Culture and Horror: East vs. West

Here is an interesting bit of analysis that seems relevant in light of this weekend’s release of THE EYE: In “Culture and Horror: Valerie Wee Sui-Lin, Ringu, and The Ring,” John Morehead interviews an assistant professor from the National University of Singapore, who analyses the differences between Japan’s RINGU and its American remake THE RING.

One of the continuing problems with remakes of J-Horror is that the originals are based around certain cultural assumptions that support and enrich the narrative. When these cultural idiocyncracies are lost in translation, what remains is often a mechanical spook show that makes sense only on the level of an urban legend recounted at a slumber party, in which credibility and characterization are subordinated to shock effect.

Valerie Wee Sui-Lin does a good job of illuminating the distinctions between Eastern and Western approaches to horror, pointing out that depictions of the supernatural in film like RINGU are based on long-lived traditions. In particular, she answers the questions plaguing many Western viewer: What’s up with these vengeful female ghosts?

Valerie Wee Su-Lin:The female ghost is one if the mainstays of Japanese folk tales. Many of these stories date back to the Edo period (which began around 1603). What’s perhaps most interesting about these female ghost stories is that they feature women who are perfectly ordinary and, as expected in Japanese patriarchal culture, entirely submissive and obedient, until they are brutally murdered by men in authority whose social function is to protect and look after these women. Only after this betrayal do these women return as terrifying supernatural beings with the power and ability to exact revenge. Interestingly, these vengeful ghosts appear to be free of the patriarchal constraints and limitations that the culture commonly places on (representations of) Japanese women. I think it’s also worth noting that these representations have endured through the centuries. There are a number of popular Japanese folk tales that are regularly staged in Kabuki and Noh performances, and, as Ringu proves, the stories and this particular female figure continue to capture the imagination both in Japan, and the world, as it would appear.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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