in the quest for ratings”, and that one also worked. That particular sequence makes me think that someone will want to remake this for American audiences, because of how well we can understand what the film-maker was going for. In point of fact, I wonder if it was a jab at the American media specifically, or if Japan has it as bad as we do.

Sadly, the rest of the things it was trying to be (“Look out for the psycho-killer”, “Stop abusing me, mommy”, “A glimpse of the afterlife”) were less effective. Not because any of them are uninteresting themes, but because they kept being crowded out by the primary two and by each other. The way it worked out in the end was that I found the imagery sufficiently disturbing for the cheap thrills part of my brain, and the themes scary enough for the analytical part, that I was completely satisfied by the horror movie experience. Despite that, I had a couple of niggling questions, things that I wish I had understood better and wonder if I would have, coming at it from the Japanese mindset instead of my tragically self-involved Western one.

If you have a way to rent it or see it somewhere and you liked the Ring, you should catch it. A bonus spot for me was that I could tell the people apart. This makes me feel less bad about myself over the Ju-on thing where I couldn’t. Instead of blaming it on my cultural insensitivity, I can now blame it on either the out-of-order narrative or the casting director for actually picking people who did all look alike. Another bonus spot: unexpected boobies. I didn’t think they did that in Japanese horror. Unless you are me, probably you should watch it only for the first reason, and not based on the bonus spots.

The Ring Two

MV5BMTY2ODc2NTQ2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzA4OTU3._V1_I finally got out to a movie again, which is nice, because I was starting to feel bad about how few I’ve seen this year. (Barely more than one per month!) Despite the overcrowded and subsequently hot theater, I went for the one I wanted to see the most out of my available choices, The Ring Two. The title really bothers me, and I don’t know why. Is it because it’s too short or monosyllabic to have the number appended? Is it because it’s written out instead of numeralized? Maybe it’s just because the posters with Two written out and the o matches the Ring imagery from the original movie is so brilliant that any other vision of the title pales by comparison. Seriously, good poster. I kinda wish I collected movie posters. Perhaps once I have a bigger house I’ll make a poster room, and spend a lot of unnecessary money on eBay.

So, yeah, there’s this movie. The first one was really scary, despite the ridiculous premise that people are still watching anything on videotape. As the movie opened, and I know it’s only supposed to be six months later by plot, but it’s been several years in real life, and also the kid is the same actor, so he looks several years older, and my point here is even if I could handle it in 2002, no way am I going to buy into the videotape thing in 2005, and as the movie opened I was already rolling my eyes. (Also: I was starting to think that opening night is a bad time to see a horror movie, because too many people were too amused, but that faded at the same time my eye-rolling did, so I instead take this as proof that the rest of America agrees with me on the ridiculousness of anyone watching a videotape, or probably even owning a VCR.) Luckily, the people making the movie seemed to get that, and the plot unleashed the scary drowned spider girl into a different, somewhat less scary[1] but more emotionally resonant and symbolism-filled world.

Symbolism and to spare. Lots of iconic ring and related images to be found all over the place. (I can’t go into detail there without spoiling the first movie.) Lots of water imagery. A distorted reflection of the maternal themes in Aliens, which now that I think about it was also less scary but more emotionally resonant than the movie it was a sequel to. I like this thing where horror movies are deep, but still manage to get in the scary cinematography, oppresive musical score, and sure, occasional cheap thrill. It’s kind of like science fiction in the literary world, in that there’s room to explore pretty much anything you can imagine, yet it’s all lumped together in one critically dismissed (although increasingly less so, in both cases) category based strictly on a setting that everyone assumes isn’t adult enough to care about.

Scary? Sure. Good plot? For the most part, although I still don’t really get what it is that Samara actually does to her victims. I think this is a Japanese horror trope, the idea that you can be scared to death without worrying about what was so scary, so I’m willing to let it go. It is creepily effective, so it’s easy to not mind. Extras for people who just want to see boobies and cameos? Naomi Watts is the star of a movie filled with water-related events, so you do the math there. Also, Bingo Bob has an amusing turn as a real estate agent. (And gets fourth or so billing out of basically a cameo-sized appearance, which surprised me; but the cast is small and therefore more personal, which is a good thing for the story as written.)

[1] With the exception of Halloween 2, all horror movie sequels are less scary. And it’s only as scary, because no horror sequels are more scary than the original. Can’t be done.

Ju-on: The Grudge

Lots of horror movies out these days, which means lots of chances to see Sarah Michelle Gellar taking a shower while a creepy Japanese curse causes fingers to appear out of the back of her head (or something like that) in previews of the latest Japanese horror remake, The Grudge.

I haven’t had a chance to see Ringu yet (it’s in my Netflix queue), but thanks to the delightful people who run the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain I had a chance to see Ju-on last night, a few weeks before the American remake hits theaters.

In any case, this one was a good, scary atmospheric piece. There’s this house, where it is established in the opening credits that a man previously went crazy and killed the hell out of his wife, son, and pet cat. Now people (the residents, remote family members, social workers, and police) wander in and out of the house for their various reasons, and some very angry dead people aren’t willing to stand for it.

The narrative is split up into randomly-sized and ordered chunks exploring the consequences of each individual’s passage into the range of the grudge. This works really well for the first hour and change of the movie. Unfortunately, the last two such scenes don’t make a lick of sense, and I left the movie with no idea how things had turned out or what the ultimate cause behind the evil was, or even if I’m supposed to know these things or not. But that’s okay, because I went for the creepy atmosphere, and got that in spades.

I’m still going to watch the remake, though. My hope is that an American director will insist on some coherence near the end. If I’m really lucky, it will cohere and also explain what was going on in the original, instead of just cohering by him making something entirely new up instead. Plus, Buffy in a shower. I mean, by far not my first choice of BtVS characters to see nekkid, but neither will I turn down what I’m offered. (Anyway, I’m sure there will be no nudity and that I’d have gone to see it no matter what. But you never can tell.)