Author: Nathan

I Study at the University of Wollongong doing a double degree of Commerce and Communications & Media Studies. I spend my spare time either with my girlfriend, playing video games or playing video games with my girlfriend =D I assume this blog will start out fairly dry as it's for uni, but lets hope it evolves into something a tad more enjoyable for all of us.

What Have I Learnt and Where To From Here

Not being exactly new to Japanese media, I wanted my experience of auto-ethnography in Asian media to be different to just watching more stuff from Japan and Asia. I wanted to challenge myself and consume media outside my comfort zone, that I hadn’t seen before and that would challenge and shape my perceptions of Japanese Culture.

My idea to re-watch Initial D was quickly usurped by a thirst for horror as I started to build a list of films from around Asia. As I started watching films and ticking them off the list, it became apparent that I was veering towards Japanese films, over horror films from other Asian cultures. My thoughts to compare the tropes between cultures slowly died and was replaced by the rabbit hole of cultural history, tradition and ideas that is Japan. I was spending hours reading deeper into specific ideas, following influences and cultural links and loving it.

What I have lacked though, is any sort of direction. I wanted to go into this experience open minded, and find my way from there, but it’s now 11:50 of the night these blogs are due and I’m still not %100 on where I’m heading with this research.

My next and most important step is to decided how to structure my report and whether it needs to be backed by a digital artefact. So far, I’m currently leaning towards looking at the effect of the industrialisation of Japan on peoples relationships, because this seems to be either a theme or influence in most of the films I’ve watched.

After the report will not be the end though, I will continue watching and consuming Asian media and loving it, just now with a little more cultural understanding and thought under my belt.

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Finally Watching Audition

Being in a group with Anna (carbsahoy) and looking at a similar medium of Horror films has been really helpful for my thoughts and ideas, but one thing had been bugging me all semester. That thing was the film Audition.
Lets rewind to our first week blogging, I had just seen the film Dark Water, and was ranting on about watching it while drunk in a dark basement, Anna meanwhile was watching and blogging about Audition. Reading through Anna’s blog post, I decided that this film would have to be part of my consumption for this course, whether it was good for my mental health or not. Her experience is summed up in this sentence ” I had the expectation that afterwards I would be scared of dark spaces for a while, I wasn’t scared of dark spaces though, I was confused, I was confused about what reality was as a whole and how I existed within it, and that was a wee bit more scarier”. I needed to see this film.

Weeks passed, and each week I opted to watch a different film, looking at Audition and then shying away. It had been built up so much, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for the feelings and experience this film promised.

This changed one night last week. I put Audition on to play, like I had many times before, but quickly got up and tucked myself into bed, far away from the mouse and keyboard, far away from the temptation to stop the film.

The beginning of the film I was tense, I didn’t know what to expect, I thought I would be thrust into a dark hole or horror and fear, but I was not. In fact the film seemed so mundane. about 20 minutes in I had settled down, and was following what seemed like a rather normal romantic drama movie. 30 minutes, still nothing, 40… 50… and then things started changing, not quite fearfully, but just odd. little things that didn’t make sense, side characters that seemed like they knew too much. Little hints, that maybe this isn’t going to turn out so well, for anyone. And then I understood, Anna’s post, I wasn’t sure what was going on, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue, it was horrible. The film had spent so long building characters and making them likable, I wanted so much for them. But The film didn’t allow it.

Audition doesn’t make you scared of the dark, it doesn’t make you fear monsters or ghosts. It makes you fear people, ordinary likable people, people you think you know, people you want to know and love. It gives you a chill every time you meet someone new, every time you take a chance with a person. Audition breaks you down, and really makes you struggle with people, reality and your place and experience of it.

This film, similarly to Tetsuo, plays with the male female relationship in Japanese culture. Many of the characteristics expectant of a ‘good’ Japanese wife are discussed between the male characters and women are objectified and judged through an audition for a film role. The film capitalises on the difficulties professional people in Japan face when seeking love, and marriage especially later in life and culminates the fear surrounding forming new and meaningful relationships.

