Asian Horror Cinema


No other nation is able to produce horror movies, like the Asians do, especially, Koreans and Japanese. There is something in them that touches the most hidden corners of consciousness, forcing to experience genuine feelings of anxiety and fear. The Asian horrors are full of negative emotions and cruelty. Asians the masters to show the darkest colors and atmosphere of fear, despair, and hopelessness. Because of this, their fans would never change Asian ghostly world, horror, and perversion of the modern world. Asian horror movies are another reality, another world, sometimes weird, strange and peculiar. Even with the advent of the global market, the Asian horror can even higher standarts than the European one. This essay aims to analyze the Asian horror movies as a whole on the example of the Japanese horror film One Missed Call produced by Takashi Miike and the South-Korean horror or rather thriller Thirst by Park Chan-wook.

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The Peculiarities of Japanese Horror cinema

Throughout the world, the most famous Japanese movies are horror movies, or as they are called J-horrors. Last fifteen years, Japanese J-horror occupied the first position to the horror genre. The fans of Japanese horror know the difference between a Japanese film and a European one. J-horrors look spectacular because of all the special effects, not to mention the 3D, which makes the picture more realistic, allowing you to immerse yourself in all the events occurring on the screen (Wada-Marciano 23).

The Japanese focus on reflection of the smallest parts, everything is important for them: from the internal state of a man to what a person eats for breakfast. A minimum of visual effects and loud special effects is the motto of Japanese directors. They are working on a completely different side of the film – internal one, showing the audience the event from the black side. The Japanese horror movies hold in suspense until the very end, not allowing the viewer to relax.

A lot of Japanese horror films have become famous throughout the world thanks to the American remakes. The most famous of these is probably The Ring and The Grudge. In both films, an image of evil is featured in the face of the little dead girl (or boy, as in The Grudge), who avenge their deaths (McRoy 27). One of the most important elements of Shinto is the attitude of the Japanese to the spirits of dead people. Honoring and respecting them in films of this genre, on the contrary, the Japanese are trying to destroy the evil in the face of these spirits. The directors of the Japanese horror movies are trying to show some kind of fear of them. People are afraid of making the spirits angry and thus incur their rage.

In the Japanese horror, a lot of different components are mixed, both from the West and from the East, and sometimes such combination is crazy. Japanese horror fluctuates somewhere between psychedelic movies with ghosts and surrealistic thrash paintings that depict violence. And it’s not hard to notice that there is too much violence, so much that the emphasis on it is no longer assigned. It is an interesting fact that Japan is the first country in which modern technologies are massively fitted in horror. It distinguishes the Japanese school among others, for example, in Europe there are no technologies in horror. Japan is technologically very advanced country that closely linked mystique and high-tech, but apparently they are poorly connected.

Speaking about the people who influenced the Japanese horror, it is important to pick out three of them. The first one is Nobuo Nakagawa who can be called the father of Japanese horror because of his films Black Cat Mansion and The Woman Vampire (McRoy 81). In his movies, he linked American and European techniques with traditional Japanese context. The second is Hideo Nakata, the most famous western director, well-known as author of The Ring, Dark Water, and Chatroom. His latest work, Ghosts Theater, was launched in November 2015 (McRoy 83). The third important figure in the Japanese cinematography is Takashi Miike. He is another well-known author of horror, which organically combines the mystique and gutted victims. He began his work in this genre in the 1990s; his film Audition quickly gained popularity in the country and abroad. His work As the Gods Will was recently released (McRoy 90). In this paper, the famous horror movie, directed by Takashi Miike is analyzed. It is called One Missed Call.

One Missed Call

This film is completely in the spirit of J-horror director Takashi Miike. Speaking about the source of evil. in a narrow sense, it is a mobile phone; in a wide sense, it is hi-tech, which became an integral part of people’s life. A new ring tone and a missed phone call means that the owner of the gadget will live only three days more. The girl Yoko does not have time to answer her ringing cell phone. But when she listens to a left message, she understands that the date of a message is two days ahead of today’s date, and the message consists of her last words and her own pathetic dying cry. On the day of his death, her friend gets the same call from his own phone number. The curse may fall to any number in the address book of the deceased person. As it is depicted in this movie, the restless spirits move in step with the technical progress. Now, in order to take revenge on random people, they use modern gadgets – mobile phones.

There is one scary scene that frightens by its cynicism of the century of high technologies. The journalists get to know about one of these calls; they attack a girl named Natsumi and eventually drag her into a reality show. Natsumi, who has already lost her two friends, comes to this TV show, where the experts on the paranormal phenomena are talking about the nature of the phone calls and the countdown of the remaining girl. Once in the studio inexplicable things start to happen, the producer of the program tells colleagues to continue broadcasting the image to the last and without advertising. Here, the full force of Japanese art scare s seen, because evil has neither beginning nor end, it is irrational and has no explanation. Compared with the classic Japanese horrors of 50-60s, modern directors mostly show scary urban stories, in which their heroes are more lonely and exposed to the abyss of the incomprehensible underworld (Wada-Marciano 23). According to this modern movie, contemporary Japan is a boiling pot with fears and phobias to the world of the dead. Most frightening is that the director used techniques to achieve the main goal – to bring the viewer to the horror.

In comparison with the American horror, where all the events take place at night, in the dark, when an inexperienced viewer might actually begin her fear, in the Japanese horror, fright is pervasive — a demon spirit, the main factor of fear, does not need night to act. He can appear before the characters even in the daytime, in fact, in public places, it may even be see by many people at the same time. This method, that bring the spectators to the real horror, is used by Takashi Miike in One Missed Call.

