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The J-Horror Virus – FrightFest 2023 (Film Review)

3 min read
A still from The J-Horror Virus

A still from The J-Horror Virus

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

The J- boom of the nineties and early aughts catapulted Japanese horror into the spotlight, thrilling international audiences with tales of vengeful spirits with a history rooted in folklore and Kabuki theatre. From its humble beginnings in straight-to-video anthologies such as Scary True Stories and the hit mockumentary Psychic Vision: Jaganrei we have received the likes of iconic genre films such as Ring, Pulse, and Ju-On: The Grudge.

These films have haunted the nightmares of a generation of horror fans not only in Japan but across the world inspiring a number of Western adaptations and a fervent interest in scary offerings from the country for decades to come. To tell the story of the iconic horror movement, The Found Footage Phenomenon's has teamed up with The Creeping Garden producer for The Virus, which received its world premiere at this weekend.

A still from The J-Horror Virus
Courtesy of FrightFest

Beginning with Psychic Vision and Scary True Stories, the documentary takes us on a deep dive into the history of J-Horror and what inspired the conventions of the genre, with its roots in Kabuki theatre and Edo-era folktales that often tell stories of the vengeful spirit, a trope that has become synonymous with many of its biggest films.

We then move on to crucial films in the ‘boom' of the genre such as Ring, Pulse, and The Grudge which subverted these traditional tales with dystopian themes and modern technology that voiced the country's fears at the time of technological advancements, societal decay, and cultural estrangement. The documentary explores how these films shone a spotlight on the talented horror filmmakers in Japan and their offerings horrifying the nation, propelling them to worldwide acclaim and ushering in franchises and Hollywood remakes.

The J-Horror Virus does this by featuring some of the biggest names in the genre to talk about how these titles inspired their own work, and how they went on to create works that shaped J-Horror for future filmmakers and audiences alike. We hear first-hand from the likes of , , , Masayuki Ochiai, Shin'ya Tsukamoto, and Mari Asato created their most influential works, and how they inspired each other within the flourishing Japanese horror scene at the time.

A still from The J-Horror Virus
Courtesy of FrightFest

We also hear insight from two of the genre's most terrifying icons, Rie Ino'o and , who played Ring's Sadako and Ju-On's Kayako respectively. The pair open up on what the roles entailed, and what it meant for their careers to become two of the most recognisable horror entities on the globe – including an eerie return to character from Ino'o to show the audience how she brought Sadako to life.

The finished product is a thought-provoking journey through the unique style and history of the J-horror genre told by those who helped it thrive, as well as critics who have studied the works in detail. The film creates a detailed, celebratory outline of the genre's beginnings as well as a look at the wider societal climate in Japan and how this affected filmmaking as a whole, as well as how the releases modeled the public's view of not only horror cinema, but the themes each picture tackled.

Perfect for Japanese cinema buffs as well as those unacquainted with the genre, is a captivating and thorough look into the world of Japanese horror cinema and its rise to popularity across the world straight from the mouths of those responsible for its most famous works.

The J-Horror Virus had its World Premiere at on August 25.