Posts Tagged ‘Asian horror’

So here it is, finally. The first in my Rewatch Review series, in which I look at horror or thriller movies I’ve seen and didn’t like/had problems with and see if maybe I missed something the first time. I’m kind of just winging it with this first one, with no fixed plan on length or how deep I’m going into these films and their respective qualities, but at the very least, I hope if you haven’t seen these films, you get an idea of whether or not it’s worth checking out. And if you have seen any of these films, you’ll get an idea of what my thoughts are on them these days.

With that out of the way, here are my thoughts on Perfect Blue!

WHAT’S IT ABOUT: Perfect Blue is an anime film that follows Mima “Mimarin” Kirigoe, a Japanese pop idol singer who, on the advice of her agency, is reluctantly leaving the pop idol industry to become an actress on a TV show.  Experiencing a crisis of identity and followed everywhere by a violent stalker, things only get worse for Mima as events conspire to blur her perceptions of reality and fiction, leading to a violent and horrifying head where not just her own life is at stake, but her very identity as well.

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: I thought it was too trippy when I first saw it in college, and it kind of dragged at points. I had expected something much more dynamic, and this felt more slow-burn to me.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: I saw a video essay on the movie a while back, and it pointed out some interesting things about the film that made me want to go back and give it another chance.

THOUGHTS: I’m glad I rewatched this film, because it is really good. I’m actually a little disappointed that I didn’t care for it when I saw it in college. It’s a great psychological thriller, and there’s a lot to talk about on several different levels (I’ll stick to the film quality and not to diving deeper into the psychological aspects. I’ll leave that to the video essay I mentioned above).

First off, the animation is different from most anime, which is very stylistic. The artwork isn’t exaggerated or distinctly cartoony, full of jumpy animations and wild reactions. If you think of most anime, like Sailor Moon, Pokemon, and One Piece as analogues to cartoons like Family Guy or Looney Tunes (just examples for the non-fans out there, don’t kill me, fellow anime lovers), then Perfect Blue‘s style is more analogous to early Disney films, particularly those of Cinderella and Snow White (the latter is actually a lot darker than you probably remember it if you go back to watch it). It’s very grounded and scaled back, with very few characters actually looking pretty, cute or cool. The only ones who do are characters directly involved in the entertainment industry, and that makes the movie feel real to us. It’s a world very much like ours, with violence like ours, and people just like ours. So when you see something violent within the film, the realism makes it all the more powerful. This isn’t just animation, this feels like it could happen. Maybe it has happened, and it’s amazing to see animation portray that.

Speaking of the main character, Mima is presented to the audience with extraordinary skill. There’s no exposition or anything, but who she is and how she feels is made clear to us, which makes her real to us. We’re shown quiet moments for her, such as grocery shopping or getting to and from work, presented in contrast to her life as a celebrity, and that really conveys to us just what sort of character Mima is. And that’s good, because the central conflict is around who she is: Mima has trouble dealing with the fact that she’s been talked into changing careers, and isn’t sure who she is now that she’s changed. With the struggles of her new acting career starting to get to her, as well as visitations from her stalker, Mima’s own grasp on reality starts to go. She starts to lose track on what’s part of her new TV show, which bears some resemblances to her own mental struggle, as well as starts to see a phantom version of her pop-idol persona. And so do we, the audience, unable to tell what is real, what is part of her show, and what is part of her tortured pscyhe.

And when that happens, we feel Mima’s inner anguish. We’re right there with her, trying to unsuccessfully figure out what’s real and what isn’t. And when we can’t come up with those answers with Mima, it only makes the terror of the moment and of the unreality of the situation that much stronger.

JUDGMENT: If you think that anime can’t be deep or anything other than silly cartoons, you need to watch Perfect Blue. It’s a twisted story of a girl trying to find herself under the most terrifying circumstances reality can give her, full of gorgeous but realistic animation, intense scenes and visuals (I’m talking to you, screwdriver scene!), and great questions on the idea of our true selves versus the personas we create for ourselves (that’s a subject for another post). Definite 4.5 out of 5. Pop it in and see what the rabbit hole uncovers.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you enjoyed the first entry in the Rewatch Review series, and I hope you join me when I get my hands on 2008’s The Strangers.

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If you’ve known me for any amount of time, you know I’m a huge fan of horror. I read horror novels, I write horror stories, I sometimes write articles examining various aspects of horror, I watch YouTube videos about dark and creepy subjects, I decorate my apartment with horrifying artwork and dolls and stuff, I…well, you get the idea. And of course, I watch plenty of horror films and shows.

