Although the very idea of a horror movie as a means of getting frightened seems absolutely absurd, millions of people all around the world watch horror movies eagerly. The reason for watching the scary films must be hidden somewhere deep within a man’s psycho, for fear is not one of the most welcomed emotions.
However, it requires a great deal of skills to create the film that can make people scared stiff. The film directors that have been considered the masters of the genre are Japanese, however strange that might sound. How they manage to create the films which thrill yet have a certain element of high culture within them is the secret that has to be explored.
In spite of the fact that the modern cinema consists of a variety of film genres whose abundance is obvious, the horror genre still stays just as wanted and welcomed as it used to be before.
This can be explained by the fact that the modern film directors make use of the components that drive the audience to the TV-screens and does not let them go for another couple of hours. With help of the new inventions that the XXI century has granted the art of cinematography with, it has become possible to increase the quality of the films, which involves a number of specific elements.
Owing to them, the movies gain the depth and thoughtfulness which a horror genre ahs never seen before, and create almost philosophic depth in the movie. Since the Japanese have always been known for their refined and distinguished philosophy, there should be no wondering why they have created so many films that are worth being called the classics of the horror genre. And, wit the modern technologies, as well as with the skillful work of the shooting crew, it becomes possible to reach the perfection.
Although a prominent Japanese film director Kurosawa Kiyoshi has created a range of films which have been considered masterpieces, it was the film called Seance that made him famous all over the world, including every single country.
Shot through with the unceasing fear, the film also touches upon a vast variety of issues that are very important for the modern people, not only in China, but also all around the world. The film in fact incorporates the concerns and the psychological state of the epoch, presenting it in an hour-and-a-half show delivered from the Hades.
The plot is telling rather simple story of a kidnapped girl who, trying to escape the persecutors, hides in the equipment case as the owner of this case is recording the sounds coming from the woods. Since that day, the psychic abilities of the girl have been awaken, and the story unwinds into a terrifying string of events which lead to a shocking result.
One of the questions which stand behind the plot and the tricks which make the nervous audience jump in their seats is the one of the Japanese understanding of life and death, the unceasing dance of the two as the most beautiful element of the universe. Kurosawa tried to show the dependence of the human’s life on the events that can be triggered by the secret forces hidden from the eyes of the ordinary people.
Although the film deals with rather serious problems of mortality and what might follow death, the purgatory and the world of ghosts where the imprisoned souls are bound to dwell in, there are certain elements of the problems of mere mortals discussed in the film. One of them, the problem that has been stated in the most explicit way, is the vision of the outcasts of the society, people like Junko.
Are these people doomed to be alone in this world just like the spirits dwell alone in the land of the dead? Can they find common language with the others or will they be always seen as the unworthy? Why are they no part of the world that they live in? Kurosawa does not answer these questions himself, but leaves people the hints to find the answers on their own.
The importance of mise-en-scenes cannot be doubted in this movie – in fact, they are what makes the peculiarity of the film. The very term has been considered long before as a cliche brought to the film industry by Hollywood:
Although one can properly refer to the mise-en-scene of any film, in film criticism mise-en-scene has a particular association with Hollywood cinema (Gibbs 56).
Nevertheless, Kiyoshi has managed to renew it and to add certain chic to the idea old as the hills. Indeed, there could be no better way for the scene to be arranged. The film director was following the traditions of the horror genre, which have led him to creating a wonderful specimen of a kind.
It would be a good idea to focus on the scenery in general and its specific details as well. In this movie it plays an extremely important part. What must not pass unnoticed is the fact that there are actually two main settings in the film, which create the required atmosphere of the surreal brought into the ordinary.
One of them is the scene which involves claustrophobic atmosphere. It cannot be denied that Kurosawa was aiming at people’s natural fear for the closed space, and the target has been hit precisely. The mise-en-scene which took a shot of the girl lying in the case, a very small and narrow one, adds to the feeling of anxiety, which only doubles as she has gained her supernatural abilities and as the latter have come into the light.
The scenery is also supporting the closed-space settings. One of the main features of the film is the colors which have been hushed down and taken into darkened shades of grey and brown. Directed at the psycho of the audience, the colors of the movie make the mise-en-scene almost unbearable to watch – or, at least, to watch calmly.
Another thing that needs deep consideration is the sound design, which can be classified as an outstanding one. The film does not include the sound effects that have recently become so typical for an average horror movie and that can frighten only a child. Seance has the sound structure that makes the audience watch it with growing excitement and interest.
