J-Horror Girls

“Come at me.  Every inch of me will resist you!” (Chiaki Kuriyama, “Battle Royale”)

The mid-1990s saw the production of the popular “Gakko no kaidan” (“Haunted School”) directed by Hideyuki Hiriyama, the first in a series of ghost stories that eventually featured high school adolescents.  Some of these tales were apparently based on the urban legend of Hanako, the spirit of a girl supposedly inhabiting a school toilet.  Makoto Yamaguchi’s “A Frightful School Horror” (2001) continued in this vein.  The third and best of the three short films comprising this title invokes the eerie qualities of a deserted high school bathroom while exploring the superstitions, friendships and rivalries among high school girls.  Other films that introduced an unsettling blend of “shojodo” (“the way” of the schoolgirl) and horror themes involving the uncanny included Shimako Sato’s “Eko eko azaraku” (“Wizard of Darkness,” 1995) and its sequels in the “Misa Kuroi” trilogy, Yukihiko Tsuzumi’s “Toire no Hanako-san” (“Hanako,” 1998) as well as Ataru Oikawa’s “Tomie” (1999) and its sequels.  Tetsuo Shinohara’s “Shisha no gakuensai” (“School Day of the Dead,” 2000) culminated this cycle by returning to the original Hanako theme of a female high school student who committed suicide as the origin of uncanny events in a school setting.  Takahisa Zeze’s “Kokkuri-san” (“Kokkuri,” 1997) features three high school girls who dabble in the then-popular Ouija-like fortune-telling activity.  They listen to a nightly radio show whose host conjures up a fortune-telling spirit that forecasts one of the girls’ deaths.  Kazuyuki Shibuya’s “Shibito no koiwazurai” (“Lovesick Dead,” 2001) combined high school love triangles and the curse of the “Tsujiuranai no Bishonen” to produce a variant of morbid wish fulfillment leading to suicide.  Toshiharu Ideka’s “Ikisudama” (“Shadow of the Wraith,” 2001) is actually two shorter films that, like “Lovesick Dead,” featured sisters Hitomi and Asumi Miwa who have become regulars of J-Horror.  In “Shadow of the Wraith” they respectively pursue high school love interests as a stalker and savior from haunting.  Ryu Kaneda’s “Boogiepop wa warawanai” (“Boogiepop and Others,” 2000) is a disarmingly appealing tale of the collision between spirits for evil and good in the bodies of adolescent girls (including Asumi Miwa) enacted in the context of high school relationships.

Shadow of the Wraith, Crazy Lips
Many of the narratives in this sub-genre are grounded on the suicide or sacrifice of adolescent girls.  These acts are sited at the confluence of three subtexts – female sexuality and its cultural constraints, dishonor, and suicide.  Adolescence is itself a culturally defined boundary that offers ample scope for examination of these horror themes that resonate with Okiku’s plunge into the well, and a number of popular female performers star in several of these otherwise modest productions.  Hitomi Miwa is particularly noteworthy as the emergent “scream queen” of J-Horror.  With parts in films such as Shinji Aoyama’s “Enbamingu” (“Embalming,” 1999), the V-movie “Ju-on” (2000), Hirohisa Sasaki’s “Hakkyousuru kuchibiru” (“Crazy Lips,” 2000), “Shadow of the Wraith” (2001) and Takeshi Miyazaka’s “Genkaku” (“Hallucination,” 2005), she has displayed a range of acting talent extending beyond schoolgirl typecasting.
Embalming, Wizard of Darkness
Narratives involving teenaged girls who are killed by others – often marginalized male figures – are, of course a staple of that branch of horror films that have come to be known as slashers.  While many horror films subject female characters to assault, suffering, or death, slashers seem especially frank in equating adolescent sexuality with retributive death.  This, perhaps, connotes the highly conservative social message that young women should not really be in possession of their bodies and sexuality.  Autonomy – at least of a certain kind – is severely sanctioned in these films.
Big Slaughter Club
The relatively few J-Horror titles that follow the familiar slasher formula appear almost brutally explicit in their adherence to its conventions.  Hitoshi Ishikawa’s “Shuudan satsujin club” (“Big Slaughter Club,” 2003) and its three sequels and Kengo Kaji’s teenage haunted house “Buraddi naito has gôgô” (Bloody Night a Go Go,” 2004) prominently feature helpless young female victims.  Zenboku Sato’s “Oshikiri” (2000) is another mysterious mansion film.  “Big Slaughter Club” involves high school girls who sell their underwear and act as prostitutes – ostensibly to steal their middle-aged customer’s wallet.  After this scam derails and the john is accidentally killed with his head impaled on a coat hook, the enterprising girls plug the head wound with a tampon before carting him off to be dismembered.  His re-animated corpse returns to kill them all in various ingenious ways.  This so clearly articulates the punitive moral code of slashers.  The “Tomie” series is an interesting and perhaps culturally specific conflation of slasher and suicide films, since “Tomie” essentially provokes her own killing.
Tomie, Tomie:Rebirth
Unlike even the Final Girls in Hollywood-inspired slashers, a number of Japanese horror films examine schoolgirls as violent killers – a most extreme violation of social norms.  “Shojodo” finds its ultimate pairing with absurdist violence in Kinji Fukusaku’s “Batoru rowaiaru” (“Battle Royale,” 2000) and its derivative “Kiru Onigokko” (“Kill Devil,” 2004), directed by Yuichi Onuma, in which school students are sent to a deserted island to participate in a murderous game called “Tag.”  High school girls eagerly chop up a body in “Big Slaughter Club.”  Chiaki Kuriyama’s memorable cameo as a psychopathic killer “Go-go Yubari” in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Vol. 1” might be regarded as a parody of such narratives.
Battle Royale, Kill Bill Vol 1
In Japanese horror, therefore, female characters may be accorded not one role (victim) but three – as victim, aggressor or suicide.  This might suggest that while Western horror ritualistically seeks dominion over female sexuality, Japanese horror might be equally concerned with various manifestations of lethality as means of resolving violations of social obligations and personal honor.