And as every true horror fan knows, it can be hard to find good horror sometimes, particularly in the movie department. We fans watch a lot of horror movies that are really bad hoping that they may be good and even give us a few nightmares (or in my case, some good inspiration). I sometimes think of it examining piles of shit looking for gold nuggets, only you can’t tell the difference without special examination (imagine if that was the actual case. Nobody but the really desperate would ever look for good horror movies!). And I’ve seen plenty of bad horror films over the years while looking for good ones. I’ve even written about them, on occasion.

But lately there’s been something I’ve been wanting to try. You see, some of those horror films that I’ve hated, I’ve heard lots of people praising. They tell me the shit is actually gold. I’ve even seen some very thorough examinations of these films, in essays and videos, and the writers/creators of those videos have made me wonder if maybe I should rewatch some of these films, and reexamine my opinions of these films.

So now that I’ve seen It and there aren’t that many horror films coming out in the next couple months that I’m absolutely dying to see and review, I think it’s time to do what I’m going to call the Rewatch Review series. I’m going to watch ten films that I’ve hated and/or given bad reviews in the past, and see if my opinion has been changed. Some I may have watched in the wrong light, others I just think I missed something the first time around. Either way, I’m going to take a look again and then let you know if I’ve got any new thoughts to share.

And with the first film waiting for me at the library even as you read this, I should be able to start watching in earnest soon. It may take some time, depending on how quickly I can get these movies, but either way, you’re going to get something from me.

As for what these films are, I’ll list them below. When I’ve written my (hopefully changed) thoughts on each movie, I’ll post a link to this article. That way, if you want to read all my thoughts at once, you’ll have that option (though I don’t know if anyone’s THAT bored!).

Perfect Blue (1997)
The Strangers (2008)
The Witch (2015)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Oculus (2013)
Evil Dead (1981)
Nosferatu (1922)
The Shining (1980)
Mama (2013)
Whispering Corridors (1998)

Why did I dislike some of these films? You’re going to have to wait till I actually write about them. Haven’t I reviewed a few of them before? Yes. Why am I reexamining them if I already reviewed them? You’ll have to wait till I watch them. And that’s all I’m saying on the subject.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m heading off to bed. Until I write again, pleasant nightmares.*

*And if you have any, let me know. I might write a novel based off it.

anxiety

What is the trouble with psychological horror? Actually, there’s not much trouble to it. It’s just very hard to do well.

What do I mean by this? Well, let’s look at the definition of psychological horror: “a subgenre of horror fiction, film, and video games (as a narrative) which relies on the characters’ fears and emotional instability to build tension”, according to Wikipedia (I know you’re not supposed to rely on that site for information, but I couldn’t find a better website for a definition). It’s a sub-genre that, rather than relying on a traditional monster that’s out front and center for all to see, the monster is restricted to quick glimpses and shadows. If there’s a monster at all: sometimes the true villain is a character’s own brain, their fear, distrust, paranoia, suspicion, isolation.

I’ve used psychological horror before, particularly in the stories in my collection The Quiet Game (which if you haven’t read, I wish you would) and in the short story “Buried Alive”, which was published in the Strange Portals anthology last year (again, I wish you would read it). And I’ve come to the decision that while it isn’t as difficult as physics or writing comedy, it is walking a very fine line. Almost like a tightrope. And if you fall off, you can wind up veering either into the realm of the comedic with how obvious that it’s all in the character’s head, or it’s just so confusing that you find yourself losing patience with the story.

Let me give some examples (and it’s my blog, so you have to let me give some examples): have you read “Buried Alive”? I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum for those who haven’t, but like I said above, I use quite a lot of psychological horror in that story, and for the most part, I think that I use it well (so do most of the readers I hear from on this one). For the rest, though…it’s pretty obvious that the circumstances of the main character are taking a toll on her mental state. I don’t think it gets to the point of comedic, but it is obvious, and the point of psychological horror is to make you guess whether it’s all in their heads or if it’s real or…who knows?

Perfect Blue. Trippy, has its moments, but also has its problems.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the anime film Perfect Blue, based on a novel that I wish was available here in the States. The film is about a singer-turned-actress who starts to confuse reality and fiction when her first acting job takes a turn for the traumatic. It’s a good story, but it’s not a perfect story. There’s a good section of the movie where they spend time trying to confuse both the protagonist and the viewer, and it gets a little difficult to not only what’s going on, it gets difficult to pay attention or be patient with the movie. While I admire the visuals of the movie, and I get what they were going for by showing what the protagonist is going through mentally, and I recommend checking it out if you’re interested, psychological horror shouldn’t get so strange or trippy that the reader gets frustrated with or loses interest in the story.

