J-horror Inquirer article

J.sharp j.sharp at hpo.net
Fri Jun 9 12:57:22 EDT 2006

I take all your points Aaron. But "Horror" is a pretty amorphous genre in
any sense of the word, having been used to describe films as diverse as the
LESBOS or Mexican wrestling films like SANTO VS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER. My
previous potted history of the horror genre I guess was more applicable to
the gothic tradition as practised by Hammer and the Italians, and which I
see as more prevalent in the 60s Kaidan than in later American modern
horrors from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE onwards.

As far as I can work out, the term was first coined in the early 30s when
the British censors formed the new 'H' for "Horrific" certificate in the
wake of the early Universal pictures. many of the German Ufa precedents had
never been seen in Britain: NOSFERATU's release was blocked by Bram Stoker's
widow, while THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI was suppressed due to those very
British notions of good taste, or as one censor said at the time they were
concerned that the asylum scenes would upset people in the audiences who had
relatives in mental hospitals

Most of the discussions in recent western writing centred around Japanese
horror in the wake of the success of the Ring, for example the recent
Edinburgh University Press book Japanese Horror Cinema, have tried charting
a retroactive chronology that tries to find both local and foreign
antecedents to the recent so-called J-horror boom, and have spread their
search far and wide and come up with all sorts of ill-fitting examples
ranging from Mizoguchi's UGETSU through Nikkatsu's Roman Porno ANGEL GUTS

What I would argue is that Nobuo Nakagawa and the directors at Shintoho were
doing something very similar to the Hammer Studios in the UK, both in using
safely-removed historical settings to critique feudal practises, and in
emphasizing both the erotic and horrific elements of the stories, something
which was never possible in either country due to pre-war censorship
requirements. Thus modern horror became predicated on the short, sharp shock
criterion and the amount of blood-letting, and the gothic on both its
fantasy elements, its dream-logic and its exploitation of the cinematic
medium's expressive possibilities. Other Kaidan films like UGETSU don't
really fit this bill.

I wonder when the use of the Katakanised "horaa" term crept into common
parlance in Japan? I see the words "kaiki" (grotesque/fantastique) and
"kyoufu" (fear/horror) scrawled on some of the posters Jason alerted us to.
Wasn't the term "ryouki" (bizarre) also used to refer to the erotic horror
hybrids in Japan too, such as Noboru Tanaka's Rampo adaptation of Rampo's
WATCHER IN THE ATTIC. (And then again, don't the French tend to use terms
such as "fantastique" rather than "horreur" when talking about these types
of genre films?)

So while I agree to some extent that we should take into account the various
traditions in Japanese cinema and literature before we cast our net too
widely and pluck out various titles that don't really fit the bill, I would
also say that horror on a global level is a very tricky genre to define, and
regardless whether a film was made in any part of the world to fit into this
diverse genre, we should also look less at the content of the film in
question than the (desired) effect it has upon audiences.

This is a long, complex and fascinating discussion I think - sorry if I'm
boring anyone though...


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--------- Original Message --------
From: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu <KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu>
Subject: Re: J-horror Inquirer article
Date: 09/06/06 05:43

> Just one thought:
> One of the dangers when talking about the issue of East vs. West in
> history of horror cinema is the terminology used. The fact is that
> &quot;horror&quot; is a term used for Euro-American cinema that only
recently has
> been used in Japan. Before that, there were many other terms used,
> especially kaidan eiga, bakeneko eiga, etc. The danger is that to use
> the term &quot;horror&quot; to refer to films that were never discussed
> that term always threatens to impose the assumptions of that term on
> films where it is inappropriate. The effect is thus to impose
> Euro-American genre definitions on a foreign tradition--and to in
> affect assume the West is the dominant tradition that Japan is only
> copying. Even if one tries to allow for differences within
> one is still imposing a rubric with many assumptions that threatens to
> obscure more than it reveals. One thing it obscures is the multiple
> terms used to refer to different forms of film in Japan--again, kaidan,
> bakeneko, kaiki eiga, etc.--terms that since they were separate,
> indicate these films may not have been grouped together--as we do now,
> perhaps artificially--under a single term like &quot;horror.&quot;
> I think we should all step back and rethink our use of the term
> &quot;horror.&quot; I, for one, would be very averse to using the term
> to refer to 1930s Shinko Kinema bakeneko films, for instance. (When
> Kurosawa was here, I spoke of my doubts and he sympathized with my
> worries.) We have to ask ourselves questions like this: What other
> genre terms exist and what do they tell us about the films they refer
> to? How did those terms function industrially or historically
> (especially the relation to kabuki and rakugo in prewar films)? When
> does the term &quot;horror&quot; appear in Japanese? How is it used and
why? What
> are we losing when we use the term? An even more basic question is
> still this: Is the notion of &quot;genre&quot; itself equally applicable
> Japanese cinema as it is to American cinema (i.e., is the phenomenon
> itself the same, given the Japanese studios' emphasis on studio styles,
> on series, on the director, etc., instead of genres across studios)?
> These are all questions we need to ask when using the term
> with regard to Japanese cinema.
> Aaron Gerow
> Director of Undergraduate Studies, Film Studies Program
> Assistant Professor
> Film Studies Program/East Asian Languages and Literatures
> Yale University
> 53 Wall Street, Room 316
> PO Box 208363
> New Haven, CT 06520-8363
> Phone: 1-203-432-7082
> Fax: 1-203-432-6764
> e-mail: aaron.gerow at yale.edu

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