Marc Fennell on Hollywood Remakes

On this clip of Flicked, Australian film critic and journalist Marc Fennell asks why the American film industry keeps making their own adaptations of popular Asian horror films.

*Add-on 11/15/2015:

  • an interesting feedback from Sarah, a classmate: “Asian films, not influenced by Christianity or religions with good and evil, don’t focus on good vs. evil narratives and instead is unsettling in its ambiguity and lack of reason or control and the last line says that remakes of these films are unsuccessful because they try to force these narratives into good vs. evil archetypes and explain them to the audience.”


Hollywood vs Asian Film Industry

While researching on the topic of Japanese horror influences on the West, I came across an interesting quote by Joe Queenan.

“Ancestral spirits are not a fixture of American horror; the supernatural apparitions tend to be complete strangers or wraiths or itinerant succubi just in for the weekend from out of town. Most of the remakes I have seen are listless and mechanical – horror by numbers – while the originals are taut, frightening, ingenious, and often quite pleasing from the artistic perspective. It may well be that western directors are trying to shoehorn Asian films into a culture that cannot fully accommodate them. Perhaps this is why remakes of Asian horror movies tend to be mildly profitable enterprises that few adults talk about – serious critics hate them – while in Japan, horror movies seem to be taken seriously.”

In his article on The Guardian, Queenan discusses Hollywood remakes of Asian horror films, and why the two cultures may clash in the process.

You can read the full article here:

Ju-On (2002) Part 2 – Traditional Folklore

Of course, the disturbing elements of Ju-On: The Grudge draws from more than just a period of economic hardship of Japan’s history. As a matter of fact, it borrows traditions dating back to the 8th century Japan.

The onryō.

In traditional Japanese beliefs and folklore, onryō, which literally translates to “vengeful spirit,” is a ghost that returns to the living world to seek vengeance after a wrongful death. Although this mythological spirit’s exact origin is unknown, existing information can be traced back to Prince Nagaya, a Japanese political leader during the Nara Period (710-794AD). Nagaya’s relatives, who were jealous with his power, charged the imperial prince with a false crime, driving him to commit suicide. A few years after, the four that who drove the prince to his death eventually all died one after another after catching small pox. In 1988, a Sogo department store was built on Nagaya’s former residence. Twelve years after completion, Sogo went bankrupt.

Due to these two incidents, people believed that Nagaya’s unjustified death bore a curse against the living. In Ju-On: The Grudge as well as the rest of the franchise, the onryō spirit is depicted through the pale ghosts, that come back to kill its victims through its manifesting anger. It is another fascinating element that influences the film to be as haunting as it is.

Toshio Yamada, one of the ghost in Ju-On.

*Edit 11/15/2015:

Sources added:


*Edit 11/20/2015: corrected several grammatical errors

Ju-On (2002) Part 1 – Horror films as a “Safe Fantasy”

Movie Poster of the 2002 J-horror film.

If you are into horror movies, hearing the words Ju-On, or The Grudge should automatically spawn the face of a ghostly, pale boy in your head. Released in 2002, Ju-On: The Grudge is probably one of the most acclaimed film of its genre. The movie tells of a curse resulted from a family murder, which is then passed onto anybody who comes in contact with the house in which the deaths took place. Described as a film that “is purposefully frustrating” and “quietly burrows right into your skull” by the Portland Oregonian, the horror elements of the movie paint the roughed-out society of Japan in the past few decades.

Scene from Ju-On: The Grudge (2002).

Takashi Shimizu is called “one of a new breed of Japanese horror directors” who prefers to “suggest menace and violence rather than directly depict it [through his films].” This quote, stated by film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon, is no unfamiliarity when talking about Shimimzu, who directed and wrote the Ju-On franchise. Shimizu was born in 1972 and by the time he was a working adult, Japan was experiencing what seems like a time of impending doom. Known as the Lost Decade or the Lost 10 Years, the 1990s was a time of Japan’s economic meltdown. Over this period, the national GDP fell about 1 trillion and real wages fell about 5%. This also attributed to changing the long established gender roles, as more women became independent and engaged in the workforce. Some say filmmakers who grew up during this time have used this dismaying memory as part of the influence on their films.

1990s Japan

A film historian in Kyoto, Stuart Galbraith IV commented on the matter, “These [movies] were safe, distant fantasies for audiences that felt secure in their community, since then I think horror movies have begun tapping into the unease many Japanese feel as the ills of the [outside] world have encroached on Japanese life.” He continued, “for instance, Japan is no longer the fantastically safe country it famously once was, and the slumping economy has destabilized the notion of lifelong job security.’ Since it was impolite to state in public, many of the misery is reflected in J-horror films. “As a result, their movies deal more with the breakdown of reality, of families, and of the mind,” Stuart finished.

*Edit 11/15/2015: fixed grammatical mistakes

  Sources added:


*Edit 11/20/2015: additional information on the Lost 10 Years – transformation of the traditional gender role