Tag Archives: Japan

100 Word Horrors 2

Back last year I contributed to an anthology of drabbles called 100 Word Horrors. I’d never written a drabble until then, but found it a lot of fun as well as a good exercise. When you only have 100 words, you have to be concise and make every word count. The format is one I enjoy, and I’ve dabbled (drabbled?) in it quite a lot since.

Here’s another one.

Fast forward a few months and editor Kevin Kennedy is at it again.

Introducing… 100 Word Horrors 2.

How’s this for an awesome cover?

100 word horrors 2

My contribution this time around, Hitori Kakurenbo, is a spin-off from my recently completed (and as yet unpublished) novella Tethered. It isn’t set in the same universe, nor does it feature any of the same characters, but the two stories are linked because they both concern creepy internet rituals. Translated from Japanese, Hitori Kakurenbo means ‘One person hide and seek.’ Or something along those lines. I’ll be giving the game away if I divulge too much here, but let’s just say it involves a stuffed doll, a knife and some blood. Wahoo! What more do you need for a fun night in by yourself?

Check out 100 Word Horrors 2 to read Hitori kakurenbo in its 100-word entirety, along with stories by lots of other, more talented writers including Amy Cross, Andrew Lennon, David Moody, Michael Bray, Shaun Hutson, Terry West and my spirit uncle Craig, to name but a few.

I’m just there for the shits and giggles.

And the stuffed dolls.

100 Word Horrors is available now on ebook and paperback.

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RetView #12 – Ringu

Title: Ringu (Ring)

Year of Release: 1998

Director: Hideo Nakata

Length: 95 mins

Starring: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Otaka, Yuko Takeuchi, Hitomi Sato

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It would be a huge generalization to say that I love them all because like anything else, the genre can be a bit hit n’ miss. But I’ve spoken at length before about my fondness for Japanese horror movies. Ringu (the original version of the Ring, followed in 2002 by a big-budget and hugely successful American remake) is quite possibly the king of J-Horror. It’s without doubt the movie responsible for sparking a western fascination with Asian horror movies which was mined extensively over the next decade or so with varying degrees of success. Think Pulse, the Grudge and Dark Water, all of which were remade for western audiences.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that until Ringu burst onto the screens in all its grainy glory, western horror cinema was going through a notoriously bad time. We were still bogged down in the deranged serial killer/slasher genre, which was getting decidedly old by then. There are only so many cheap scares and bloody, increasingly imaginative kills an audience can tolerate before they get desensitized to the whole thing. We wanted something new. Something that wasn’t the same as everything else. Then came Ringu.

The film begins innocuously enough, giving barely a hint of the edge-of-the-seat creepiness to follow. Two cutesy teenaged girls, Masami (Sato) and Tomoko (Takeuchi) are messing around in an apartment and discussing a cursed videotape which supposedly kills its victims after they receive a phone call seven days after watching it, when one of them confesses to watching just such a strange tape a week earlier. Then the phone rings. Some time later, reporter Reiko Asakawa (Matsushima) learns that her niece Tomoko (Yup, thadda one) and three of her friends died under mysterious circumstances, and sets about investigating. The trail leads to a cabin in the Izu area of Japan. There, she finds an unlabelled video tape. Obviously, she watches it, thereby starting off a trail of events which might just be the death of her. She enlists the help of her ex-husband (Sanada) and together they attempt to break the spell and avoid Reiko’s imminent fate. More than two decades on, that unforgettable scene where Sadako the ghost girl climbs out of a well (and then through a television screen) remains one of the simplest yet most evocative slices of cinematic history ever committed to, er, videotape? Though many have tried to replicate the effect, it has never been emulated.

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Adapted from the 1991 novel Ring by Koji Suzuki who, in turn, based the story on an urban myth , the movie has long been noted as examining Japan’s obsession with the clash between tradition and modernity. This is only one of the many subtexts critics have pointed to, another popular one being that ghost girl Sadako is a model for the modern woman and how independence conflicts with the traditional core values of motherhood. Whether you agree with any of that or not, it’s clear that Ringu is an extraordinarily complex film that works on many levels. It is a visually stunning piece of work, so heavily steeped in Japanese culture that as a westerner it’s practically impossible to grasp all the subtleties. It draws on many aspects of history, folklore, and even theatre, to create a mash-up that is much more about fostering a pervasive sense of dread rather than going for cheap jump scares. Much was made at the time about Sadako’s jerky, twisty, hauntingly deliberate movements. These were actually based on a kind of interpretive Japanese dance called Butoh, which became popular after the Second World War. Even Sadako’s classic look is no accident, having been based on a specific species of ghost called the yūrei, which invariably feature stark white faces, long black hair, and white kimonos. The reason yūrei appear this way is because that’s how Japanese women looked when they were buried.