I’ve now seen Audition twice, and quite enjoy it, although the ending still makes me nervous and squeamish.

WTF Japan, Watching Tetsuo: The Iron Man

The Metal Fetishist

Finally moving on from Ringu and Sadako, I thought I’d try something a bit more sedate. Hence why I decided to watch the 1989 film, Tetsuo: The Iron Man.
Being about 10 years earlier than Ringu and in black and white, I wasn’t really expecting much from this film.
Sitting down with a friend, both of us armed with warm cups of tea we sat in a darkened office to watch the movie.
My initial thoughts of “this is going to be lame” and “it’ll probably just be like ‘man in the Iron mask” were very quickly and violently torn from my mind and savagely replaced with a horribly violent scene of a man slicing open his upper thigh and forcing an iron bar into the wound. This man would for the next hour of my life be known as the metal fetishist, an abhorrent mix of metal and man with otherworldly powers over iron.
Very quickly this man’s leg begins to rot and is filled with maggots, in horror he runs out of his warehouse and along the road when he is hit by a ‘Salary-man’ out on a drive with his girlfriend.

For those now interested please go watch the movie here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNJKBrDlW7M

Anyone else not so keen, I’ll sum up The remaining 50 minutes or so of the film in dot points from the perspective of the salary-man

  • Oh no what’s this metal zit!?!
  • Some crazy metal lady is chasing me through the train station help!
  • I just had the weirdest dream about getting fucked by a vacuum hose dildo
  • OMG I have a gargantuan drill Penis!!!
  • No don’t sit on that!!!
  • You turned me into a monster and I will epic stop motion fight you to the death (Directed at metal fetishist)
  • Oh wait I love you, lets morph into one giant metallic phallic symbol and cast destruction over the earth

That is actually the story, and all those scenes are actually in the film, chopped with more sex and maniacal laughter from the metal fetishist randomly throughout. With a ‘soothing’ backing track of industrial machines and pistons constantly working away.
My only response to my friend at the end of this film was “Well… that just happened”

After getting over the initial shock of what we had just sat though, we started discussing what it could be about, desperate to find some reasoning for the horror we had just witnessed. We tossed around ideas of Japanese industrialism in the 80’s and perhaps the film was saying that industrialism had destroyed romance and the man-woman relationship. That a love for metal, industry and other men had replaced and destroyed the traditional bonds between a man and woman.

Finally coming home and doing some research on 1980’s Japan, I found an article in Business Week that discussed the Japanese economic model that peaked towards the end of the 1980’s and then crashed in 1989 causing the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars (Katz, Richard 1998).

I believe that Tetsuo: The Iron Man was an incredibly well timed film, promoting the destruction that industrialisation would bring, not just to personal relationships but to all of Japan. While, it may carry an important yet potentially vague message underneath it’s horrific outer shell, this film is not for the light hearted.
While I appreciate the film for its message and artistic value, but it’s not something that I will be revisiting anytime soon, for sake of my mental health and ability to continue relating to other human beings.

Sadako, A Character Analysis

So I’m not looking at authors this week. I’m not going to mention them, or research them or understand their influences, because I’m going to focus on one character, Sadako. I’m going to mull through her character and what might make her so popular.

The ring as a franchise has been perpetuated by the character of Sadako, a vengeful spirit who uses video tapes to murder anyone who views them, unless they make someone else view it within 7 days. She is depicted as a pale child and woman almost interchangeably with long dark hair covering her face. This trope is nothing new to Japanese culture and literature, fitting neatly into the Onryo-Yurei archetype. Yurei being the broad term for Ghost in Japanese, and Onryo being the category of vengeful spirits.

