#jhorror

Viewing Godzilla

I would never voluntarily choose to watch a monster movie. I don’t like watching destruction, I don’t like watching people get hurt, and I preference plot to action. The saturation of the film industry with action and horror films that encompass superficial stories and cheap scares has left me narrow minded in my view of the genre, with no incentive to explore it deeply.

While being culturally Australian, and in my early twenties, I have had a relatively wide variety of media consumption in my life. From black and white films, to foreign films and tv, to translated novels and comics, I do try to engage in a number of different texts, but none of that prepared me for my first viewing of Gojira.

The unique context that surrounds the original Godzilla film creates a specific atmosphere around its key themes, hugely impacting on my experience of the movie.

While I spent roughly the first half of the film unsure of what made this film so iconic, the moment the monster rose from the water and was greeted by electric fences and gunshots, something had changed. During the entire climactic city-stomping scene I was in a state of conflict. I didn’t want them to hurt Godzilla (was I easily buying into the “don’t hurt the monster, we just don’t understand it yet” narrative that is so popular now?) but I was heartbroken for the city and its citizens and wanted the destruction to stop immediately (the reality of a mother crying and protecting her children on the streets felt less like fiction that I could distance myself from).

When I stopped viewing the film with the contradiction of the special effects and cinematography of a movie from the past, but in the present context, the movie was no longer amusing but intensely serious and suspenseful. A film is an artefact of the specific context in which it was made, and instead of distancing myself in viewing it, I began to consciously try to imagine this movie as it was intended to be – what is actually is – not as something that exists in isolation.

I was unused to such long periods of silence; of such explicit uses of historical events as a reflection and comment, not hiding behind ambiguity; and of such visceral imagery relating to the consequences of destruction. All these elements hugely added to the real drama and terror of the film to me about the consequences of our actions – what things are created when we seek to destroy and dominate each other.

Pretence is a fool’s game

sswriting

There was never any pretence.

As I was researching Japanese filmmaking in the 1950s, I found Philip Brophy’s postcolonial article on the Godzilla franchise. He makes the argument, “As puppet, doll and prop on a stage of special effects, his theatricalised unreality is never hidden.” As silly as it sounds, during my whole time watching Gojira it never occurred to me they never meant the monster to be realistic. The reality of a human-in-a-suit is in fact meant to be indicative of the cultural story that Gojira represents. Since humans meddling with nuclear testing caused the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, why would a 50 foot nuclear lizard destroying Tokyo be any different?

For some reason, discovering the monster is intentionally false legitimises Gojira in my mind. I suppose the experience is like trying to analyse literature and realising the metaphor was never meant to be believed in its entirety.

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Tweeting and how it helps me analyse horror

It’s generally known that if you want your public announcements to have a significant effect you need an audience, and the bigger the better. The experience I had of me tweeting in real-time my Japanese horror movie views was slightly impaired I think because my twitter account has a very small amount of followers. Even though I have hash-tags specifying the tweets’ topic of analysis, I think they are unlikely to gain much traction because of their specificity. In having an audience, it would be nice to get some feed back though this was not my main focus for tweeting. I tweeted the experience to analyse what I found to be most important in the movie’s content. This was extremely useful for my research because it pin-pointed exactly how much value I was attaching to certain bits of the content, and made it easier to continue research later about what cultural significance this has.

However, I do in some ways regret not being able to foster a large audience, the amount of time it would take to build a existence on twitter though was realistically not in my timeframe. The most important thing about this though was not lost, and that is I was able to cultivate my fandom by actively engaging with the content. I analysed it and reacted to it with a textualised representation which I can later on use to contribute to my interpretation of what it is that makes Japan so influential in modern day horror fandom.

Twitter combine with blogging has allowed me to systematically organise areas of the content that I find controversial and perhaps socially damaging. By tweeting I can have a conversation with those that create the content, they may not hear it, though those who watch the content might, and perhaps they will agree with my disregard for the impunities awarded to certain cultural influences, and hopefully add to the causes striving to rectify these outcomes.

The accountability that comes from producing real-time thoughts on content I think will be important for my Storify blog when justifying why I chose to research the cultural representations that I did. The marker of my interest, these tweets will demonstrate how I originally constructed my cultural theories and perhaps make it easier for observers to determine how they feel about the research.

If you’re interested in seeing what came up of importance to me, my latest tweets on Japanese horror movies can be found here. https://twitter.com/4livetweeting

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.

The biggest fear of all… the fear of being wrong!

What’s that saying…that you can’t see the forest from the trees? and it basically means you don’t realise the problem of the situation you’re in while you’re in it. It’s only when you reflect on it, that you see that you were actually doing the thing that you kept trying not to do. Or something like that.

