What is horror? Its a genre of fiction that aims to scare, induce feelings of horror and terror to the audience. It gives us a sense of repulsion or disgust by creating a strange and terrifying atmosphere. But, this genre can be considered a broad term. This so happens because fear is subjective. Maybe a “slasher” movie doesn’t scare you but you tremble when you’re watching ghost movies. The horror genre is always developing and this is due to the constant changes in the culture. Therefore, western horror will not be the same as in Japanese horror films.
In order to understand the Japanese horror a bit, we must mention the two major influences: Kaidan and Japanese theater. Kaidan is a literary genre that focuses on Japanese folklore. Telling ghosts or Yōkai (creatures half human and animal) stories. However, Japanese theater is divided into two subgenres: Kabuki and Noh. But regardless, both focus on samurai, ghosts (Yūrei), demons (Akuma) and monsters stories. In 1953 they released what was considered the first Japanese horror movie; The Tales of Ugetsu. Based on two Kaidan stories and explores themes of gothic cinema; mixing Japanese culture with supernatural elements.
Throughout the years, Japanese horror cinema developed subgenres from the same category. The Edo Gothic was a subgenre that lasted a decade. (1950 – 60). Touching themes of how humans interact with the spiritual world. At the same time, another subgenre was born and that was based on the fear of people; focusing on the nuclear bomb. Creating monster movies such as 1954 Godzilla or films about the effects of nuclear poisoning (Matango 1963). In the same year, the subgenre called “Pink films” was born and this happens because of the censorship laws of Japan.
Mixing sexuality with violence and horror (Daydreams 1964). Many of these women were victimized and the plot was mostly developed in schools and prisons. This subgenre kept growing until the year 80; where it became more popular by mixing the genre “slasher” and thus creating a new subgenre called “splatter eros”.
Over the years the horror genre underwent unforgettable changes. However, in 1998 the movie Ringu was released, returning to the roots of Japanese horror cinema and defining the concept of J-horror (Japanese horror). Directed by Hideo Tanaka, this film tells the story about a family that was cursed by a videotape and how they are being followed by a vengeful ghost called Sadako. This film sparked an interested in Japanese cinema abroad, especially to the western audiences. Resulting in a big market of American movie adaptations or Japanese films. Bringing popular movies to America like such as One Missed Call and Ju-On.
Films like Ringu is a good example of the difference between Japanese horror cinema and western horror. Unlike western horror, J- horror tends to focus more on developing a complete story that causes terror to the audience. They don’t use the old “jumpscare” formula or loud sounds to cause fear rather, they use eerie environments and minimal sound to frighten the audience. For this reason, movies such as Ringu have fascinated and contributed to the horror genre. Giving us a story that will make you tremble and not be able to sleep at night.