As an Onryo character the audience expects certain tropes, most importantly an immense tragedy or wrongful doing that has brought them back and a person (or persons) that has caused this wrong-doing. Basic story structure for

an Onryo follows the protagonists/audiences discovery and fixing of this wrong-doing and the Onryo being satisfied and passing on from the physical world. I think almost all episodes of Supernatural follow this structure (Or just burn their bones).
Where Sadako diverges from this classic tale, is that she never seems satisfied. The audience follows her story, discovers the wrong done to her and watches the protagonist ‘fix’ it but we don’t get the resolution of her passing on, we are left confused and wondering if we missed something in her story that might be stopping her from moving on, some other unresolved conflict.
This confusion is confounded by the multiple and conflicting portrayals of Sadako presented in the novels and multiple films. Leaving the audience wondering if in fact Sadako does fit this neat trope of the Onryo, or if she is something much more terrifying and dangerous.

Sadako is commonly portrayed as psychic and uses these powers to spread herself and her vengeance through technological mediums. In the first film this is a VHS tape that curses the viewer, but in subsequent films and TV shows, restrictions seem to get lifted andshe is able to move through all screens and devices. She becomes the embodiment of the fear of technology. As her character evolves to take advantage of new technologies, she keeps the franchise relevant and popular in a modern technological society.

I believe this is of huge importance when considering her popularity in Japanese popular culture. Japan has grown into a global symbol of technological advancement along with South Korea and several other east Asian countries. Creating a mysterious and intriguing character that uses these technologies to generate fear, terror and death keeps her relevant and terrifying to older and newer audiences.
This combined with a seemingly relatable traditional character trope, I think has led to her success as the celebrity of the franchise.

Interestingly, a huge part of Sadako’s character is that she is transgender. This is explored in the novels as well as some of the subsequent films. Being unable to physically reproduce, she is forced to create the ‘Ring-Virus’ that furthers her DNA though technology. It is also suggested that she is born from some form of Oceanic demon.

Although these aspects of her character are not often represented in popular culture and overlooked by many of her representations. I wonder if her being transgender is still too taboo for Japan and perhaps even the for broader world to talk about in their understanding of this character.

 

Further reading on Sadako and Japanese Ghost lore

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y%C5%ABrei
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadako_Yamamura
http://maskofreason.wordpress.com/the-book-of-mysteries/know-your-ghosts/eastern-asia/yurei/

Onryō

Yūrei

Shiryō

http://www.dementedstuff.com/thering/sadako.htm

Sadako Yamamura

Having Epiphanies and coming to grips with Auto-ethnography

This past week, I found an essay online by Jessica Balanzategui, a screen studies PHD student at the University of Melbourne, titled ‘Everything in this World is Artificial: Media Contagion, Theme Parks and the Ring Franchise’. Being an exceptionally long essay she touches on many themes in relation to the Ring, but in part the essay looks at the cultural significance of ‘The Ring’ franchise as a spectacle, and the importance of the character ‘Sadako’ in perpetuating the popularity of the franchise, just as she perpetuates her ‘curse’ in the films (Blanzategui, 2014).

Reading through this essay I realised that while focusing on Hideo Nakata, the director of the first and second Ring films and his influences, I had missed the real celebrity of the ring, the character of Sadako.
So far through this process my brain has been focused on the authors of media and their influences into how they construct and shape their work, rather than the influences the content of media may have on the culture.

Coming a better understanding of the character of Sadako (Samara in the US version) and why she is so popular, would give a greater insight into Japanese popular culture than just the reasons and influences of her character.

In my glossing over of Sadako, I also didn’t look into the writer of original book, Koji Suzuki, and his influences while writing ‘Ring’.
Suzuki was writing Ring in 1989, during this time he was looking after his two daughters while his wife worked as a teacher of Japanese history. In a 2003 interview with the website ‘japanreview.net’ Suzuki explained the main the theme of his novel

                “And so the theme of the Ring is really about the love I have for my daughters. In my book, it’s not a heroine, but a hero: Asakawa Kazuyuki. He is a father. He has a daughter and he has a wife. And like many men, his greatest fear in life is losing his wife or daughter. 

Me too. For me the biggest fear is to lose my daughtersor wife. So in my novel,    Asakawa, the protagonist, fought for the life of his wife and daughter.”