 

Well, that’s what I’ve been doing. I realised that while I was frantically trying to express my experience of Japanese horror in a culturally relevant and engaging way, I was actually missing a very crucial point. That is, why was I doing it? the answer is Fear. To be exact the fear of being wrong and getting a fail for this subject was my prime motivator.

By being caught up in trying to create an authentic auto-ethnographic analysis I think I forgot the point completely, which I think is for me to know why I was analysing Japanese horror in the first place, and then to anaylse that. So even though my motives are shallow in that I wasn’t genuinely originally fascinated with Japanese culture only slightly intrigue by its horror movie success, I have, however, through blogging grown to have a much greater appreciation for Japanese culture, and my fear of failure is not a completely unrelated aim to analyse either, because the fear that I have of getting a fail does actually relate to horror movies, in that they are both centered around fear.

So do I go down the deep dark rabbit hole that seeks to find out what aspects of fear are most relevant to my immediate society? well, I think that would take a very long time, but I will peek inside it and look around.

 

So now I am looking at fear more closely, I want to know what is it in Japanese horror films that I classify as scary? what is it that other people see in them that they think is scary? Fear can touch just about every aspect of our lives, how then are Japanese directors specifically so good at conveying it? What are they doing that makes me actually fear for my safety after viewing a movie?

There is a lot involved in these questions and there is no way I will really discover what fear is, though I know it is multi layered and slightly different for everyone. However, with the help of my tweets that I record while viewing Japanese horror, I should be able to get more or an idea of what stimulates my fears and perhaps this will explains other peoples and then perhaps allude to the reasons why Japanese horror resonates with so many.

 

I also am vowing to take more care in my next film choice, and hopefully discover one that will frighten me. Then again fear is relative so there is a chance that even if I get several confirmations that the film is scary I could still be left unfazed, it will be interesting anyway seeing what is determined with increased research.

The reason for this is that the last film I blogged and tweeted about I didn’t really have any idea whether it was scary or not (as much as is possible without previously seeing it). I don’t regret watching the last movie I blogged about, the film Kwaidan was beautiful and gave me some important insight into Japanese history. However, I think I should be examining what it is that I actually find culturally engaging in Japanese horror, not just taking direction from an internet top ten list. Even though they are helpful, I think something that I really know is going to be scary would be more appropriate for an auto-enthnographic study, because this is part of the reason why I was intrigued with Japanese culture in the first place, their success in scarying people.

Slightly Immersive Experience in Kwaidan (1964)

That digital output of Japanese movies is to say the least pretty extensive, so in choosing the horror film from Japan that I was going to view I went straight to an internet list. You might say that was callous, and that if I was serious about trying to find a scary Japanese horror film I would do more research than an internet top ten list. And you would be correct.

The first eye opener on this journey is; if you want to watch a scary movie, get a few more confirmations than an internet list before deciding to deem it scary. OK that being said my live tweeting experience of  the film Kwaidan was enjoyable, but not scary. #Ifellasleep

The main reason I opted straight for Kwaidan is that it was made in 1964 and as you probably know the 60s was a pivotal political period, so I was hoping the film might indicate what Japan was facing politically. Looking over my tweets, which you can see here, from my brief overview of them it seems to me that political tensions concerning gender and possibly more can be found in the films content. However I will be looking into this more deeply for my digital artefact to see where exactly the film stood politically and if there was any social and political controversies that could be noted to add more depth to the picture I have.

Tweeting the experience did feel exciting and it gave me more of an appreciation for the film, the process though was stifling, I didn’t feel that I got fully immersed in the what Kwaidan was trying to convey. I had to stop the film sometimes to tweet what I was seeing/feeling and it felt like a detachment from the event each time.

Not as immersed as I would like to be, it seems from the tweets that I liked the film mainly for its aesthetics and knowledge. The dialogue appears to have particularly burdened me. What I did get though, was a new found interest in Japan’s very rich history. And when I say rich I’m talking thousands of years, compared to little baby Australia’s 300 years or so recorded history, Japan’s is epic, and glorious… samurais, battle scenes, samurai clans, baby emperors, it’s thrilling! which would be an indication as to why their films are so good. My digital Artefact will investigate this theory more.

My main problem though throughout the film was pacing, I had real trouble remaining focused. There were so many beautiful images on screen, they just didn’t seem to be leading to anything quick enough for me. For my digital artefact I want to unpack this, the pacing of films has changed quite a bit over time, I would like to research what experts have commented about this and develop more of a clearer understanding of its social, cultural, and political implications.

Reference

Kwaidan 1964 by Masaki Kobayashi