Rubber's Lover

Monsters and the Monstrous

“She is a monster of girlish youth” (Ataru Oikawa, director of “Tomie”)

Film theorist Steven Schneider has proposed that cinematic depictions of the monstrous can be collapsed into three general categories:  reincarnated monsters involving belief that the dead can return to life, psychic monsters involving belief in the omnipotence of thought, and dyadic monsters involving belief in the existence of a double.  Under this scheme, reincarnated monsters include zombies, medically created creatures, and both disembodied and physical spirits.  Psychic monsters refer to instances of telekinesis or telepathy, while dyadic monsters include replicas, replicants and monstrously aberrant behavior.

Wild Zero, Marebito
Japanese horror films eagerly embrace abject zombies as in Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s bloodbath of female teenagers “Stacy” (2001), Atsushi Muroga’s “Junk: Shiryô-gari” (“Junk,” 2000) that pits Kaori Shimamura against legions of re-animated corpses in an abandoned factory, Tetsuro Takeuchi’s gender-bending “Wild Zero” (2000), Ryuhei Kitamura’s “Versus” (2000) and short vampire film “Longinus” (2004).  These reincarnated monsters, as well the perfect “Tomie,” are forms of return from the dead that connote the wild release of emotion.  The nude, feral young woman in Takashi Shimizu’s “Marebito” (2004) exacts the price of her attention by sucking the blood of the man who finds her.
Junk, Infection
It may be less straightforward to identify medico-scientific monsters in Japanese horror.  Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Tetsuo” (“The Ironman,” 1988) and “964 Pinocchio” are instances, but also seem much more actively political statements about dehumanization rather than primarily critiquing the hubris of science.  There is definite pathos to the predicament of these figures, as well as to that of “Isola” as the product of scientific experimentation in the film of the same name.  Perhaps Japanese horror more actively explores the destruction of the body than its creation.  Medical settings supply the elements of mise-en-scene for the “Ringu” sequel “Rasen” (“Spiral,” 1998) directed by Joji Iida as well as Masayuki Ochiai’s explicit “medical-splatter” film “Kansen” (“Infection,” 2004) in which grotesque medical malpractice, murder, and infectious organ liquefaction provide a disgusting metaphor for madness and more conventional homicide perpetrated by a male physician.  Although therapists – perhaps by virtue of their perceived openness – may be accorded a feminine role irrespective of their screen gender, as in “Tomie” and another Ochiai title “Saimin” (“The Hypnotist,” 1999), the familiar patriarchal power of male medical professionals provides the context for serial cannibalism of young women (played by, among others, Hitomi Miwa and Fumina Hara) in Osamu Fukutani’s “Saigo no bansan” (“The Last Supper,” 2005).
Rasen, The Locker
Akihide Kuwabara’s “Jukai” (“The Curse Zone,” 1998) invokes the typical horror device of a haunted forest as an uncanny place, as does Toshikazu Nagae’s “Gosuto shisutemu” (“Ghost System,” 2002), as well as Takeshi Miyasaka’s “Genkaku” (“Hallucination,” 2005) that involves a return to the theme of “Versus” – yakuza tormented by the spirits of their victims.  Here, Kimika Yoshino plays the hapless girlfriend of a yakuza who is sent to detoxify in a remote house set in the deep woods, with Hitomi Miwa in the part of her nurse.  In the ensuing paranoia of isolation, everyone dies.   Based on yet another Junji Ito manga, Shibuya Kazayuki’s “Shibito no koiwazurai” (“Lovesick Dead,” 2000) combines traditional mythology with the device of teenage concerns with urban legends and romance.  Risa Goto and Asumi Miwa play high school classmates who become involved in romantic rivalry that goes awry under the influence of fortune-telling that seems linked to a mysterious shrine that leads to death.  In Kei Horie’s “Shibuya kaidan” (“The Locker,” 2003) young people unleash a vengeful female spirit when they operate a haunted coin locker.
Suicide Circle, Suicide Manual
Diffuse demonic forces or spirits are relatively rare in Japanese horror, but uncanny external forces appear in “Spiral” as exaggerated control by particular signs or environmental cues.  Mass suicide, carried to exquisite extremes in Shion Son’s disturbing “Jisatsu saakuru” (“Suicide Circle,” 2002) is attributed to diffuse pathological influences rooted in cultural change and consumerism, while the “Suicide Manual” films appear to articulate a fear of elemental loss of all personal control to external influence.  Madness seems to be a common corollary to social isolation and may be attributed to aberrant behavior (“Banquet of the Beasts”), confinement as in Hiroki Yamaguchi’s “Gusha no bindume” (“Hellevator,” 2004) or uncanny places (“Hallucination”).
