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A Discussion into Whether 'j Horror' Is a Term of National Identity, or Cinematic Sub-Genre, Using the Texts; Ringu (1998), Audition (2000) and Ju-On (the Grudge) (2003).

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Introduction

In 1998, Nakata Hideo released to the Japanese market Ringu (1998). This film was an on screen adaptation of a semi successful novel of the same name. Written by Koji Suzuki, the film went on to become the top grossing horror movie in Japan's cinematic history. The narrative tracks a reporter as she investigates a cursed videotape and her quest to remove the supernatural curse that she has imposed on herself and her child. The success of the film, and subsequent remakes (Ringu 2 (1999), Ring 0: Birthday (2000)) breathed life into the Japanese horror genre, as a number of similar films came to surface; Ju-On (The Grudge (2003)), Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water (2001), Kairo (Pulse (2001)) and Kaosu (Chaos (2000)), to name but a few. It wasn't long however until these films were influencing the rest of Asia, with a stream of Korean (Phone (2001), Tale of Two Sisters (2003)) Thai (Bangkok Haunted 2001) and Chinese (The Eye (2002)) films coming to surface.

Hollywood saw potential in these films and bought the rights to Ringu (1998), with the idea of remaking and repackaging the original in an attempt to reawakening the struggling Hollywood's horror genre, which for a number of years had been running out ideas, exhausting the 'stalk and slash' model to it's extremes, with such reincarnations as Jeepers Creepers (2001) Cabin Fever (2002) and Wrong Turn (2003) taking it upon themselves to recycle successful 'gore-fests' that had entertained the horror fan 20 years previously. The result was The Ring (2002); the film was quite different from anything they had seen before, and subsequently word of mouth took over and audiences grew. The film went on to create a substantial profit and a call from western audience for more of the same. Hollywood responded with a number of Japanese remakes; (The Grudge (2004), Dark Water (2005) Pulse (2006)) and 'original' conceptions (Fear Dot Com (2002)). Around this time, although not a direct source can be found, a phrase came into being and was used in descriptions of these texts. The term was 'J Horror', and this term will be the focus of this essay.

The original source of the term, as previously stated, cannot be traced; but it is the belief of Nicolas Rucka, (critic for contemporary Japanese cinema website Midnight Eye) in his essay 'The Death Of J Horror' (Rucka 2005) that the term came not from the Japanese film makers, nor the American studios, not even a term used by critics; 'J Horror was a cult fan term that was meant as clarifying short hand for previously hard to categorise films (in the west).' (Rucka 2005) The origin of this term really isn't of importance (for this essay); the real importance lies in what this term means to the people using it. J Horror is a conflict in terms as it encapsulates two ideas.

Firstly is the sense of national identity, this is found in the 'J', in J Horror, this was meant to represent Japanese. Giving the fan a reference; the original source of the text i.e. Japan. However with the emergence of similar films (similar narratives, visual styles and characters), but from different countries, how can these films be considered Japanese in origin? It questions these films's cultural background, do these films have a distinct style, whether it be narrative, visual, character, pacing or mise en scene that can be attributed to Japan's culture or history?. This asks an even bigger question, does Japan have a national identity?

The second idea comes from the word 'horror' in 'J Horror'. This is a term related to the genre theory. Genre according to Warren Buckland, writer of Teach Yourself Film Studies (2003) is a 'type or category. To study a film as a genre involves treating it not as a unique entity, but as a member of a general category, as a certain type of film...if it possesses certain properties or attributes of that genre category.' (Buckland 2003). If a group of films according to Buckland, have a number of similar attributes, they can therefore be considered as a genre. Rucka explains that J Horror films do in fact have a number of similar 'attributes'; 'J-Horror;" everyone knows its tropes by now: vengeful ghosts, long stringy black hair, impossible physical gymnastics, meowing little ghost boys, cursed videos (or cell phones or computers), old rotted buildings and corpses, moldy books and newspapers, elliptical storylines (or a total abandonment of logic), creepy sound design, and creepy cinematography' (Buckland 2005) This description from Rucka suggests that these 'previously hard to classify films' (Rucka 2005) have been grouped into a subgenre of the larger horror genre. This would be a possibility as the number of films described as 'J Horror' has been so high, it almost has turned into a production line with films copying similar ideas from different nations and re-launching them to satisfy the audience's growing hunger e.g. Fear dot com's (2002) narrative revolves around a website that kills it's viewer 48 hours after logging on, a narrative not to far from the original Ringu (1998) storyline. In the early years of the Hollywood's studio system, specific studios would concentrate its efforts on a particular genre in an attempt to maximize profits. Genre theorist Tom Ryall in the book 'Teachers Study Guide No

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