A great example of a psychological horror story though, manages to toe the line very easily and keeps you guessing as to what’s real or what’s mental delusion. A good contemporary example of this is The Babadook. If you read my review of that movie last year, you’ll remember that I noted that the movie kept you guessing as to whether the film’s protagonists were dealing with an actual monster or a shared psychosis, and I eventually settled on a bit of both because…I’m mostly human, and humans need to categorize things to make sense of the world. And I still say that I don’t know for sure which it is, and that’s one mark of the film’s greatness. You’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s in the heads of the characters, it stays interesting throughout, and it never gets to the point of ridiculous or obvious. All told, it’s great psychological horror.

This movie will surely get you on so many different levels. I’m getting chills just thinking of it.

So how do you psychological horror well? How do you toe that line?

Well, I’m definitely no expert on the subject. I usually deal in traditional horror, the monster is out front and is usually either some twisted form of human or a creature not easily defined by our standards. I dabble in psychological horror, usually making it part of a bigger story. But I can try, and I think–beyond reading/viewing as much psychological horror as possible, both good and bad, and practicing like you want to get to Carnegie Hall, of course–I’d suggest trying to write a story where you’re not sure what’s really happening. Create a scenario where strange things start happening to your character or characters, and you can’t tell what’s real or what’s just in the minds of your characters. Keep it interesting, don’t get too ridiculous or obvious, and just see where the story goes. If you can do that but still be unsure for most of the story of what’s real or not, then it’s likely your reader will be the same and want to know more.

Another marker of psychological horror is that there’s usually a twist somewhere along the way, and if it’s good it’ll change how you view the entire story (a great example is the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters and its American remake The Uninvited). Characters are also often driven or plagued by powerful internal battles: am I doing the right thing? Is this right or wrong? Are they really out to get me? It doesn’t have to be full-blown persecution belief or fear of some unknown. It can be something as simple as a growing suspicion that something’s off or that our desires are actually evil. Again, A Tale of Two Sisters is a great example of the former.

Not a fan of the movie, but even I admit it shows Jack’s breakdown very well.

And finally, psychological horror is often not the main focus of a story, but part of a bigger story. Take a look at The Shining by Stephen King. Obviously that hotel is actually haunted, and the kid and the cook are both psychic. But a good deal of the story deals with Jack Torrance trying to sort out what’s going on for himself. Is he just dealing with a powerful desire to get wasted again? Is he going insane? Is the hotel playing tricks on his mind? There are scenes where you really can’t tell, and that’s part of the terror. Part, but not the whole thing. After all, there’s all the stuff the hotel is doing to them, right?

Unless Jack, Danny, and the cook are all sharing some sort of shared delusion, or folie a trois, in which case…wow. New conspiracy theory right there.

In any case, it’s something to experiment with yourself. And for me to experiment with more often. Just try and see what happens…or does it happen? You’ll never know until you try.

How do you feel about psychological horror? Do you have any good examples in film or literature you’d recomend? What are some tips for effectively writing in the subgenre?

You know, my experience with Asian horror films has been rather hit-and-miss, and even some of the hits have had their share of problems. This one however, at least in my humble opinion, is a hit with very few problems, if any. And considering that I found this film by accident, with no idea what it was about or what most of the critics thought, I’m really glad I decided to watch it.

Someone Behind You (also known by its North American title, Voices) follows a South Korean girl by the name of Ga-in, a happy and pretty girl on her school’s fencing team whose life suddenly takes a turn for the worse when her aunt is brutally murdered in an act of rage on her wedding day. Whispers go around that Ga-in’s family may be under a curse, and when Ga-in is attacked herself, she has to unravel where the curse comes from if she wants to survive.

From the very beginning, this movie has you terrified and on your toes. The filmmakers create a great atmosphere using lighting, music, and scares to really immerse you in the film, and the actors are great. When they are sad or angry or murderous, you feel the emotion behind it. And the story itself, with its many twists and turns, will keep you guessing about what will happen and about the nature of the curse (is it caused by rage? Jealousy? General resentment over something? Is there even a curse at all, or is it just a metaphor for letting your emotions get the better of you?) right up until the final scene.

My one criticism is that Ga-in comes to trust Seok-min, a mysterious transfer student who in horror terms is “the creepy outsider character” and seems to know something about the curse’s nature, a little too quickly. Why doesn’t she question him about his knowledge more? Why is she so willing to take him up on his advice? Makes no sense to me.

Overall though, this is a creepy film, and I’m very glad I stumbled upon it. You’ll get scared, you’ll be trying to guess what’ll happen right up until the very end, and when the final secret is unveiled, it’ll blow you away. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Someone Behind You a 4.5 out of 5. I hope I find more Asian horror films like this one, because nothing lifts my mood like a good scary story.

Now if you don’t mind, I have to go hide. I think that curse is after me now! AAAAAAAH!