The sound effects which Kurosawa has used in the film require a great deal of attention as well. The humming sound in the background makes the audience tense and bestirs the feeling of anxiety, while the plot is unwinding. As the audience has been used to hearing the anxious humming, it suddenly ceases, which makes an impression of something terrible to happen. Since nothing happens, spectator feels that the worst is way farther, and thus the grip of the quiet sound does not let go throughout the whole film.
Instead of trying to follow the modern influence of the West and its pathetic attempts to create a genuine horror film, the Japanese film directors put into practice the fantasies of their own, mixing the reality and the underworld of horror. Whatever the reasons for the success of the Japanese horror movies are, it cannot be argued that their films provide a deep psychological and philosophical context, which the western films are often deprived of. A good specimen of the Japanese horror films which make people read between the lines of the script is the film called Dark Water.
Taking into consideration the fact that the crew did not spend a single drop of ketchup to make the film look scary and impressive, an average spectator could assume that the film would not enjoy wide popularity with the modern audience. However, the assumptions of this kind have proved wrong, since movie was considered one of the most petrifying ones that have ever been shot. Why t has turned so is the next question of this essay.
When the film was shot, it was clearly aiming at not only scaring the audience out of their wits, but also at conveying a particular idea that was haunting Nakata Hideo, the film director, just the way the ghost was haunting the people in the town. The philosophical reasons come to the forth once again, for the film makes the audience discover the truth that has been living in the depth of their subconscious for a long period of time.
The film explores the subjects which are detached from the horror topics. On of these is the relationship between a mother and a child. The film director has managed to show the image of a troubled mother that is trying to save her child from the danger unknown yet deadly. One of the three pillars on which the Japanese philosophy stands on, family and its elements make the essence of the movie.
There is also one more kind of fear that might have passed unnoticed with the audience. Hide was trying to make the audience feel what a small child does when he or she loses a mother. However brave a person might be, the fear of losing a mother is one of the deepest fears hidden in the center of all people’s hearts.
Hideo has managed to show it in the most explicit way, and the scenes with the mother looking for her child and the girl watching her mother slowly ceasing to live are the most impressive and terrifying in the whole movie. The death of the mother has been shown as the death of hope and everything that could help the girl get out of the dreadful world which she has got into.
The water dropping from the ceiling can be seen as a metaphor for the clock that count a man’s lifetime. As soon as it ceases to tic-tac, the death will come inevitably. This is a perfect example of a sound used as a metaphor in a movie.
Speaking of the mise-en-scene of the film, one can say that the background of the main action does not make an impression of anything terrifying, with the necessary requisites for making people scared stiff. No blood, no monsters, even no ghosts. Still such strong the impression is that the film sends shivers right through the audience. What is the secret of Hideo?
The tapping water is the clue. Like the old Chinese torture of water dripping on the head of the convicted, these droplets falling from the ceiling create the atmosphere of something terrible to happen. People have always been afraid of the things which they could not explain, and that is why the water dripping from the ceiling makes such a scary impression on the spectators.
The conflict between the friendly environment of the place where the lead characters dwell in and the weird things that happen inside it is evident. Perhaps, this conflict is the clue to the mise-en-scene being so impressive and working such attention of the audience. On the one hand the atmosphere is rather calm, since nothing is astir and there is nothing that poses bare danger to the lead character.
On the other hand, the unceasing sound of the water drops falling and the background noise which adds to the overall anxiety and makes one think of something worse coming on, something that cannot be explained yet bringing the utter horror, the nightmare which has been unleashed and now is going to rave into a terrible catastrophe. Altogether, these elements have an impressive effect on the audience, making it literally shake with fear.
In contrast to the Hollywood colleagues, the Japanese filmmakers prefer editing scripts rather than editing the movie. Applying minimum of corrections to the film, they make it closer to the reality and also polish their art of making masterpieces of films without reworking on them. Such tradition roots back to the films made by Bunraku, who would not accept the ideas of the American film-makers:
By relieving the film text of the need to narrate a story, he enabled Japanese film-makers to concentrate on extra-narrative embellishments of the visual text, on surface play, and thus transgress the norms of Hollywood-style narrative efficiency (continuity editing, crisply cut to tell a story, shot-reverse-shot dialogue exchanges, cyclic matching, use 90 degree shooting space). (Balmain 19)
Indeed, the specific features of the Japanese horror in general and Dark Water in particular is not the absence of the sound effects, but the unusual way to use them. There are no loud sounds in the movie, nor are there cries of terror. Silence influences the audience much more than any shriek, however much horror it could hold.
