By Jade Bonus
This post contains both massive spoilers and graphic content – if you are no fan of either, proceed with caution. You may now consider yourself warned.
Well, for this Halloween edition of MediaBug it seems only fitting to delve into the world of Japanese horror films. Brilliant.
Sadly for you, I’m not much of a horror film expert (I still have bad flashbacks of seeing the Dawn of the Dead remake in 2005 and pretty much crapping myself at the thought of fast moving zombies – I mean, how can we kill them now?); however, I have accidentally seen (through my fingers) two whole Japanese horror films (I rented them under false pretenses). Turns out they were like famous and stuff, lucky me! (and by extension, you). I bring you the award-winning films Audition (1999) and Suicide Circle (2002).
Audition is directed by Takashi Miike, and if you know anything about Japanese cinema, you will know that this man’s output is as prolific as it is diverse. Miike has cranked out 70 odd films, from family friendly fare to drama. However, it is for unflinching violence and bleakness that he has found most renown. Miike’s most famous film, besides Audition, is Ichi The Killer (wiki that and come back to me). Censored stringently outside of Japan, the film cemented Miike’s reputation as a director unafraid of the censor’s pen… in fact Miike seems to take great pride in walking straight up to the censor’s pen, licking it, setting it on fire and handing it a two-fingered salute on his way out the door. Good stuff.
While slightly less graphic (and I use that term loosely) than Ichi The Killer, Audition spares none of the queasiness as the story unfolds.
Seven years widowed single father Shigeharu Aoyama is spurred by his teenage son to begin dating again. Aoyama works in film and TV, and in answer to his dating conundrum, friend and fellow TV producer Yasuhisa Yoshikawa suggests casting for his new girlfriend under the guise of casting for an ersatz new television show (at this point this film could have been the best romantic comedy of all time) – how could this go wrong?
Through this process he meets Asami Yamazaki, a shy retiring flower, seemingly happy to partner up with him and, in turn, he becomes entranced by her. His enchantment continues despite some fairly strong red flags that pop up in her past, courtesy of Yoshikawa’s fact checking that reveals that all of her references have either disappeared without trace or have come to extremely violent ends.
The brilliant thing about Audition is that it keeps up the pretense of not being a horror film until it is pants-shittingly too late, and you are sucked in to the point of not being able to look away (and trust me, you will want to look away). Deservedly, Audition has sealed its place as a definitive example of damn fine Japanese horror.
Watch the trailer for Audition here:
From the sublime to the occasionally ridiculous, we jump to Sion Sono’s* Suicide Circle. Whether or not you like this film, it is one that will certainly stick with you, if not for the rampant gore but for the rather disturbing subject matter. Admittedly when I first saw this film after eyeing it suspiciously at my local video store about twenty times, at about the half way point I was left at a loss. I did determine to stick with it in the hopes that it would a) eventually makes sense and b) be worth the 2 1/2 hour investment in the end. At the time I thought it did neither, but on reflection at least one of my hopes came true.
Kicking off with the suicide of 54 schoolgirls who jump in front of an express train in front of a platform of horrified onlookers at Shinjuku (and SFX did not spare the dismembered limbs either), the act begins a suicide epidemic that sweeps throughout Japan, seemingly without discrimination or reason. Tying the suicides together are rolls of flesh found at several suicide scenes that belong to each suicide victim or soon to be victim. Leaving police baffled, the suicides continue at pace throughout the course of a week and are seemingly predicted on a website before they occur. Whilst many theories are posited, the film shies away from offering the audience anything definitive, which is either great post structuralist filmmaking or simply infuriating – I still haven’t made up my mind.
Famous more for its shock value than being an amazing story, Suicide Circle is still worth a watch (for the strong of stomach), if for nothing more than to see Japanese rockstar Rolly in a spangly onesie or to yell at the television (I know this is what I did). That said, it does have a few great and truly psychologically horrifying scenes and brings up some interesting questions about pack mentality. To be honest I am almost tempted to watch it again.
Obviously, given its subject matter, a massive trigger warning applies to this film – even the trailer is incredibly graphic so I won’t post it here, but feel free to look it up on YouTube if you have the gastric fortitude that I lack.
* If you want to try another Sion Sono film I recommend Love Exposure – no less perverse but a far more interesting story and much less gore.
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