Interestingly Suzuki’s focus when speaking about his novel is love and the importance of being a father, not necessarily the character of Sadako or her technologically driven method of killing. If it was not the authors original intent to create such a celebrity, what aspects of Sadako’s character make her so important in popular culture? What does the audience see in the character that demands such attention?

And I did it again, spent ages researching and reading about the author… Maybe I’ll look at Sadako in a separate blog.

English subtitles for Japanese Ghosts

While searching for Japanese ghost videos on YouTube I came across the above show. It seems to be a sort of reality TV show where they get people to watch a series of viral ghost videos and get their reactions. I’m unsure of the name of the show or of its popularity, but it’s existence and over 2 million YouTube views give some evidence to the pervasiveness of the horror genre in Japanese popular culture. 

The Ghost videos are all edited or faked, some significantly better than others, but still give off a creepy vibe followed by a good jump scare. Once the clip has played the show plays an instant replay of the jump scare but still with live footage of the people watching, seeing their horror intensify as they are forced to watch the scare again. 

After watching about 15 minutes of the show and understanding none of the Japanese being spoken I was a bit lost on the purpose or context of the show. I trawled the comments for some sort of insight and saw one user mention Closed Captions. I then realised that YouTube had Closed Captions available for the video, albeit in Japanese. Luckily Google has integrated all of its services so it can instantly translate the Japanese subtitles into plain English for me…
re-watching one of the clips (at 9:40) the only context it gave me was “Damage due to High Crude Oil prices also a profound…” JUMPSCARE! so that didn’t really help my understanding at all. Even further into the video I’m great with this translation

the installed ratattat

 

Which again gives me no context or understanding. Just an urge to make this

install

This week I was trying to look at viral Japanese ghost videos as a peripheral media and potentially look at the digital stories they told. Instead I was left struggling with translation and laughing at horrible subtitles, let’s call that a success.

-Nathan Smith

Celebrity Directors to Philosophical Insects, what a week…

Sticking on a similar theme to last week’s Blog, this week I have been looking at the Director of Dark Water, Hideo Nakata. He is most well-known for his directing of Ring (1998) Ring 2 (1999) and directing the American remake of his own film, The Ring Two (2005). Nakata has gained a sort of cult following by ‘J-Horror’ “Enthusiasts” with him being labelled “the Ring Master” in an interview with Off Screen in 2000 and “The Godfather of J-Horror” by the Japan Times earlier this year. Despite his fame, Nakata’s ‘Ring’ was by no means the beginning of Japanese Ghost and Horror Stories.

In his interview with Off Screen, the interviewer brings up the “older tradition of Japanese supernatural stories … Such as Kwaidan or Ugetsu”. Nakata replies, saying that he has studied them both along with an old Kabuki theatre production Yotsyua Kaiden.

I’ve come across the film Kwaidan (1964), literally translated to ‘Ghost Stories’ (Which, incidentally is the name of an anime series, which is totally worth its own study in cross cultural production of content and meaning), in previous weeks as I’ve been searching for influential and important Japanese horror films to watch. I’ve seen the trailer, and have downloaded a copy (tsk tsk) to watch this week. Doing more research on the film, I learnt that it was based on the writings of Koizumi Yakumo, who was also known as Lafcadio Hern. Hern was born in the Ionian islands of Greece in 1850 and emigrated to Ireland with his family in his early childhood. In 1869 Hern Travelled to America where he lived and worked as a writer until 1890 when he moved to Japan as a Newspaper Correspondent. His book ‘Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things’ is his English interpretation and recolouring of old Japanese stories from Japanese books “such as the Yaso-Kidan, Bukkyo-Hyakkwa-Zensho, Kokon-Chomonshu, Tama-Sudare, and Hyaku-Monogatari”, interestingly and strangely followed by a semi-scientific and definitely philosophical study of Insects.

After reading his story “THE DREAM OF AKINOSUKE“(of Chinese origin), his study of insects has become more clear. The story uses a butterfly and an ant as metaphors. The three drunken characters in the story discuss how what these insects might mean in relation to the dream that Akinosuke has in the story. Herns discussion of insects at the end of his book seems to be a study of their potential meaning in Asian literature.

