Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us J is for J-Horror! Steeped in a culture of superstition and supernatural beliefs, early Japanese horror movies often dealt with tales of ghostly or demonic vengeance. Many were cautionary tales about consequences for wrongdoings and such. Like Tales from the Crypt without the irony. Over the years the Japanese horror movie market has branched out into various sub-genres like sci-fi horror, horror comedies, body horror, and erotic horror. ‘Straight’ horror tends towards the psychological thriller side of things, relying on suspense and pacing to create tension and discomfort as the protagonist is slowly forced to face the horror. Horror-comedies tend to be over the top with splatterstick. For this overview, we decided to make a list of films that explore the width and breadth of Japanese Horror Cinema. Call it the Psycho Drive-In J-horror sampler. Audition (1999) Audition was Takashi Miike‘s third of six feature-length films released in 1999. Let me repeat that. Miike released six feature-length films in 1999. Plus, he’d already made four each in 1997 and 98 and had been making fast and dirty straight-to-video features since 1991 — nearly twenty of them. 1997 was the year that he really started to get good at it, and when Audition hit in ’99, he was operating like a madness machine. Seemingly more mainstream than most of the work he’d done before, there were no Yakuza or science fiction elements. In fact, the majority of Audition feels more like an extension of his quieter moments, like Rainy Dog, The Bird People in China, or Ley Lines as he tells the story of a lonely middle-aged widower, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), who hatches a wacky plan to start dating again — at the urging of his 17-year old son — by setting up a mock audition for a film as a way of meeting and getting to know women. Aoyama falls hard for Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), but she’s got a secret. Sweet Jeebus, does she have a secret. Miike’s film shifts slowly into a tale of emotional, psychological, and ultimately physical torture that to this day is difficult to watch at times. But it’s easily one of his best films and serves as a standard by which to judge a lot of the Japanese horror films that followed into the new century. There are glimpses of the anarchic energy of Ichi the Killer (2001), the existential dread of Visitor Q (2001), and the Lynchian strangeness of Gozu (2003), but in a much more palatable form for a general audience. But if you watch Audition and love it like I do, you should probably search out at least those three Miike films to see what you think of his distinctly individual approach to horror film. — Paul Brian McCoy Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman (2007) Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman, or Kuchisake-onna, is a more conventional Japanese horror flick, written and directed by Kôji Shiraishi. It’s based off an urban legend of the same name. The story is if a child is found alone, or walking at night, a woman wearing a surgical mask will appear and ask if she is pretty. If the child answers no she will kill the child. If yes, she will pull down the mask to reveal a gash in both cheeks from her mouth to her ears, and ask again. If the child says yes she will cuts a gash in each of the child’s cheeks. I should say the movie is loosely based. In the movie the slit-mouth woman is a restless spirit that kidnaps children and kills them. That’s basically the movie, with the character of Kyôko (Eriko Satô) investigating the appearances of the slit-mouth woman after she has a little girl kidnapped in front of her by the spirit. Local teacher Noboru (Haruhiko Katô) is along to help her because he has his own strange connection to the evil ghost. Child abuse is a big part of this story, so if you can’t stomach children getting slapped and kicked a lot, then this isn’t the movie for you. Some parts of Carved are unintentionally funny (not the abuse parts. That would be weird). Let’s just say the actress playing the slit-mouth woman didn’t really sell all her aggressive or dramatic parts. For people new to Japanese horror, this is a good ease-in movie. — Brooke Brewer Pulse (2001) Pulse, or Kairo, is an existential ghost story that may be a little too slow-moving for some viewers, but if you have the patience to stick with it, the pay-off is excellent. In a grim apocalyptically depressing kind of way. But that’s hard to avoid when your subject matter is isolation, alienation, and loneliness, all wrapped up the breakdown of human communication despite our technological interconnectedness. If that sounds a bit too Philosophy 101, just put all that aside and enjoy this one for the slow build of tension that leads to one of the most disturbing climaxes in modern horror cinema. When I used the word “apocalyptic” above, it wasn’t by accident. The film is directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and is based on his novel, so you’ve got an auteur’s vision at work here, and it is a dark, dreamlike vision that explores the impulse to commit suicide and the sense that life is just too much. Unfortunately, death isn’t really any better. There’s an unnerving sense of ennui that weaves its way through Pulse, an almost inevitable pull toward oblivion and hopelessness that makes the film one of the more psychologically devastating examples of contemporary Japanese horror. — Paul Brian McCoy Parasite Eve (1997) Parasite Eve is based on the excellent novel of the same name by Hideaki Sena. Now I’m not going to cry the book was better (as they often are), I’m just going to say some