The J-Horror Virus is the type of documentary that you simply do not want to end. Broaching many interesting topics about the much-loved sub-genre, Sarah Appleton and Jasper Sharp engross you in their excellent film.
Charting the origins of Japanese horror films at the turn of the millennium, films featuring vengeful ghosts manifesting themselves through contemporary technology against a backdrop of urban alienation and social decay.
There is no doubt that, at least for a time in the late 90s and early 2000s, J-Horror ruled the genre. You were trying to digest as many films from Japan as you could (a difficult task, seeing as some directors were pumping out two or so excellent films a year). Directors from other parts of the world were making their own versions of these films or integrating aspects of that style of filmmaking into their own films. It was everywhere, and it was quite a fascinating time for the genre.
From a personal standpoint, I remember watching Channel 4 late at night with Mark Kermode introducing this Japanese film that will scare the life out of you, literally. I recorded it, as any good young horror fan should and fell in love with the film and the sub-genre. That film was Ringu, and I even tried to be a smart arse by copying large chunks of the plot and using it for my English Literature course for a short story. Little did I know that little more than a few months later, the first trailers for The Ring would pop up online. Panic-inducing moments later, I realised I needed to see what other films from Japan were out there, not to steal for my school studies, of course, but because I was enraptured.
Filmmakers Sarah Appleton and Jasper Sharp take a far more interesting approach to their documentary than you would expect. Usually, we would get a general run-through of the films from the genre and their impact. Here, though, they have put great care and attention to The J-Horror Virus by describing the themes of why the ghosts or creatures we see in these J horrors were so effective to Japanese audiences. We learn far more about why certain moments happen or why spirits are in the background, etc. It’s as much an educational film for film lovers as anything else.
There are so many little moments spread throughout the film that you become captivated and want to learn as much as possible. Not just about the J-Horror culture but about filmmaking choices and relationships directors had with one another. You can’t help but have a smile on your face in The J-Horror Virus as you find out that so many films from that period looked so similar as if they were all set in the same haunting universe was no coincidence. Many of the filmmakers who ventured towards horror were a part of the same cohort at film school. Influencing each other to make this wonderful sub-genre that increasingly felt like a joint evolution of their talents as filmmakers.
This goes on as we learn about things such as when a lot of films that wanted that moulded ruinous look would be filmed in Japan. Due to the high humidity in the summer, mould would settle on the floor, allowing filmmakers the perfect dark environment for their movies to thrive from a production design standpoint. There are just many little golden snippets all over the place in the film that you could almost find yourself writing notes. We are gaining an excellent understanding of what it took to make these films, and with the cast of talking heads present to discuss the sub-genre, you will be a happy lamb here.
The J-Horror Virus eventually speaks about how that “virus” spread across the world, with the clearest comparison being the Ringu and The Ring. We are told that what made Ringu and, in truth, so many J-horror films work so effectively was that it felt real; not every single room was lit to cinematic perfection, there were dark corners all around, and ominous signs could be placed here and there, enhancing our sense of dread for what might be coming to our characters. In The Ring, while still very good, it feels so Western; the rooms are lit, and the suspense of what might happen next is removed from audiences, with the use of jump scares getting utilised more as a crux instead of making the story the thing that scares the audience.
But that is the American twist on those films. Other countries take different avenues. As our filmmakers show us with this terrific documentary, just because the virus mutated into a different form, you can still see the remnants of what was there. With a lot of modern horror now, you can quite easily link a lot back to what started decades ago. The J-Horror Virus is essential viewing for a genre and really just any movie fan.
The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival runs from October 12th – 19th. For more information click here.
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