ASIAN horror movies are on a roll. One would think the trend has already peaked and is on a downswing. For this year’s Eiga Sai film festival, the Japan Foundation’s chose to focus on less heralded classics. Horror movie fanatics used to more contemporary classics such as Ring seemed not to mind as they had the scream of their lives.

Classic thrillers

Movies of the jidaigeki genre depicting the medieval Tokugawa era dominated the program Adapted from a popular 1821 kabuki play, Yotsuya Kaidan (Yotsuya Ghost Story, 1949) is a haunting film about a man who kills his wife so he can marry into a rich family. The dead wife returns as a ghost to haunt him, which turns out to be an illusion played by his guilt-wracked mind. Two other versions of the film came out in 1959 and 1965.

More melodrama than horror, Ugetsu Monogatari (The Ugetsu Story, 1953) tells the story of a man who fell in love with a strange girl in an old house who turns out to be a ghost. However, even with the Caravaggio-like tenebristic lighting and creepy sound effects, the movie fails to scare the wits out of its modern audience like how it probably did in the early 50s.

On the other hand, Hausu (House, 1977) by Nobuhiko Obayashi is said to be the Japanese version of Dario Argento’s Beetlejuice, but with a more seamless comedy-horror plot coupled with stunning visuals. In Hausu, a group of young girls visit their grandma in her spooky virgin-eating house where they meet their end because of a possessed wheelchair.

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Contemporary scares

Playing with the urban legend of Hanako, a young girl who apparently committed suicide in a school lavatory, Gakko no kaidan (Haunted School, 1995) tells a story almost every student must have heard versions of. A malevolent spirit whose owner died in a Hanako fashion haunts a school wing, and a young student finds herself trapped inside the same lavatory, and her friends who look for her also end up at the mercy of the ghost.

From the director of the famed Ju-on (The Grudge) series, Tomie: Rebirth (2001) is the third part of the Tomie saga. Although Ju-on used white-faced and hollow-eyed ghosts to its full advantage, Tomie proves to be less convincing as the monster gets killed in every movie only to be resurrected in the next. This sequel is said to be the best one of the lot, but the movie’s success owes more to the appearances of popular young actors like Satoshi Tsumabuki (Waterboys) and Shugo Oshinari (All About Lily Chou-Chou, Battle Royale II: Requiem).

Owing their popularity to Ringu (Ring, 1998), Japanese horror films have conquered the Asian market with their psychological approach in presenting the scary twists. The beautiful visuals and leisurely unfolded scenes added to the creepy quality of the movies. Outdated or not, Japanese horror films are truly masterpieces of fright. F.C. Garcia

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