Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Japanese Spirit World

Why do the Japanese have a special predilection for ghosts, ghost stories ahd horror movies? I have made a couple of Japanese friends recently and it appears to me that while we were reading Enid Blytons and Nancy Drew, they all seem to have been brought up on a steady diet of ghost stories! On their recommendation I rented the movie "Ju-on" which was the film on which "The Grudge" was based.

Ju-on has been written and directed by Takashi Shimizu. A Ju-On in Japanese a curse, created by someone who has died a violent and premature death.

Here's the plot summary:

A volunteer social care worker, Nishina Rika (Okina), enters the home of a bed-ridden patient and discovers a strange ghostly presence lurking behind a door sealed with duct tape. Her discovery unleashes a horrible evil which baffles police investigators, who find that a whole series of people have gone missing from this particular house. Further investigation leads to Izutni Toyama (Uehara), a former detective who handled the case of a man who murdered his wife in the house, but whose son was never found. But when the angry "Ju-on"spirit of vengeance that has infected the house reaches beyond its boundaries to kill Toyama and his daughter, Rika realizes that the horror is spreading. Worse, unless something is done about it, she feels she may become the angry spirit's next victim!

Ju-On Posted by Hello

One interesting thing to note is that many of the events take place during daylight hours. Shadows emerge out of nowhere, it suddenly becomes dark, the music gets creepier, and the viewer knows that something is going to happen. Especially the first few vignettes, where nothing is clear. The primary vehicle that Shimizu uses to shock the audience is a gothed out little boy, who runs behind people, peeks around corners, and stares creepily at the various cast members---made me want to laugh! Sorry, but honestly, it didn't make my flesh crawl at all, disappointing!

The next time, I might try watching the Japanese version of "The Ring" or "Ringu" as it is known in Japan or even "Kansen:Infection" where although the storylines are not too frightening, the sound and special effects are supposed to give one the heebie-jeebies, yeah!

And why look at just the movies, even some Japanese authors seem to specialize in the bizarre. Take Haruki Murakami for instance, his books always involve portals into other dimensions. In his latest, "Kafka on the Shore", we are introduced to a transgendered hemophiliac, an old man whose brain was apparently wiped clean as a child by what may or may not have been a UFO which leaves him unable to read but with the ability to communicate with cats, and finally, a supernatural figure dressed as Johnnie Walker (the guy on the whiskey bottle).Talk about bizarre!!!

Even the kids' movie "Spirited Away" is not spared. A ten-year old girl named Chihiro becomes lost in an alternate universe with sorceresses, ghouls, a man with no-face, dragons, gigantic babies etc., and must find within herself the pluck and the love to endure a series of dangerous tests before she can go home. An excellent movie no doubt, but we never seem to be able to get away from the "spirit" theme if it's a Japanese movie.