In fact, everything about Ringu was designed to creep the viewer out. One way it achieved this was through use of a technique called ‘Ma,’ where sound effects and musical scores are deliberately punctuated with sequences of rapid pauses or even long, drawn-out silences. This was another way the film differentiates itself significantly from Western films. While Western horror uses sound to let the audience know how they should be feeling, J-Horror (and Ringu specifically), uses Ma as a way to keep the audience thrown off balance. This is just one reason the Guardian named it the 12th Best Horror Film of all Time. By the way, you can watch it in its entirety (with English subtitles) HERE.

Trivia Corner:

In what proved to be a shrewd and innovative move at the time, both Ringu and its sequel Rasen (not to be confused with Ring 2), were released in Japan on the same day, January 31st 1998. Both films had different writers and directors, yet shared many of the same cast members. Shrewd and innovative this may have been, but successful it wasn’t as Ringu was an international hit and Rasen a comparative flop.


The J-Horror Movie Marathon

I have a thing for Japanese horror. It’s pretty unique, partly because ghost stories have permeated Japanese culture for millennia and been granted more respect and freedom to evolve than in most other societies. Other than that, Japan is one fucked up place. Have you ever seen Japanese porn? There’s more incest, rape, and sex with crustaceans than you can shake a stick at.

Because they so often work within limited budgets, Japanese film-makers are forced to rely on plot, atmospherics and pure acting ability to make their work shine. Things that are sadly often neglected in Hollywood these days. One recent Saturday night, with a pathetically empty social calendar and a storm raging outside, I decided a J-Horror marathon (with English subs, obvs) was in order.

 

5:55 pm

Title: One Missed Call

Year: 2003

Director: Takashi Miike

Running time: 112 mins

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On the back of successful fore-runners like Koji Suzuki’s classic Ringu (The Ring), Pulse, and Dark Water, in 2008 One Missed Call became the latest Japanese horror movie to be remade by an American studio for an international audience. I’d watched the remake for comparison a couple of days earlier, and though the basic storyline pretty much stays true to the original, it’s more of a sugary teen flick lacking any real resonance and emotional impact. In short, the movie stinks.

The original is something else entirely.

On the surface the premise is pretty standard fare; a young student receives a voicemail on her mobile on which she can hear herself screaming. Putting two and two together, she decides the message must be from her future self warning of her imminent demise. When the message proves prophetic, it soon transpires that it’s just the latest in a long line of similar events and the girl’s friend Yumi takes it upon herself to solve the mystery. The result is a pretty intense, suspenseful, psychological experience, rather than the kind of uninspired gore fest we are so often subjected to. Typically of J-horror, there is a curse involved, some rogue technology, and hot girls in danger. We’re off to a decent start.

7:48 pm

Title: Uzumaki (Spiral)

Year: 2000

Director: Higuchinsky

Running time: 90 mins

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No rest for the wicked, it’s straight into movie number two, which proves to be one of the weirdest, creepiest, most fucked up films I have ever seen. It was adapted from a Junji Oto manga series, so I should have expected as much. His other notable works include Tomie, about an immortal girl who is so beautiful she drives people insane, and Gyu, about killer fish with metal legs. Yep, that’s the kind of guy we are dealing with.

Uzumaki is about a town obsessed with spirals. To be ‘at one’ with uzumaki, one character commits suicide by crawling inside a washing machine. The result is not pleasant. His wife then becomes so anti-spiral that she chops off all her fingertips so as not to have anything resembling a spiral on her body. That plan falls apart when she learns that there is a spiral-esque vortex buried in the deepest part of the human ear. I won’t say anymore so as not to spoil it, but you can probably guess it doesn’t end well for her. Oh, and then all the students at the local school start turning into giant snails. What the absolute fuck? I’m glad I watched this early on in the marathon. It’s the kind of thing that can make a grown man go scurrying off crying for his mother.

9:20 pm

Title: Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman

Year: 2007

Director: Koji Shiraishi

Running time: 90 mins

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After a quick pit-stop to make coffee and grab some Dorito’s, it’s straight back on it. The subtitles were out of synch on this one. I didn’t know what people were saying until about three minutes after they’d said it, which made the whole experience even more surreal. Someone would do something, then you’d find out why they were doing it later. The name alone is enough to give you shivers. The Kuchisake-Onna (slit-mouthed woman) is a bi-product of a real playground legend. Those Japanese kids, huh? A tall, skinny woman wearing a long trench coat, pointy shoes and a surgical mask covering her horribly disfigured face is said to appear and ask ‘Am I pretty?’ before carting off unruly school kids and doing unspeakable things to them with a massive pair of scissors. So far, so creepy. But things take a nasty turn when the urban legend turns out to be real, and one-by-one kids start disappearing. A pair of intrepid young teachers then set out to uncover the truth, and reveal one shocking secret after another. Harrowing and atmospheric, The Slit-Mouthed Woman (aka Carved) contains most of the elements audiences have come to expect from J-Horror. Curses, vengeful spirits, abused children, disused buildings, a haunting musical score and cold, brutal violence. It’s all here. If one film sums up post-Ringu J-Horror, it’s this. The last scene will chill you to the bone.

