Last night I watched yet ANOTHER American remake of a Japanese horror flick. This seems to be the trend nowadays--Americanizing Asian horror flicks. (See also: Dark Water, The Ring, The Grudge, just to name a few)
And it got me thinking about what annoys me so much about our (suddenly) rampant need to remake Asian horror flicks, and mainly, it's that we're not so much AMERICANIZING them, per se, as we are just taking the (for example) Japanese imagery and placing it in an American film, essentially co-opting the culture's fears and iconography but placing it in an Americanized environment.
Let me explain.
The film I watched last night was One Missed Call, a remake of Chakushin Ari. I've not seen the original (I've got it on order), but the American version is undeniably hyper-Americanized. AND YET (as with other films like The Grudge or The Ring), the spirits/specters have been plucked straight out of the Japanese films as is (in all their cultural iconography) and placed into the Americanized film with no changes. So here we have hugely Americanized movies whose ghosts and specters nonetheless APPEAR TO BE JAPANESE (and if not physically Japanese, at least possessing the characteristics of the Japanese yurei).
And upon writing this, I am--of course--unable to find any actual stills from this particular film to post as examples.
So let's use some of the other Americanized Japanese remakes I mentioned instead.
Either the ghost-characters themselves are Asian (The Grudge). Or the ghosts have the visual appearance of a Japanese ghost--the Yurei or Onryo (The Ring):
Traditionally, the yurei is portrayed with messy unkempt black hair. This is a traditional Japanese reference to the Kabuki theater that has been prevalent in Japan for years. In Kabuki theater, the evil characters are usually considered to be insane. A symbol of insanity in Kabuki theater is unkempt hair.
The yurei is almost always in white clothing. This refers to the fact that the traditional funeral garb in Japan is white. The Japanese ghost is seen in the last bit of clothing that was worn before traveling into the world of the dead.
(ASIDE: Researching this a bit today is where my Toshiro Mifune/Kurosawa ramble got reignited. If you've never seen the witches/spirit women/mediums in a Kurosawa film before, you are SERIOUSLY missing out on some creepy-ass shit, my friends.)
And here's the thing: what's so damn cool about horror flicks is that above and beyond the average movie, they really do kind of offer us an anthropological look at a culture and its fears and anxieties.
Yeah, I know I know. They're also trash. And they're also entertainment. And yeah, I may be trying to justify my horrible taste just a little. Blah blah blah.
When did the rise of the slasher film (which is characterized by "punishment inflicted upon its sexually promiscuous characters") take place? Right around the time we were finding out about AIDs and the fact that sex can be really really unsafe.
What are some of the most common themes in Asian films in the past few years? Technology (Chakushin Ari, Ringu) and confined spaces (Odishon, Three Extremes).
It really is kind of fascinating.
And here's where my disgruntlement lies. In these recent (and original) Japanese horror films, we see a culture. We see its ghosts and traditions. We see its folklore and history (i.e. ghosts visually snagged from Kabuki imagery). And--I would argue--we see its fears and anxiety: Technology. The claustrophobia of a large population crammed into a small space. Etc.
And here WE are taking this culture's "language," these icons that are not culturally our own, and we're adopting them for entertainment purposes. And in my opinion, these things that we're appropriating don't read well when placed half-assedly into our own cultural language. They don't have the same history/cultural trail to them that allows us to read them as they would be read by that culture's audience in the original films. I mean, there's a huge disparity between the over-Americanization of a film like One Missed Call and the Japanese-esque spirit-images placed in it. And it makes it read very strangely.
But even as I'm saying this and criticizing our horror-makers for doing this, I must admit, it also seems apropos. It tells its own sort of tale about our culture. And what do these Americanized remakes of Japanese horror flicks SAY about us? That we're co-opters of other cultures. And as anyone who listens to music or watches films or has ever looked at art work knows, this is undeniably true.
And really, is it something worth criticizing? I don't know. I mean, we ARE the cultural melting pot, an amalgamation of a huge number of different cultures, so maybe it makes sense. And yet, I'm still annoyed that we do so in such an absent-minded way. As in: "Hey, these ghosts are SPOOKY! Lets snag the imagery" with no real sense of the history or folklore behind them.
Its this vacuousness in our horror films that is disturbing. The absent-minded appropriation. The remake and 53rd sequel 'cause we can't think of anything new. The hollow Rob-Zombie violence that, when the gore is stripped away, has nothing underneath it to actually hold the film up.
And maybe THAT's what I take issue with.
I want our horror films to reveal something other than the fact that we're a co-opting, deflatingly uncreative, vacuous culture.
Do you feel me?
I'm pretty certain I'm being overly-reductive though, so: arguments please.
(And yes: I do realize that it was just yesterday that I was cheering for vacuous zombie gore, but suck it.)