Japanese Poster for original, Grudge Japanese Poster for original, Grudge
Japanese Poster for original, Grudge Japanese Poster for original, Grudge
Japanese Poster for original Grudge.

Hollywood Meets Japanese Horror
Written by Black Moon Staff - Nov., 2004

The Grudge, along with ghost and horror films like
The Ring
, and Dark Water, point to the recent impact Japanese cinema has had upon American movie making. Japan's revitalized film industry is generating an astonishing number of box office hits, and US studios have been eager to cash in on the phenomenon by remaking the best of them.
Why are we witnessing the spectacle of wildly original and successful Japanese films being remade by Hollywood and then released upon an unsuspecting North American audience? That observable fact must be taken in context. It's a certainty the movie moguls of tinsel town have run out of ideas, and so have taken to plagiarizing the efforts of those more talented. The film industry is motivated by the pursuit of great profits, not great art. Simply put, there's less effort and risk involved in recreating what someone else has already successfully made.

The Grudge, directed by Japan's Takashi Shimizu, became the number one movie in North America during the last weeks of October, 2004. Though starring US actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, the film is very much a Japanese style horror story. That should come as no surprise since it was produced and distributed by Sony Pictures of Japan and written by director Shimizu, who also wrote and directed the original 2000 release this remake is based on, Ju-on. That film was enormously popular in Japan, spawning four movies altogether. There's no small irony in Sarah Michelle Gellar appearing in The Grudge. The acclaimed Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show in which she starred, was itself clearly influenced and preceded by, Eko Eko Azaraku (Wizard of Darkness), a 1995 film about a high school girl who used magical powers to fight the evil on her campus.

With The Grudge's direction by Shimizu, a story set in Japan, and central actors in the film being Japanese (notably the ghost mother and son, Takako Fuji and Yuya Ozeki - who also played the same roles in the original), the remake doesn't attempt to hide its Japanese origins. This type of openly acknowledged cross cultural pollenization is exceedingly rare in Hollywood, and gives the movie a groundbreaking status of sorts.

Ringu is another example of a remarkably popular Japanese hit being reworked for an American audience, but less successfully. The 2002 DreamWorks version of The Ring, starring Naomi Watts, was a far cry from the quiet panic and alarm delivered by Hideo Nakata's 1998 original. Nakata's film was story driven, with the unfolding awfulness revealed slowly and methodically in scenes devoid of music and cheap shots designed to make you jump in your seat. And Sadako, the film's ghostly protagonist, is possibly the most fear-provoking creature this side of Hannibal Lecter
from Silence of the Lambs.

American Poster for remake of, Grudge
American Poster for remake of, Grudge
American Poster for remake of, Grudge American Poster for remake of, Grudge
American Poster for remake of Grudge.

So just what is the wellspring that inspires the current crop of Japanese horror flicks? Tales of the supernatural, or kaidan, hold a vaunted place in Japanese culture. Stories of haunted samurai, unearthly geisha, and malevolent specters reach back for centuries in kabuki and nô theater arts, traditional folklore, and literature. Japan's success at making horror movies is deeply rooted in that tradition, and can be traced back to the beginnings of Japanese cinema. Perhaps the best known Japanese ghost film in the West is Masaki Kobayahi's gorgeous 1964 masterpiece, Kaidan.

Japanese horror films are generally different from their US counterparts in that they are psychological in nature. A sense of trepidation, foreboding, and dread is created without resorting to the violent bloodletting and gore so common in American films of the same genre. Japan's fright flicks also present their stories without making a clear delineation between good and evil, with the endings of such films sometimes being open-ended and inconclusive.
As with real life, evil is not always vanquished.

The Ghost, Sadako, from the original, Ring The Ghost, Sadako, from the original, Ring
The Ghost, Sadako, from the original Ring.

Even though Hideo Nakata's Ringu sprang from the enduring tradition of kaidan, it did have many other influences. Nakata admits to being deeply inspired by films like Night of the Living Dead (1968 - George Romero), Carrie (1976 - Brian de Palma), The Shining (1980 - Stanley Kubrick), The Dead Zone (1983 -David Cronenberg), and Seven (1995 - David Fincher), to name but a few, proving once again that cultural overlap and influences work both ways.

Hideo Nakata released another blockbuster in 2002 called, Dark Water. That spine tingler used a couple's very unpleasant divorce and custody battle over their child as the backdrop for a tale of terror. The estranged wife and her young daughter move into a derelict and relatively uninhabited apartment complex, where they are beset by spectral water and ghostly apparitions. Never has a leaky ceiling or bathtub full of water conveyed so much fear and loathing. The film's surprise finish is every bit as unsettling as the conclusion of the director's original, Ringu.

True to Hollywood's mission of remaking every film known to humanity, director Walter Salles (Motorcycle Diaries) will be directing an American rehash of Dark Water for Touchstone Pictures. Scheduled for a summer 2005 release, the redo's story takes place in the US with Jennifer Connelly
(A Beautiful Mind) playing the lead.

The treasure trove of Japanese horror movies that American studios could raid is vast and relatively untapped. In late 2003 Wes Craven was scheduled to remake Kiyoshi Kurasawa's 2001, Pulse, a chilling tale of ghost inhabited computers. Craven's production company scrapped the remake scheme, and frankly we're pleased. There's just no rationale for redoing films that cannot be improved upon. Undoubtedly US studios will continue to covet and rip off Japan's cinematic jewels, but instead of paying good money to see substandard US remakes it would be much wiser and satisfying to track down and view the Japanese originals.

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