Hellevator, Mail
Apart from young girls (as in the “Wizard of Darkness” series) or the lethally frenzied desires engendered by “Tomie,” direct spiritual possession of an individual also seems relatively rare, although spiritual “infection” results in the serial deaths of Tsuruta’s “Ringu 0: Bâsudei” (“Ring 0:  Birthday,” 2000). The return of the spirits of specific persons is quite common in films such as Nagasaki’s “Shikoku” (“Land of the Dead”) or Takahashi’s “Mail” with a frequent emphasis on vengeance for an undiscovered murder, and this theme can be viewed as a continuation of traditional artistic expressions such as Kabuki and woodblock prints.  In many “Ringu”-influenced titles the victim may be female while the perpetrator is often a male family member.  Madness and death appear to be the fate of people cut off by circumstances from their larger system of social supports (“Battle Royale,” “Banquet of the Beasts,” “Living Hell,” “Hellevator,” “Hallucination”) – a potential comment on Japanese Hell.
Battle Royale
Occult horror films, in the tradition of “The Exorcist,” may imply negative references to reproductive themes through vocalizations and dramatic physical changes such as swelling, vomiting and the appearance of stigmata on the female body.  The relative scarcity of such elements in Japanese horror – as distinct from their prominence in closely related exploitation films – may represent yet another instance of the cultural specificity of the uncanny and abject.
2LDK, Parasite Eve
Wishes may be promptly – and violently – fulfilled by female telekinetic influence (“Pyrokinesis,” “Parasite Eve” “Rubber’s Lover”), but mental transparency as practiced by telepaths or vampires seems rare.  This may reflect the often substantial lack of correspondence between “honne” and “tatemae” so graphically portrayed by voice-over of the female rivals of Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s “2LDK” (2002).  These two women initially maintain a polite façade while privately finding fault with each other.
Three Extremes . . . Box, Cutie Honey
Japanese horror seems less concerned with replacement by natural replicas than with the merger of robotics and flesh (“Tetsuo”).  Anime, in particular, vigorously explores the co-existence of cyborg and person (“Ghost in the Shell,” “Armitage,” “Appleseed”) without necessarily constructing this as uncanny.  Even “Honey Kisaragi” (Eriko Sato) in “Kyûtî Hanî” (“Cutie Honey,” 2004) appears to represent a kind of “post-sexual” figure – an alluring but cheerfully indifferent android.  Twin figures (doppelgangers) occasionally wreak havoc or constitute the site of the uncanny as in Miike’s short film “Box,” part of the “Three . . . Extremes” (2004) collection.
Tetsuo Iron Man, Rubber's Lover
But J-Horror is definitively replete with real individuals whose actions constitute horrifying violations of other persons and our very construction of the basis of social relations.  The equation of people with garbage adequately summarizes the ethos of “All Night Long” that lingers over suffering, decay and bodily waste.  Literal saturation with garbage, vomit and body fluids is present in films such as “Organ,” “964 Pinocchio,” “Rubber’s Lover” or “Banquet of the Beasts” as a flagrant violation of norms of polite behavior, cleanliness and basic order.  Takashi Miike’s “Tajuu jinkaku tantei saiko - Amamiya kazuhiko no kikan” (“MPD Psycho,” 2000) – a made-for-television series of shorts adapted from a manga – presents disgustingly bizarre mutilation of women.  Such profoundly rejected aspects of conduct return with a degree of felt violation commensurate with the strength of the initial rule.  In a society so attentive to rules of place, propriety and hygiene, the opportunities for such violations in Japanese horror films are legion.  Toshiharu Ikeda’s “Hasami otoko” (“The Man Behind the Scissors,” 2004) examines the motivations and actions of a serial killer couple, while Satoshi Isaka’s “Hasen no marisu” (“The Frame,” 2000) is one of the more intelligent dramatic treatments of stalking and murder in the genre, as it dwells quite explicitly on how patriarchal power conspires to undermine and defeat the female protagonist played by Hitomi Kuroki.  Using the metaphor of investigative journalism, voyeurism is itself interrogated in this film, instead of foregrounding the more typical horror themes of female fear and suffering.