Horror, Japanese Style: Beyond "The Grudge"

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
October 29, 2004

The success of the new horror movie The Grudge, a U.S. remake of the Japanese hit Ju-On, has moved the Japanese horror movie genre to the front of the Hollywood cue—and just in time for Halloween.

Now, with a slew of U.S. remakes of Japanese horror movies in the pipeline, audiences beware: These are not your typical monster-in-the-closet scary movies.

Japanese horror movies—or "J-horror" as the genre is referred to by its diehard fans—are marked by a subtlety and restraint foreign to most U.S. horror.

The surreal plot lines, with revenge as a common theme, often follow, or don't follow, a twisty plotline and often leave audiences scratching their heads as to what's going on. And that's how the Japanese fans like it.

"There's an acceptance of the unexplained and the irrational in Japanese horror movies that was never very big in American horror films," said Patrick Macias, author of Tokyoscope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion.

The Grudge is a remake directed by Takashi Shimuzu, the filmmaker of the Japanese original. It grossed U.S. $40 million in U.S. theaters in its opening weekend.

The movie tells the story of a curse that befalls people who die in the grip of a powerful rage. Continuing to live in a supernatural state, the people pass along the curse like a virus from one victim to the next.

Reality Breakdown

Japanese horror movies draw on thousands of years of folklore, ghost stories, supernatural myths, and tales of honor and loyalty.

Movies like 1954's Godzilla grew out of Japan's World War II experience with the atomic bomb and were concerned with mass destruction. The 1960s, though, saw a spate of artfully made ghost stories.

"These were safe, distant fantasies for audiences that felt secure in their community," said Stuart Galbraith IV, a film historian who lives in Kyoto, Japan.

Continued on Next Page >>


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