Extremely concise, high-minded overview of horror cinema, organized logically. Its breakneck pace may give a newcomer some cultural whiplash, while aExtremely concise, high-minded overview of horror cinema, organized logically. Its breakneck pace may give a newcomer some cultural whiplash, while a literate filmgoer will have more to enjoy but may not learn anything new.
The book begins with a quick overview of Japanese culture, contextualizing the ubiquity of those baleful long-haired ghost-ladies (yurei) in Noh and Kabuki theater traditions. The next chapter skips ahead to post-War Kaiju and other classic monster movies from the middle-century. This naturally transitions to the following section, "Social Sicknesses," which very quickly explains how cultural anxieties give rise to "extreme cinema" -- that is, to social commentary/bloodfests like 'Suicide Club' and 'Battle Royale'. The chapter also discusses technophobia and cyberpunk, ero-gro and pinku eiga, the influences of manga and anime, and the rise of OV or "V-cinema" efforts. (These paragraphs rang important; I did know that "direct-to-video" movies were a stomping ground for future directorial talents, but I found this overview especially insightful.)
"Japanese Modern Horror Masters: the Big Five" is probably the chapter that will sell the most copies of this book. Other anthologies have taken better inventory of Hideo 'Ring' Nakata, Kiyoshi 'Pulse' Kurosawa, Shinya 'Tetsuo' Tsukamoto, Takashi 'Audition' Miike, and Takashi 'Grudge' Shimizu, but author Andy Richards' analysis of each career is short and sweet. The next chapter, "Modern Japanese Horror: Essential Viewing," signals the end of discussion of Japanese film (the next half of the book will take stock of Korean, Thai, and Chinese filmmaking). Any fan will already be familiar with this catalogue, including 'Death Note,' 'Pulse,' and 'Tetsuo.' It's worth noting that author Andy Richards puts special, deserved emphasis on 'Marebito', which, like 'Pulse', is a slow, deliberate experiment that won't appeal to some fans of extreme cinema. I was also surprised to find a brief discussion of 'Uzumaki.' Elsewhere, there are fleeting shout-outs to movies like 'Happiness of the Katakuris', 'Wild Zero', 'Meatball Machine', and quite unexpectedly, 'St. John's Wort.'
The next two sections deal with Korean filmmaking, beginning with a consolidated history of 20th-century upheaval in North and South Korea, in explication of why Korea overlaps as much as it does, culturally, with Japan. The next section catalogues Korea's best horror directors, then marches right ahead to a catalogue of "Essential Viewing"; special weight is assigned to the melodrama 'Whispering Corridors', as well as other K-hits like 'Phone,' 'Old Boy,' and 'The Host'. The masterly 'Tale of Two Sisters' gets a due pat on the back.
The next section, dealing with Hong Kong filmmaking, is arranged much the same; here, because I know less about Chinese cinema, I caught myself skimming, albeit promising myself I'd hunt down each of the movies mentioned. I appreciated that Richards paused, briefly, to describe the differences between Fruit Chan's full-length 'Dumplings' and the truncated version from '3… Extremes.' Finally, the book settles on Thai filmmaking, which has been wholly revitalized in the last decade by the horror genre. There are of course the Pang Brothers, responsible for the 'Eye' movies; Richards also emphasizes 'Shutter' as a Thai movie to watch.
The last chapters are slim but fascinating. "Lost in Translation?" is a brief overview of the phenomenon of Asian horror translated as U.S. hits. Instead of snubbing remakes totally, Richards gives them case-by-case assessments: the remake of 'Ring' does some things very deftly, as do remakes of 'Shutter' and 'Dark Water.' (In the meantime, the 'Pulse' remake is "a desecration," which is really less an opinion than it is an observable fact.) Richards also acknowledges the Kiefer Sutherland vehicle 'Mirrors,' although its faithlessness to the supposed source material barely qualifies it for inclusion on this list, I think.
The final section, which might appeal to nobody, discusses Japanese "survival horror" video games, including 'Siren' ('Forbidden Siren' in the UK), 'Fatal Frame' ('Project Zero' in the UK), and the 'Silent Hill' series. It's an important aside, although it feels tacked-on and is a weak way to end the book. I understand why it follows the section it did, because these games, very directly translated, have crossed and become enmeshed in the Western zeitgeist, but if I were editor I might have awkwardly crammed them in with Japanese cinema instead.
Sorry my review is so longwinded! This review is, like, the total opposite of this great, tiny book. 'Asian Horror' is just one title from Kamera Books which, as I understand it, publishes slim "Cliffs Notes" to popular film genres. In all, I am blown away. There is no chaff here, and it really is very complete. (It's also super-duper up-to-date!)
Of course, I read 'Asian Horror' for pleasure, and not for reference. Each movie synopsis will be most interesting to someone who has already seen the movie being described, mainly due to Andy Richards's reluctance to synopsize too much. He is willfully murky, which I applaud; no one wants a twist ending given away, damn it....more