Thus, Dark Water proves to be the classics of the horror movies, and Nakata Hideo is, by all means, one of the most talented film directors who have ever managed to fix human’s fears in a camera shot. He will certainly stay a model for all horror films directors, and lots of people will enjoy his movies in the future.
Compared to the previous two films, Audition by Takashi is quite different in the topics that it raises and the problems that have been spoken about. Quite close to the European standard of a movie, Audition still remains a Japanese film, with all the specific features of the Japanese film-making.
With the underlying ideas closer to the European life and traditions, the movie still remains Japanese to the core. The reason for such phenomenon is hidden in the Japanese world picture and the way the Japanese people regard the environment in which they live.
Representing a life situation which would rather occur in Europe than in conservative Japan, the film tells a story of a man whose friend has organized audition to help him find a wife. Indeed, such event suits rather to a comedy than to a horror film, especially taking into consideration that the humorous situation is rather unusual for the composed Japanese.
However, at this point the similarities between a European movie and Audition disappear, and the elements of the famous Japanese horror genre begin to emerge. Nothing at the beginning of the movie could tell the way the events were going to unwind soon. As the man finds an ideal wife and marries, his tortures begin, for the woman appears to be a monster.
On the one hand, the social problems have been expressed in the movie in rather vague way. After all, this is still a horror movie, and the scene of the awful events should be blurred into hints and innuendoes which the spectator is supposed to guess. The very process in fact reminds a lot of reading one’s lips.
Thus, Takashi creates a specific world where he transfers the real world and its problems to. The questions of life and death, of marriage and family, of people and their weird beliefs are the things which Takashi reflects on in his movie. In fact, one has to admit that Takashi does it brilliantly, not interrupting the flow of the movie plot.
Takashi asks a lot of questions to the audience. What is marriage? Is there an ideal mate? Why people come together? These are just snatches of the problems that the film director explores. In spite of the fact that the modern world is a complicated thing itself, Takashi takes it into separate pieces to understand the roots of people’s problems, and then he reassembles the world again, imperfect as it was before, but from now on open to the changes which people can do to make it more home-like and friendlier.
For a European dweller used to the films with a wide range of sound effects, it first it might seem that there are practically no sound effects in Audition. Indeed, there are no specific sounds in it, unlike in the two previous ones. However, considering the very notion of a sound effect in the film industry, one should agree that there can be no film without sound design at all:
Today, sound design is a key part of planning a movie. Sound design has three main elements: music, voices, and noises. In early talkies, everything on the soundtrack had to be recorded at the same time. Today, music, voices and noises are recorded separately. The sounds are put together, or mixed, after the film has been shot. (Horn 8)
With such approach, it becomes possible to evaluate the sound design of the movie as precisely as possible. It is obvious that there are no specific sound effects in the film. They are all very simple, for they can be heard in the everyday life. Takashi did his best not to make the film overloaded with sounds, not to distract the audience’s attention. However, the few sounds, rather usual, like the sound of someone’s footsteps, or the door opening, make people tremble with fear and excitement.
As well as the rest of the movies, Audition was not subdued to much editing, since the main goal of Takashi was to make the film as realistic as possible. Opening the door to the world of the surreal, he still left a link to the ordinary. Perhaps, this is what distinguishes his films among the range of horror movies.
Although the genre of horror films has been counted for a third-class movie for quite long time, the Japanese have managed to prove this idea wrong. Creating numerous masterpieces of films, they have shown to the world that a horror film is something more than a way to get some adrenalin rushing through one’s veins. Such is their culture that they have managed to get the element of philosophy into horror films and make them a genre which is worth paying attention to.
Although the Japanese film directors use quite different approach to making the horror films, thy still remain leaders in this sphere of the art of cinema. Regarding all their achievements in this area, it can be predicted that they are going to stay the masters of horror film making.
The fact that they try to avoid modern technology abuse is also the evidence of their specific idea of horror films, which is the sign that they are going to keep their leadership for quite long time. Regarding the effects that are used in the films to draw the audience’s attention, one can say that their means of creating the specific atmosphere in the film is beyond any possible criticism.
The Japanese horror movies are worth watching for their philosophic content, as well as for their being so exquisite and refined, in contrast to most of the European and American ones. Whatever critics may say, horror movies are a part of modern Japanese culture, which cannot be denied.
Balmain, Collette. Introduction to Japanese Horror Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. Print.
Gibbs, John. Mise-en-Scene: Film Style and Interpretation. London: Wallflower Press, 2002. Print.
Horn, Geoffrey. Movie Soundtracks and Sound Effects. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2006. Print.