Why Asian Girls With Wet Hair Are Terrifying
Whenever I say to people I like Asian Horror films I always get funny looks. This is a pretty standard reaction. The non cinematically literate wonder why I bother reading and shit when there are perfectly good remakes and the cinematically literate wonder why I subject myself to what are by and large cinematic abortions. Whilst there are some gems in the ever increasing ‘wet haired girl terrorises people’ genre by and large most films are horrendous constructions. What is fascinating about J-Horror is the attitude towards ghosts; one of the many cultural differences between the East and West is the perception and reality of ghosts. The West takes a decidedly sceptical approach to ghosts, the believers often coming across as the craziest motherfuckers ever; in the East (particularly in Japan) ghosts are still viewed as being something of a factual proposition.
It’s not that there’s more belief in the afterlife, the idea isn’t about spirits of people coming back to haunt folks, but more about negative energy amassing due to violent or unpleasant deaths. Because of this many J-Horror films take the threat of ghosts as seriously as Western cop films take the threat of serial killers. In a western film if a character goes to the police saying they are being haunted the police are going to be hardly forthcoming, in Asian cinema if a character goes to the police and says they’re being haunted the police will get out ‘The Big Book of Ghosts’ for proper identification.
If you go to Japan you’ll often come across little trinkets and vessels on the ground to try and ward off spirits, and it’s this acceptance of spiritual energy and power which makes Hollywood remakes of Asian Horror films so untenable. It’s a completely foreign ideal and it’s almost impossible to translate it meaningfully to a western setting. It also gives context to how low key a lot of Asian horror films are in terms of their ghostly attacks. If you take the end of Ringu as an example then you’ll see how the entire composition of the scene is almost Cinéma-vérité. That’s because there is no need for a suspension of disbelief, no need to force audiences to acclimatise to a notion they haven’t invested in. The threat of a ghost stuttering out of your TV and destroying you is enough to justify a pared down approach to the attack itself.
If you compare it to a similar western scene, in this case the TV attack in Poltergeist, a lot more work has to be done in laying the foundation of the attack. The audience is already on edge because of the static of the television screen and because of the creepily disturbed performance from Heather O’Rourke, these are devices used to pave the way and lead the audience into becoming scared by something they have no rational fear of. Even taking the remake of Ringu as an example you can see changes made to the attack as it incorporates at least one major jump scare into the scene.
That’s the key defining feature of J-Horror and probably why it is such a love or loathe genre, it requires a great deal of input on behalf of the viewer and it also demands that the viewer buy into a fear which is not a particular developed fear.