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The Writer’s Room: Favorite J-Horror Films

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The Frida Cinema recently welcomed legendary director Hideo Nakata for a virtual Q&A following a screening of his 1998 genre-redefining masterpiece, Ringu, on Saturday, March 30th, presented by our friends at Screamfest. If you grew up with horror in the late 1990s, there may be a good chance that you caught wind of the cinematic explosion of Japanese horror (known more prominently as “J-Horror”) that gradually spread overseas, partly thanks to the acclaimed work of Nakata as well as another Japanese titan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Throughout the ’90s as well as onto the 2000s, their work prioritized a looming, mysterious atmosphere over the cheap thrills that defined horror at large, influencing peers both within and outside of Japan to cement their own styles in a similar fashion and perhaps influencing the ongoing movement that some may coin as “elevated horror.” But to this day, J-horror remains the versatile, hauntingly evocative movement that it’s always been, long before even Nakata or Kurosawa made their names known. Today, the Writer’s Room returns — where select writers have put a spotlight on their own personal favorites of Japanese horror far and wide. Tread lightly.

Austin Jaye, Administrative Assistant

Kotoko

Kotoko (2011):

When Tetsuo: The Iron Man put its maximalist auteur Shin’ya Tsukamoto on the map, few could’ve predicted the trajectory his career embarked on following the film’s release. From major studio ventures like Hiruko the Goblin to a legendary streak of independent works like Tokyo Fist, Bullet Ballet, Gemini, and A Snake of June, Tsukamoto further established himself as a genuinely daring visionary who dared to tap into certain psyches and idiosyncrasies that seemed uncharted through his often ravishingly intense lens. It wasn’t until almost a decade later, however, that his sensibilities would coalesce into a career-defining masterstroke, all with the help of a pop star. When beloved artist Cocco approached Tsukamoto with an original story about a single mother suffering immensely from double-vision and urges to self-harm all whilst raising her infant child, both forces united to form 2011’s Kotoko, a stunningly terrifying and tactile piece of film art.

In a lead performance that both dares you to look away while emanating a vast ray of empathy, Cocco pulverizes every possible human sense as she simultaneously wears every possible extreme of emotion on her often heartbreaking visage. It is an utterly breathtaking performance that is in perfect synchronization with Tsukamoto’s fluid, anxiety-inducing direction, aided by his intimate digital cinematography and characteristically abrasive editing. When he eventually enters the film in a supporting role, it is his dynamic with Cocco that forms the emotional basis of the film — at once graceful and grotesque. In Tsukamoto’s mind, a notion as horrific as offering your own body for another so they’re able to avoid inflicting pain onto themselves becomes a hauntingly moving testament to human endurance.


Marleen Apodaca, Blogger

Remember

Re/Member (2022):

When you say the word “horror,” you may think of jump scares, gore, and murder. Those elements may come into play; however, there are different layers to the Japanese horror genre. Re/Member is a Japanese teen horror film that is currently on Netflix and is a story based on a web novel known as Karada Sagashi. The plot involves a group of six high school students who are mostly strangers to each other, who get vacuumed into a time loop by an ominous spirit known as the “Red Person.” They must work together to solve the “body search” and find the missing limbs of the spirit’s last victim.

The victim was a 30-year-old cold case that was never solved. Asuka Morisaki (Kanna Hashimoto) and the group must also figure out why they were chosen to solve this twisted game. Imagine trying to survive a murderous scavenger hunt while trying to avoid being killed by the Red Person. It is like an Easter egg hunt but with a hint of a Final Destination plot, where death seems inevitable.

In this film, the group learns that horror can take many forms, including the stirring feelings of loneliness and sadness. The thoughts we have in our minds can be far scarier than the sounds that go bump in the night. The shadows of self-doubt and the “what-ifs” in life can be more jarring than one can imagine. I believe that the Red Person is a metaphor for the terrors that can manifest in one’s mind and that the group needed to overcome their fears in order to defeat the entity that was attempting to consume them. Everyone has their own version of the Red Person in their lives, but it is a matter of challenging it.


Connor Davis, Blogger

Dark Water

Dark Water (2002):

Dark Water is a slow crawl of a film that focuses more on forming its disquieting mood than in the grotesque or in any cheap jump scares. This is what makes it so haunting. Ghostly. As if a presence not just physical but metaphysical lurks behind every corner. When recently divorced Yoshimi and her daughter, Ikuko, move into a dilapidated apartment, strange things start to unfold. The adventurous Ikuko explores the building and finds a red bag, presumably a child’s, around the same age as her. Yoshimi turns in the bag to the apartment manager, only for it to be gone the next day and then to reappear inexplicably in other parts of the building. Then there is the leak from the ceiling, expanding the longer the two are there. Yoshimi understandably grows stressed and paranoid. She sees glimpses of a young girl. This paranoia isn’t helped when Ikuko often goes running off, disappearing somewhere within the building. Who is this girl? And why does Ikuko seem to have formed a friendship with her? Yoshimi’s past creeps into the present as she is reminded of her own parents’ divorce and times when she was abandoned. Dark Water was given an American remake that fails to encapsulate the claustrophobic and just plain eerie nature of one of J-horror’s most well-known films.


 

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