The J-Horror Virus

Director: Sarah Appleton, Jasper Sharp

Sarah Appleton, Jasper Sharp

Shimizu Takashi, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takahashi
Hiroshi, Ino’o Rie, Fuji Takako, Tsukamoto Shin’ya, Tom Mes

Sarah Appleton, Jasper Sharp

Thomas Beswick

Sarah Appleton

Kazumi Kirkham

15 (TBC)

Running time:


What’s the story: A feature length look into the wave of Japanese cinema that dominated global horror at the turn of the 21st century.

What’s the verdict: Sarah Appleton’s follow-up to 2021’s excellent The Found Footage Phenomenon is another documentary to savour. She and Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp lay out the history of horror in Japan, and how folk tales, wet weather, digital technology, and a new breed of filmmakers keen to explore avenues new, created a movement that would take the world first by surprise, then by storm.

Explored are the societal underpinnings of Japan’s patriarchal society, which led to J-Horror continuing the country’s tradition of female-centric frighteners (at least in front of the camera). Fear not, the origins of that all-important long, lank black hair-do are also revealed. Plus, how Japan’s economic woes during the 90s fed into the isolated, existential dread that characterises the J-Horror atmosphere.  

The J-Horror Virus is an apt title. This is “curse horror,” in which grudges are transmitted virus like through everday objects such as (back in 1998) a videotape (Ring), or an innocuous looking house (Ju-on). The subsequent corruption of mind and body are typically depicted as a disease taking hold.

The plethora of J-Horror players recounting their experiences is impressive, and includes Shimizu (Ju-on) Takashi, Kurosawa (Pulse) Kiyoshi, Tskuamoto (Tetsuo) Shin’ya, and Ring writer Takahashi Hiroshi. Plus Sadako (of Ring) actress Ino’o Rie and Kayako (of Ju-on) player Fuji Takako. Ino’o reveals Ring 2 was worked around her pregnancy then childbirth, fitting for a subgenre replete with birthing imagery.

For those who think J-Horror was born with Ring, this will be a nice eye-opener. The 1998 classic is not discussed in depth until 52 minutes in, but its importance is never in doubt. That Ring director Nakata Hideo is the only major player not featured ultimately proves no detriment.

But, interviews with Audition director Miike Takashi and horror manga legend Ito Junji may have been useful for providing wider contexts. Yet this is merely is nitpicking. Appleton and Sharp have created something not just for J-Horror heads, but anyone with an interest in cinema.

As with The Found Footage Phenomenon, this will have you scribbling down the names of movies to hunt for on Shudder, Arrow, Amazon, and Mubi. Oooh, YouTube has the 1988 J-Horror precursor Psychic Vision: Jaganrei!

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
Letterboxd: RobDan
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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