Hollywood takes a chance on J-Horror films

June 23, 2006|By KNIGHT/RIDDER TRIBUNE

Banking on the success of two American remakes of Japanese films, The Ring and The Grudge, Hollywood has at least 16 more remakes of so-called J-Horror films in various stages of acquisition, production and release - a major gamble on a minor genre.

During the late '90s, Asian cinema produced a bunch of deliciously surreal and creepy flicks, including Tomie (she's so lovable, you're compelled to kill her) and Phone, about the cell phone from hell.

Even as the phenomenon is being promoted in Everytown, U.S.A. (the next remake, of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse, opens July 14), cineastes and critics say the original J-Horror mini-movement is over.

Yet the transformation of the genre from cult to cash cow has had one great side effect: It has opened up the home video market to obscure Asian titles, many of which are available from small distributors, including Tartan Films USA and Media Blasters.

Tartan U.S. President Tony Borg said his Asia Extreme line, launched in January 2005, appeals to the "17- to 28-year-old video gamer, anime fan and Maxim magazine reader. ... The demographic is very young, hip, cool and edgy."

The "annoying" term J-Horror was, according to filmmaker and critic Nicholas Rucka, slapped onto a few, hard-to-categorize Japanese imports such as Ringu, Ju-On and Seance, by fans. The '90s movies seriously wigged out horror devotees with their gruesome, weirdly paced stories of ghosts.

Rucka, who writes for Midnight Eye, an online journal about Japanese film, said the movies eschewed computer-generated effects, instead relying on great lighting, cinematography and offbeat stories.

In contrast to Western tales, which are "logic- and morality-bound," Japanese yarns presuppose "a belief that spirits inhabit most everything, from inanimate objects to living creatures," Rucka said. So there's need to explain the haunting, and the story can give a deeper sense of the ghost's psychology and its interaction with the world.

Knight/Ridder Tribune

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