Why the Greatest Ghost Movies are from Japan
By this point, whether you absolutely love horror or just watch the occasional horror film, then you are aware of some of the Asian remakes like Ring in Hollywood. However, other than the hype Ring received, many Americans have considered these kinds of Japanese movie remakes to not really be that scary, some have even laughed at the idea of the wet haired girls. So how can movies like these possibly be the greatest ghost movies ever?
The Suspension of Disbelief
Pretty much any film founded in fiction or fantasy, including horror movies, goes off the premise that at the very least they can find some way to suspend your disbelief that this is actually something that could happen. Looking at the remakes of Japanese horror films, some of it you could probably say just doesn’t produce that knack of a suspension of disbelief, but that’s because, no matter how many times you remake a film of this type for other cultures, the suspension of disbelief was built into the cultural ideas around what ghosts and spirits were to Japan.
In Japan, their culture from a young age is flooded with the idea that spirituality exists, it’s a remnant from their Shinto society in the same way puritanism is ingrained in American society from the remnant at the start of America. It’s their culture, and that includes this ‘wet haired girl’ as a ghost. She’s in the mythology and folklore as a ‘Yurei’. This isn’t to say that I’m giving them an excuse; I’m simply saying from the standpoint of a Japanese individual, there is no need for a suspension of disbelief because they grew up with these stories, making them as frightening as the idea of a ‘homicidal hitchhiker’ to an American. It is urban lore to them, which makes it more difficult to translate toward other cultures that didn’t grow up with that. That’s hardly all there is to make these such great ghost movies though.
The Subconscious Attack
The key with ghost stories is their ability to attack the subconscious of the watcher without them even realizing it. One of the best horror movies to do this is the original Japanese version of The Grudge, Ju-on. Throughout the entire movie, there are frequently ghosts appearing in areas that most of humanity think of as their places of safety. It’s the same thing you see in some of the Paranormal Activity movies, which makes them more frightening. They aren’t trying to get you with jump scares, they are attacking your very idea of what makes you feel safe and by destroying that, they freak you out.
It’s never directly though, most of the time they don’t actually attack in those areas of safety, they just appear there showing that yes, they can get you when you least expect it and even where you think you’re most safe. It digs through your subconscious and scoops out all of your safety to scare the happy little ponies right out of you. And the worst part? A subconscious attack you can’t defend against, it sucks you in before you can even realize it.
The Ghost Sympathy
As if it isn’t bad enough that these movies grasp you where you can’t protect yourself (psychologically, that is), there’s also the factor that they make you feel sympathetic toward the ghosts…the ghosts! They are supposed to be the big baddies of the entire film and then, all of a sudden, you feel as though you understand why they are doing this.
Imagine you are scared to death of this ghost that keeps popping up and wanting to kill you, but then at the same time you completely understand why they are doing it, even if they are going about it the wrong way (usually revenge). This is because they justify why the ghost is acting the way it is, which leads to an even more compelling ‘villain’. This is probably one of the more difficult things to do since most people just fall back on the idea that the guys is just ‘evil’.
To conclude, when you have a compelling villain character or monster with reasons and real motives, you end up with a storyline that is more fulfilling for the viewer, even if they are stuck between scared witless and feeling sorry for the ghost.
Feature by Erika Henrike
Connect with Erika: @OddlyErika or here