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South Korean Horror- An Autoethnographic perspective (Part One)

If you read my last blog post about autoethnography, you’ll be aware that I had the intention of using J-Horror as the topic for my autoethnographic research. However, as I was browsing the research done by previous Digital Asia students, I noticed that J-Horror had been covered extensively, which led me to consider other possible topics. Although I have been exposed to South Korean horror,  through films such as the excellent Train to Busan (dir. Sang-ho Yeun, 2016) and The Wailing (dir. Hong-jin Na, 2016), I am much less knowledgable on South Korean horror than I am on J-Horror, which therefore influenced me into changing research topics. So, in forming this autoethnographic research, I decided to watch the psychological horror film A Tale of Two Sisters (dir. Jee-woon Kim, 2003). My autoethnographic response to the film will be split in two parts:

This week’s post will describe, in detail, my personal experience when watching the film. Next week’s post will be an analysis of my experience and provide some background information on the film. 

How I felt watching the film:

Although I did eventually manage to actually settle properly and concentrate on the film, I initially spent a large amount of time playing ‘Football Manager’ on my phone and pausing the film every 5 minutes for various reasons (mostly internet surfing). Furthermore, since I was watching the film through SBS On Demand, I had to deal with several ad breaks, which managed to break the flow of the film (although I will concede that since the streaming service is free, advertising is necessary for it to keep running).

The first thing to say about my experience watching this film is that I found it to be incredibly scary, both viscerally and psychologically. In fact, there were a few times where I had to distract myself with games on my phone, just to help cope with the film’s intensity.

A Tale of Two Sisters

In terms of the visceral horror, which has more to do with the technical aspects, I found the sound design to be particularly frightening. The creaking of the wooden doors and the scratching of the walls proved to be incredibly effective in drawing a physical reaction from me. I’ll admit, I jumped a few times, and while I usually hate that tactic, the film used it in a clever and restrained way. The techniques used reminded me enormously of those used in J-Horror films such as Ringu (1998), which deal much more with supernatural horror, as opposed to the psychological.

a-tale-of-two-sisters

The psychological aspect of the film, however, was far scarier and dealt with ideas that aren’t often addressed in Western cinema. The main aspect, which I refer to, is the fear of non-nuclear family. A large part of the plot revolves around the two titular sisters’ deeply unstable relationship with their step-mother. I cannot recall the last time I saw a film which explored non-nuclear family life in such a manner. Personally, I found myself relating with the two sisters, as the step-mother was indeed terrifying. Every look that the step-mother gave, particularly to the sisters, was sinister and nothing she did indicated a genuine attempt to form a bond with them. I often found myself shocked at the step-mother’s actions and even more so at the father’s reluctance to react on said actions. It’s only in the film’s final revelations, that I then understood the what I had seen (more on that next week). However, I was undeniably shaken by the film’s unique exploration of family relationships through a horror-sensibility.

 

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Autoethnography: What’s it all about?

When I first came across the term “autoethnography” I had initially dismissed it as another tedious, research-related term which I would struggle to comprehend and eventually get frustrated by. However, mid-way through reading “Autoethnography: An Overview” (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011), I had the realisation that the term referred to the method of using personal experiences as a means to subjectively comprehend cultural experiences (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011, pg.1), with subjectively being the key word. Because, as the article points out, “autoethnography is one of the approaches that acknowledges and accommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researcher’s influence on research” (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011, pg.4).

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My IRL reaction to the term “autoethnography”

When I started to think about this form of research, it occurred to me that I have been an autoethnographer since I started university, although for most of the time unknowingly. Through my blog, I have been using personal experiences to gain an understanding of cultural experience. With a huge interest in film, I realized that film-makers too (especially documentarians) are autoethnographers. They reshape their own personal  and cultural experiences and use it to create a narrative which goes on to share a film-maker’s experience. 

With this in mind, I am now beginning to think about how I will use auto ethnography to gain a further understanding on Asian horror films, particularly ‘J-Horror’. As someone who is a massive fan of the 1998 classic “Ringu”, I am incredibly excited to use J-Horror as the basis for my autoethnographic research. In the coming weeks, I will hopefully zone in on the specifics of the research process and through what medium I will present it.

RINGU

Until then…

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol.12, no.1, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>

Hayao Miyazaki, Domo Arigatou Gozaimasu

When pondering influential figures of the Japanese animated film industry, one name stands above them all, “Hayao Miyazaki.” Miyazaki’s career as a director, animator, manga artist, producer, and screenwriter has spanned over fifty years, sharing his success with his work partner Isao Takahata, the co-founder of influential film and animation studio, Studio Ghibli.

Hayao Miyazaki art portrait by C3nmt

‘Hayao Miyazaki Art Portrait,’
by C3nmt

His award winning films have captured the hearts of a global audience. In fact, according to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, his film Spirited Away (2001) is currently the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, having grossed over ¥30 billion, (equivalent to over approximately $310 million AU.)

Spirited Away was actually what introduced me to the world of Ghibli, seven years ago at the end of the school year in a French class. Ever since that fateful ‘bludge period,’ my love for Miyazaki and his films has since grown exponentially. Yet, why have these films captured our hearts? Perhaps the secret lies within one of the master’s famous quotes, “in order to grow your audience, you must betray their expectations,” a motto which certainly applies to my experiences with his films. Each of his films, without fail, have both surprised and delighted me, the wonderful characters, artwork, stories, and soundtrack enchanting me.

Researching his online presence, I discovered that he wasn’t publicly active on any social media site. However, it appeared that his work had a life of it’s own. Everywhere I looked I found fans sharing and creating original content related to Studio Ghibli, just look at the tumblr tag.

I’ve personally participated in this celebration of Ghibli as a fan. In fact, reflecting on past instagram posts, the photos I’ve posted which garnered the most likes were all related to Studio Ghibli. Furthermore, another instance demonstrating the pervasive nature of Studio Ghibli, at the recent Sydney Supanova I attended a few months ago, perusing through stalls I discovered a plethora of Ghibli merchandise, even running into cosplayers dressed as Chihiro & No-Face from Spirited Away.

Chihiro & No-Face spotted at Sydney Supanova 2014!

Chihiro & No-Face spotted at Sydney Supanova 2014!

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