things don’t play as well in a movie as they do in a novel. Some things get lost in translation. It was very good for an adaption though. I normally hate bad CG in movies, and this was about what you would expect from the nineties. If you saw Spawn then you know what to expect from this effects-wise. What the hell, here’s the film. See for yourself! So apparently everyone in the world has these things called mitochondria. According to Wiki these aren’t the things that give you Jedi powers, but are the producers of energy in our cells. The female lead Kiyomi Nagishima (Riona Hazuki) is married to the male lead Dr Toshiaki Nagashima (Hiroshi Mikami) who is studying ways to culture mitochondria to heal sickness and reverse aging and all that. Why is it that all the cool scientific breakthroughs have to unleash new horrors on the world? As coincidence would have it, Kiyomi has a mutant, advanced form of the mitochondria in her cells. Actually it’s not coincidence; it’s the mitochondria influencing her actions to their own ends. However, it is supposed to be coincidence that her name is the same symbol for Christmas Eve, and she met Toshiaki on Christmas Eve, and the scientists name for the first mitochondria to infect a human is Eve. Sorry, but that kind of writing puts my teeth on edge. Through a very convoluted set of circumstances “Eve” manipulates Kiyomi into crashing her car. This puts Kiyomi into a coma, and she begins slipping away. By coincidence (again) there is a little girl in the hospital in need of a new kidney. We’ll call her subplot #1. Luckily, there was a girl who needed an organ and matched Kyiomi’s blood type. Toshiaki, after some reluctance, gives the doctors permission to use her kidney. But in a true mad scientist fashion he makes a deal to secure her liver to culture some mitochondria and keep some part of her alive with him. It’s just as creepy as it sounds. But oh nos! Things go awry. Because playing God always ends on a happy note. Except this time the mitochondria quickly grow into a person sized… yellow goo, that takes on the form of Kyiomi. And being a man of science Dr. Toshiaki has sex with it. Oh yeah, back in subplot #1 the girl with the new liver is hearing stuff, and her organs are moving around under her stomach skin. It’s actually creepy, so naturally we spend more time with Toshiaki and Eve and their freaking love triangle. Eve’s ultimate plan is to wipe out humanity with a new race of perfect mitochondria life-forms. So it’s going to impregnate the underage girl with the liver, with Toshiaki’s sperm. Yeah…. I’m just gonna stop there. This movie ends on what is supposed to be a happy-ish note, and I guess everyone forgot the girl is pregnant with a monster because subplot #1 is never resolved. The final ending shows Toshiaki and Kyiomi meeting for the first time in a scene that totally ripped off Cloverfield twelve years before it was made. That’s just shameless. Jokes aside, this isn’t scary, or creepy. I mean it is creepy, but for the wrong reasons. And they totally rewrote the ending. Just read the book or the manga. — Brooke Brewer Tokyo Gore Police (2008) When it comes to extreme weirdness in Japanese horror film, there are a number of great examples of just how bizarre the Japanese imagination can get. There’s the twisted and horrifying The Guinea Pig series from the mid-eighties; Shin’ya Tsukamoto‘s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), and Shozin Fukui‘s Pinocchio 964 (1991) and Rubber’s Lover (1996)– all of which have a perverse cyberpunk aesthetic ; Yudai Yamaguchi and Jun’ichi Yamamoto‘s sad and grotesque Meatball Machine (2005); and the insanely kinky free-form work of Noboru Iguchi — The Machine Girl (2008), RoboGeisha (2009), and Mutant Girls Squad (2010) in particular. But if you want a film that combines the best elements of all the most extreme Japanese horror/sci-fi, for my money, you can’t beat Tokyo Gore Police (2008). One of the reasons it kind of serves as a smorgasbord of Japanese horror/sci-fi perversity is that the co-writer/director of the film, Yoshihiro Nishimura, did most of the special effects work on nearly all of them, from Rubber’s Lover on. Tokyo Gore Police is the story of Ruka (Audition‘s Eihi Shiina) a future cop whose mission in life is to hunt down the mutant Engineers who are threatening to overwhelm Tokyo. The mutants have the ability to sprout bio-mechanic weaponry from any wound they receive (or inflict on themselves). Ruka is on the trail of Key Man (Itsuji Itao), the creator of the mutants, and… well, let’s just say things go crazy as she gets closer and closer to her goal. And when I say crazy, I mean any freaky image that Nishimura can imagine is brought to life in Troma-style, mostly practical gore effects. But it’s not just the nightmarish imagery that he brings to life on the screen, there’s also a sense of unrestrained madness in the way he tells his story. You literally have no idea what might happen next. And Nishimura has no qualms about breaking any taboo and crossing any line of good taste without fear of offending viewers. He clearly does not give a fuck. For more evidence of that, see his entry in 2012’s ABCs of Death, “Z is for Zetsumetsu.” It’s easily the most bizarre entry that isn’t just going for a cheap laugh. — Paul Brian McCoy Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Constantine 1.05 "Danse Vaudou" - Psycho Drive-In November 27, 2014 […] girls, to read lots and lots of reviews. After all, if I hadn’t read Paul and Brooke’s J-Horror sampler platter I would have had absolutely no clue that the surgical-mask-wearing woman seen in […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.