|Triptych of Takiyasha the With and the Skeleton Spectre, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861)|
This week we focused on Japanese horror as opposed to Western horror. We were assigned to read a collection of short stories based on Japanese folklore, called Kwaidan, and in class we watched a movie where sections of the book had been translated onto the screen.
I highly enjoyed reading these stories, and was both surprised and delighted to find that they diverged so much from most of the horror I've previously been exposed to. When thinking about J-horror, my mind inadvertently goes to movies such as The grudge, or The ring, where the horror element is high and there is jump scares and if not gore, then human distortion. Reading the Kwaidan however was a completely different experience.
Though there is a distinct difference between western and Asian horror, I still find they carry certain similarities that sometimes makes it difficult to discern between the two. They both use ghosts and ghouls as tools to convey a message, though I find stories as the ones in the Kwaidan to refer more to folklore and principals of tradition and culture than western horror does.
What appeals to me the most about the Kwaidan, as apposed to western horror, is the tone in which the stories are presented. At first I didn't find the stories scary at all, but rather mellow, even sad. As I kept reading, more disturbing elements crept into the stories. There where ducks turning themselves inside out to display their sorrow of loosing a loved one; there were maidens without faces, creatures with the ability to remove their heads from their bodies without dying, and monks cursed to devour the corpses of the dead.
In our class we discussed how Asian vs Western horror handle the factor of good versus evil. Though we can defiantly argue that it is more prominent in western horror, it is not completely absent in J-horror. In Kwaidan there are creatures that seek to deceive and harm humans, merely because it is part of their nature. I think that might hit the core difference. While in western horror, the things that are scary has been dislodged from their natural state to become something twisted and ill natured, in J-horror the frightening elements are a natural part, and sometimes even a direct embodiment of the spiritual or physical world. Instead of fighting against them with elements of opposing powers or believes, the characters in the story need to play by the rules of the spirits in order to overcome or avoid them with the spirit's own means.
With the stories of the Kwaidan, everything from the cultural setting to the oral tone suggests something more connectable to the world than many of the Western horror stories I've taken part of. Western horror seems to retaliate more to the individual person as acting through or against beastial behaviour and sin, while J-horror goes deeper and further, raging beyond our own believes and brief comprehensions. It gives J-horror an air of something constantly present and rudimentary intriguing in it's suggestion that everything is connected rather than separate. That the things that scare us the most are not simply hiding in the shadows. They are repercussions of the actions of us humans rather than something demonic. It is part of the mountains and stones, rivers and wildlife. It is life just as much as it is death. It is everywhere and all the time. Our fears are generated by something very real integrated in the essence of our world.