Filmhounds Magazine

All things film – In print and online

“It was a voyage of discovery for us as well” – Sarah Appleton and Jasper Sharp talk The J-Horror Virus

4 min read
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.

From the initial boom of the early eighties through to the spate of remakes that followed, the subgenre of J- has long since captivated western audiences with its rich mythology and haunting imagery. From the mind behind The Found Footage Phenomenon, and created to chronicle the incredible movement.

Following its world premiere at this year's , FILMHOUNDS spoke to the directors about how they created the documentary in just one year, and why they believe J-horror continues to thrive.

You're here with The J-Horror Virus at FrightFest for its world premiere, and there is a lot of buzz surrounding it. What's it like to receive that reaction to something that you've created?

Jasper Sharp: It's been great. I didn't think about the world premiere in the past couple of weeks as I was used to it being some way in the future. But now I'm here. and when you're actually here, and you see an audience full of people and they're all loving the film, it's a great feeling. I felt a sort of nervousness as the screening was going on and was pacing around outside wondering “Will they like it?” but it's been well received.

Sarah Appleton: It's actually so nice to hear. Loads of people have been telling me we did actually get quite a bit of buzz beforehand, which is something we didn't get necessarily with The Found Footage Phenomenon. And I think that maybe it's also this time where people have been more embracing of horror genre documentaries than maybe a couple of years ago. It feels like everyone is really open to learning about the subgenre of J-horror that they've known about for a long time and now it's a little bit more accessible.

How did you manage to balance the content within the documentary so that it appealed to both avid fans of the genre and those who may not know much about J-horror?

JS: I think a lot of these films appeared roundabout the turn of the millennia, and people used to take them at face value. Then there was Western conjecture about the cultural forces behind making them and what we wanted to do was really get the filmmakers themselves to tell their own story. And in doing so, we traced the genre back like 10 years and earlier, to before The Ring, and managed to discover a lot of films that we weren't really that familiar with. It was a voyage of discovery for us as well. Seeing what influenced the filmmakers themselves and the fact that so many of them were scholars and friends made for a really interesting element of the documentary that I think a lot of people may not have been aware of. Like Kiyoshi Kurosawa, an amazing, award-winning director, even after three films was trying to outdo this one image in Scary True Stories.

SA: One thing I learned from making that documentary was that they all knew each other. It's nice that they are able to learn and build on each other and their ideas. And because they were sort of critics as well, they were really interested in what makes horror scary and why and what can we do to be modern and also do it together. I think that that's not necessarily something we have experienced in the West. In Japan, they work a lot more like a team.

A still from The J-Horror Virus
Courtesy of FrightFest

You made the documentary in just one year, which is quite a short time to make such an extensive film. How did you do that?

JS: I have been writing about Japanese cinema for the past 20 years, so I'm pretty well-versed in the history of J-horror. So from my own perspective, I knew all the core people we wanted to . So really, it was a case of organising it remotely, because it was during COVID So we couldn't get into Japan. And because it costs a lot with location fees and hiring camera operators, we tended to cram three interviews into a day to get our money's worth. So there were only about five or six separate shoots. We left with this big wealth of material. It was Sarah, and it's a testament to her skills as an editor, who was able to chip away at our material and come up with this narrative.

J-horror is something that has really stood the test of time and still captures the imaginations of film audiences. What do you think it is about the subgenre that demands that attention, particularly from Western audiences? 

SA: It's quite hard to pinpoint why. But I think it's that it is just terrifying and so scary. I don't know what it is. It's something just about that fear of something randomly coming out of nowhere and terrifying you to death. J-horror has this thing of not literally attacking, but just scaring you. It's scary to think you could be terrified that much.

And finally, what have you got in the pipeline? Is there another documentary you are working on?

SA: Me and Phil [Escott], my co-director on The Found Footage Phenomenon, are making a documentary about noughties horror. We don't have everything figured out yet, but we have filmed quite a lot These films are the sort of films that got me excited when I was growing up, and I hope that some of the older generations or horror fans will be open to it.

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