Am I pretty?

10:50 pm

Title: Ju-on: The Final Curse

Year: 2015

Director: Masayuki Ochiai

Running time: 90 mins

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More coffee and more Doritos.

You might not know this, but whereas the turgid American incarnation of the Grudge franchise was wisely curtailed after three instalments, the Japanese juggernaut just kept on rolling. And rolling. If you include that trio of western Grudges, this is the eleventh Ju-On (Grudge/Curse) film in the series originally created by Takashi Shimizu, and a continuation of last year’s Ju-On: The Beginning of the End, itself a reboot of the earlier films.

Phew. Now that’s all cleared up, on with the show. This latest (and allegedly last) instalment is a Paramount Pictures production, meaning it’s much more polished than you would normally expect. No shaky camera work or sub-par special effects here. Without getting too much into it, the plot evolves around Mai, who goes in search of her missing younger sister, the elementary school teacher from the last film (which is helpfully re-capped at the beginning). Let’s just say she gets more than she bargained for when Toshio, the terrifying little kid who makes those annoying cat noises, puts in an extended appearance. The plot is a bit stretched, as it would be after ten previous outings, but overall this film is pretty slick.

12:20 am

Title: Grotesque

Year: 2009

Director: Koji Shiraishi

Running time: 73 mins

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It’s that man again. Our friend Koji of the Slit-Mouthed Woman fame. To be honest, I don’t know what he was thinking with this. This film is banned in the UK, which is usually a good sign. I’m a horror fan, and I’ve seen some pretty far out shit. I’ve developed a reasonably strong stomach, or so I thought. Not this time. This is way out of my league. It’s downright fucking nasty, and I was soon sorry I munched all those Doritos.

I’m no prude, I believe violence has it’s place. In literature, art, films and even in real life. But there has to be a reason for it. This is exploitive torture porn, plain and simple, and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Two young lovers are walking down the street, minding their own business, when they are kidnapped by a mad doctor who then proceeds to do the most awful, sadistic, depraved things to them. That’s the whole storyline right there, and it’s not fun to watch. In fact, it’s extremely fucking hard to watch. Which I guess is the point. If so, mission accomplished, Shi Shiraishi. You twisted fuck. This is the only film I’ve ever not been able to finish. I don’t know if that’s a criticism or an accolade.

This article first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.

 


The Forest – Film Review

At the foot of mount Fiji in Japan lies the deeply mysterious Aokigahara forest, widely known as a popular suicide destination. In 2010 alone, there were 54 confirmed cases. Nobody is quite sure what draws people from all over the country, and even further afield, there to end their days, but it has a long association with the Yurei of Japanese mythology, similar entities to what we would call ghosts. Yerei pray on the sad, lonely and vulnerable, using their own negative emotions against them. Sounds more like the script of a horror movie, right? Well, now it is, thanks to producer David S Goyer (the Blade franchise, Da Vinci’s Demons, and cult noughties TV show FreakyLinks) reading about the forest on wikipedia.

The_Forest_Poster

Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer plays an American woman who recieves a phonecall from the Japanese authorities saying that her identical twin sister has ventured into the Aokigahara forest and has not been seen since. Obviously, she gets on the next plane to the land of the rising Sun and rocks up to the very same hotel her sister was staying where she meets a western journalist who seems just a little too eager to help. Together with a guide, they head into the forest in search of the missing sister. All in all, it’s a good premise for a film. It’s atmospheric, well-produced, and for the most part well executed. It’s a pity the film lets itself down in other areas. The plot kinda drifts off and cannibalizes itself toward the end, and there are some mildly annoying oversights. For example, when Dormer’s character first meets the journalist (Taylor Kinney, aka Mason Lockwood of Vampire Diaries fame) she tells him how the sisters lost both their parents in a car accident caused by a drunk driver who was never caught. But… if the driver was never caught, how did anyone know they were drunk? They could just be a really shit driver. You would think with all the untold millions lavished on film production these days, somebody somewhere along the line would notice such a gaping plot hole. Evidently not. Sigh.