Right… so that didn’t exactly focus on the role of celebrity, but more a flow of research for the week. I’m looking forward to reading more of Herns stories and deliberations on insects when I have time, and seeing if any of these themes or ideas, flow through to modern day Asian horror films.

My Experience of Dark Water “Honogurai mizu no soko kara”

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Last Friday I was invited to go and experience my friends’ new home theatre room. Armed with a six-pack of James Boags, an armful of Thai food and my bright yellow fox onesie, I was ready for a long night of thrilling theatre. 
Descending the stairs to their once creepy basement, now beautifully carpeted theatre room, the group was presented with our choice of films for the evening.
Amongst our selection was; ‘Hansel and Gretel and the 420 witch’, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘Dark Water’.
Being aware of the potential for Japanese horror to mentally scar us, we opted to watch Dark Water first and then sooth ourselves with the other two movies afterwards.

Settling down into the dark theatre room, I began to devour a healthy serving of fried rice with chicken & cashews as my friend proceeded to put the movie onto the big screen. Beginning to feel the flow of alcohol, we joked and carried on throughout the beginning of the film, trying to keep up with the introductions of the characters and the general basis for the story

In brief, the movie follows a mother and her young daughter who have recently moved into an old apartment block after the breakup of their family. The apartment has problems with water leaking from the ceiling (Dark water), and the mother starts seeing a ghostly figure of a small girl around the apartment. As the story unfolds we began to learn that this ghost child used to live in the apartment block and had gone through a very similar situation to the real child, facing the possibility of being neglected and forgotten during her parents’ divorce.

As it turns out, this ghost child was referred to as ‘Kawaii’ throughout the movie. I assume that was her actual name, but as slightly inebriated children of the internet generation we could not stop making jokes about how cute ‘Kawaii’ was in all of the jump scares and ‘frightening’ scenes of the film. While these scenes were definitely well directed and horrifying, as a group we laughed our way through the terror, yelling at the screen and enthusiastically enjoying the film.

Interestingly our collective understanding (or Misunderstanding) of the Japanese term ‘Kawaii’ shaped our experience of the film, regardless of how insignificant its use seemed to the overall story.
As I understand it, the term ‘Kawaii’ means adorable or cute and has been attributed to a section of Japanese popular culture that embody these qualities. In the context of this film, it seemed odd to name the ghostly apparition that was depicted as threatening and horrifying, after a term that was used to describe things that were cute and innocent.
Looking back at the ending of the film and the motivations given for the ghostly girl, the name Kawaii seems slightly more apt to the character and was probably a conscious decision by the film makers.

-Nathan Smith

An investigation into Horror and Crime in Asian Popular culture

After much deliberation and accommodating for each others interests we have decided to do a series of podcasts discussing our reactions to 3 or 4 Asian Media items that fit into our large umbrella of Horror and Crime. We will be looking at a video game, film and anime series and discussing our thoughts and interpretations of these texts from a broadly western perspective, but with the expertise of our individual research projects into Asian culture informing our discussion.

Hello Kitty (World)

Hi Everyone,
I’m Nathan, currently a fourth year Communications and Commerce student at UOW. I’ve completed my commerce studies majoring in Public Relations, and am now working on finishing up my Communications degree majoring in Digital Media.
I drive and love my Turbo Subaru Forester, and have a general love of cars.
I’m also your friendly neighbourhood team member, working part-time at Bunnings Warehouse.

I guess I have a bit of a history of consuming Japanese and asian media, bingeing on many anime series throughout high school, loving a select few Studio Ghibli films and recently developing a liking for Japanese and South Korean horror films. 

I feel like watching anime is a familiar experience for me, but i’m looking forward to re-evaluating my experience as an Australian experiencing Japanese media.

Of note, the Series InitialD, has become a point of reference for me when relating to other car guys online. I’m thinking it would be cool to try and re-develop my experience of this series, more of a look at the culture where the story takes place, rather than just experiencing the story I am already familiar with.