There is one more fashion trend of the Japanese horror film – to recourse to the means of technology. Takashi Miike use this trend in his movie. The cursed comes in the film through the phone. There is a clear explanation of such a tendency as it is hard to imagine everyday life without modern technologies. A curse or ghosts penetrate into the human consciousness through the means that modern people often use. This effect has a great effect on the people, who are often frightened by the calls after watching a movie.

It is also worth saying that in a traditional movie, let it be a horror a thriller, happy end is a keystone of a film. The viewers are accustomed to that and expect that evil will be defeated, no matter in what way. However, Japanese films almost never have happy ending; it is their peculiarity. On the contrary, they show that incarnation of evil will continue to proceed. It makes a bad aftertaste for a long time after watching the movie; it confirms the totality of horror and evil.

It is impossible to mention one of the defining features of any film—music. A film without music is something incomplete. However, Japanese horrors are filled not only with music but also with silence, and, what is more, strange and unpleasant sounds—creaking, quiet purr, or distorted sounds. The strange sounds used by Japanese cinema play a significant role in intimidating the audience. In One Missed Call, it is the sound of the phone call that frightens people. Music complements the film significantly, prepares the viewer to specific episodes. In this film, the strange ringtone means a curse.

Korean Horror Films

One of the most important category of Korean films are horror movies or the so-called K-horror. South Korean filmmakers have also made psychological thriller their specialty. Over the past fifteen years, Korean films released dozens of movies in this genre each year. They are made at the highest artistic and professional level. It is no exaggeration to say that Korean psychological thrillers today are the best in the world. And the world knows about it. Recently, three directors from South Korea, who have made their names because of thrillers, made their first films in Hollywood. Kim Jee-woon, famous for the films A Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw the Devil, returned Shwarzenegger to the screen in the movie The Last Stand. Joon-ho Bong’s thriller Mother was nominated by South Korea in the “Oscar” in 2010 (Peirse 99). South Korean cinematography of the last ten years offers the viewers an impressive selection of genre models, ideas, and stylistic devices. However, despite the diversity of these movies, often synthesizing American, European, Japanese, and Hong Kong influence, they present a number of common themes, story structures and characters that allow qualifying the South Korean thriller as a separate sub-genre (Diffrient 114).

South Korean psychological thrillers usually use the image of the femme fatale, which is a reaction to the emancipation of women in society. However, the Korean movie reinterprets the traditional type of the femme fatale, shows her as a victim, fighting for survival in a patriarchal environment, and gradually makes the audience feel sympathy towards her. For example, in the film Helpless, which became box office hit of the Korean rolling, a character intentionally commits brutal murder, but the sympathy of the public still remains on her side. The use of the formulas of genre, especially thriller, to create statements on current problems of society Is one of the strongest qualities of the film in South Korea. These movies are almost never only for entertainment but for the escape from reality (Diffrient 114).

Park Chan-wook and his film Thirst

International popularity of Korean thrillers started from Park Chan-wook. In his films Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and Thirst, the dynamic narrative techniques of American sample are combined with the inventive and spectacular visual solution, active and expressive camera movement assembly (Peirse 98). That made them versatile and able to equally easily be understood by both Eastern and Western audiences. The movies Oldboy and Thirst, respectively, won the Grand Prix and the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and has contributed to the perception of the South Korean thriller not only as an exciting spectacle but also as original works of art (Peirse 102). However, the filmmaker argues that the recognition of the audience for him is more important than the success of the festival. He seeks to influence the audience at not an intellectual but a sensual, even a physiological level. His films are an explosive mix of surrealism, horror, and black comedy; they plunge the audience into shock from the first minutes of action.

The film Thirst, as many other Korean thrillers, is simultaneously cruel and sentimental; in some scenes, it even turns into a melodrama, but only in order to enhance the emotional impact on the viewer. The main peculiarity of this film is intrigue. The priest Kang-ho Song is a conscientious, shy, and kind Korean decides to sacrifice himself by participating in a secret medical experiment to obtain against the African virus vaccines: a terrible plague selectively destroys all men of European and Asian races. Self-sacrifice is poured into Luciferian mockery of science and religion: the priest becomes a wonderful gift of a healer, but he turns into a vampire. Now, to save people, he needs to drink their blood. The tragedy of the situation is compounded by the fact that the vampire remains the same humble, shy Christian, ready for any exploits. It is a combination of mutually exclusive concepts, from which a good source of intrigue is promoted by Park Chan-wook. To satisfy his thirst without disturbing the main commandments, the hero quietly drinks blood of the suicide or a blind monk, dreaming to drink vampire blood to heal from his illness. These tidbits are breathtaking the entire film. Another source of intrigue becomes an insatiable sexual desire of the protagonist to the young wife of his friend. Christian compassion and the physical desire once again make the insoluble clinch: woman becomes the vampire, not burdened by the faith in God, and her husband has to be drown in the lake.


In the example of Takashi Miike’s horror movie One Missed Call, it can be concluded that Japanese horror films are really able to scare. They argue that it is not necessary to dismember the human’s body, torture them, or fill everything with blood. Significantly greater effect can be achieved by a quiet rustling, cod, or a sound of a phone call that makes a very unpleasant pressure on the psyche. Thus, Japanese horrors leave a lasting effect; they can even result in psychological trauma for inexperienced viewers and haunt them after a view. Speaking about the South Korean horror films using the example of Thirst by Park chan-wook, this movie can be defined as a thriller, not a horror film. Some bloody scenes make the film really scary; some spectacles are not for the faint-hearted viewers. However, stylistically, the technique of suspense and narrative techniques of this movie make it more of a thriller. Park Chan-wook skillfully combines attention to storytelling, thoughtful psychological motivations of character with a bright and inventive visuals. The filmmaker’s ability to enter social issues into the genre together with a versatile, modern cinematic language, provided a constantly growing popularity, both in Asia and in the West.

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