As you would expect, the film is laced with the kind of creepy, unsettling horror you would expect from something so Japan-centric, though it has minimal input from anyone actually Japanese apart from a few actors, which you would think was the minimum requirement. For the most part, it wasn’t even filmed in Japan. The Japanese government don’t allow filming in Aokigahara forest so apart from a few scenes shot in Tokyo, the bulk of the movie was filmed in a warehouse Serbia. I shit you not. The forest is suitably creepy, though, and there are some sleek touches.

On its release, The Forest was met with an avalanche of criticism and almost universal bad reviews. It has an overall rating of 9% on Rotten Tomatoes and let’s face it, it doesn’t get much more rotten than that. Even the regrettable Rocky V managed 28%. Does that mean the film most Rocky fans refuse to acknowledge is three times better than The Forest? Not at all. It could be better but plot holes aside, for the most part I actually enjoyed it. It’s a crazy world.

The original version of this review appears in the latest Morpheus Tales supplement, available FREE


BABYMETAL – Metal Resistance (album review)

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To steal a phrase from Roger Shackelford of Tainted Reality, ‘Is it weird to like BABYMETAL?*’

The answer is ‘Yeah. Probably.’

For the uninitiated, BABYMETAL are a manufactured J-Pop/thrash metal crossover act group comprising of a trio of teenagers in tutu’s and a backing band wearing corpse make-up and white flowing gowns. At first glance, it’s hard to take them seriously. I never liked Japanese music before. Or Chinese. Or Korean. It’s mostly horrible and you have no idea what they are singing about. But, God forgive me, I do like BABYMETAL. I just can’t put my finger on why.

Let’s not beat around the bush. They are weird with a capital W. They have a whole invented mythological back story about a Fox God sending them out into the universe to save heavy metal, and on their last tour they pretended to crucify the singer Su-Metal live on stage while the other two girls Moa-Metal and Yui-Metal danced around inanely. The theatrical element borrows heavily from the likes of Alice Cooper and Kiss, and it certainly adds something extra to their live performances. They’ve been huge in Asia since forming in 2010 and since then have slowly began to make their mark internationally, especially on the summer festival circuit. The video for Give me Chocolate has racked up over 46 million views on YouTube (only about half of which are mine) and last week they played a sold-out SSE Wembley Arena in London to kick off their 2016 tour in support of album number two. Metal Resistance was released on 1st April which they dubbed, ahem, Fox Day. And no, it wasn’t an April Fool.

Metal Resistance kicks off with the anthemic title track, whch has been a staple in their live set for a while now, before launching into Karate, the first single. Karate is typical BABYMETAL, pop sensibilities laid over a crunching guitar riff. That’s followed by Awadama Fever, which I think is about bubblegum gum. No, really. Don’t let that fool you, though. As with the first album, these songs have depth and creativity, seamlessly veering from speed metal to something akin to raggae or dubstep in the blink of an eye. The contrast, and the overall effect, is mesmerizing. Whoever writes these songs is truly gifted. As are the backing musicians, the Kami band. Listening to the album you would perhaps think the sound is a result of studio overdubs and fancy knob twiddling. But that’s not the case.

Look…

See? How tight is the Kami band? They have to be one of the most technically proficient outfits around today. And did you see that circle pit go off? Dear me. Anyway, back to the album, and another early highlight is Meta Toro, which sounds suspiciously like a nursery rhyme with marching drums and death metal growls. I told you it was weird. The track GJ features some frankly awesome fretwork and yet another killer chorus while Sis Anger is obviously a nod to Metallica. At least somebody liked St Anger. The pace relents toward the end for the lighters-aloft ballads No Rain, No Rainbow and The One, but sandwiched between them is something called Tales of the Destinies, possibly the most experimental track on the album, which sounds a bit like Dragonforce on crack. In his review for Classic Rock magazine, Stephen Dalton said, “Sometimes overwhelming, always exhilarating and occasionally jaw-dropping, Metal Resistance could well be the greatest album ever made.”

And he wasn’t even kidding. At least, I don’t think he was.

At the end of the day, I think if you try to explain to someone what BABYMETAL is, they would probably think you’ve lost your mind. But somehow it all fits together, and it works surprisingly well. The musicianship, the image, the choreography, the songs, the message, even the contribution of the Fox God. The whole operation is a finely tuned machine founded on raw talent, and this ‘difficult’ second album at least proves that the success of the debut wasn’t a one-off. If anything, Metal Resistance features an even stronger set of songs, with more depth and clarity. Undoubtedly another step on the road to world domination. Bow down, all ye unbelievers. Resistance is futile.

*Just so you know, BABYMETAL is stylised in BLOCK CAPITAL LETTERS. I don’t just get really excitable when I say their name. Although, I kinda do.


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