As I have commented in an earlier article following the release of Kuchisake Onna (Shiraishi Koji, 2007) , the urban legend (toshi densetsu) on which the film is based and many others have served as models for countless J-horror productions. Interestingly, kuchisake onna is mentioned in Ring (Nakata Hideo, 1998), to many the most representative J-horror work, when TV journalist Asakawa (Matsushima Nanako) and cameraman Komiyai (Ri Kanehiro) discuss possible connections between the cursed videotape story they are investigating and other urban legends. Toshi densetsu are now widely acknowledged as one important source of inspiration for J-horror films. Nevertheless, some recent non-Japanese literary works (for example Jay McRoy's Nightmare Japan: Contemporary Japanese Horror Cinema or Colette Balmain's Introduction to Japanese Horror Film) analysing Japanese horror cinema, within vaguely defined and seemingly all-encompassing parameters (1), have failed unanimously to consider the socio-cultural background in which J-horror films, and Japanese horror as a whole, were produced, underlining Japanese people's almost obsessive fascination with paranormal phenomena and their unique view of and relationship to the spiritual world (ikai) as suggested in the documentary Ikai Hyakumonogatari ~J-Hora no Himitsu o Saguru~, produced by NHK and Plug- In2, which, unfortunately, virtually falls within the realm of the nihonjinron discourse. Instead, these works have presented a cross-cultural analysis of the genre as an arguable reflection of current social problems affecting the country and are filled with hackneyed stock images of national character and fixed cultural traits (see my article Ishin Denshin or the Banality of Japanese Film Studies).
It could be argued that J-horror continues the tradition of the Kaidan (ghost story) literature's compilation of true strange happenings (jissai ni okotta dekigoto) originated in an oral tradition. For its part, the Japanese kaidan's origins can be found in the novels of the supernatural written during the the Six Dynasties period of China (220-589) and, in particular, the collection of short stories compiled by Gan Bao during the Eastern Jin Dinasty (317-420) Soushenji (Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record). Having seemingly been inspired by the Chinese work Mingbaoji ( Records of Miraculous Karmic Retribution), compiled by Tang Lin during the Tang Dinasty (618-907), the monk Kyokai , also known as Keikai, arranged a collection of stories drawn from various, mainly oral, sources titled Nihon Riyoiki (The Record of Miraculous Events in Japan, ca. 822. The full title is Nihonkoku Genpo Zenaku Ryoiki, Miraculous Stories of the Reward of Good and Evil from the Country of Japan ). This is believed to be the first major collection, containing 116 stories, of anecdotal (setsuwa) writing and having an enormous influence on the the formation of Japanese literature (Shirane: 1). Some of its stories reappeared in later collections such as Konjaku Monogatarishu (Anthology of Tales from Times Past), a compilation of 1,039 stories written during the late Heian period. Volume XXVII Honcho Reiki ni Tsuku (roughly translated as Japanese Tales: Ghosts and Devils), for instance, contains a total of 45 supernatural stories where a diversity of creatures (ghosts [rei], demons [oni], foxes [kitsune], or wild boars [nojishi, another name for inoshishi], manifest themselves. Around the same period, perhaps the first reference to the word yurei (ghost) in Japanese literature occurs in Chuyuki (1087-1138), diary of Fujiwara Munetada (1062-1141), minister of the Right in the Imperial court of late Heian Period. The meaning given to yurei as the soul of the deceased is the same as the one appearing in earlier Chinese texts (Suwa 2003: 208, quoted in Oshima 2010: 11).
(Tsuruta Norio, 1992)
In a similar fashion, J-horror was greatly influenced by the straight-to-video series Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi (1991-92) directed by Tsuruta Norio and written by Konaka Chiaki. Many of the stories featured in the series, adapted from a manga of the same title, had in fact been based on contributions made by readers of the magazine Halloween describing their paranormal experiences (shinrei taiken) (2). Ring's scriptwriter Takahashi Hiroshi recognizes the enormous influence that the series had on his scripts. Likewise, he also admits that the collection of short scary tales titled Shin Mimibukuro (1990), written by Kihara Hirokatsu and Nakayama Ichiro, acted as an invaluable source of information (Washitani: 220). This compilation is a modern version of the Edo period 10-volume anthology of gossips (seken banashi) and rumours (uwasa), containing among them uncanny stories (bukimina hanashi), gathered by the magistrate Negishi Yasumori (1737-1815). Earlier Edo's examples of this practice of collecting folktales are Ihara Saikaku's (1642-1693) Saikaku Shokoku Banashi (Saikaku's Tales from Various Provinces, 1685) or Yamaoka Genrin's Kokon Hyaku Monogatari Hyoban (1631-1672) (An Evaluation of One Hundred Strange and Weird Tales of Past and Present, 1686).
On the other hand, the origin of many visual and thematic elements identified with J-horror can be found in the 1970s, a decade when rumours were spreading around the country of a slit-mouthed woman brandishing a pair of scissors and terrorizing primary school students, reaching their peak in 1979 (Michael Dylan Foster: 185). Professor Nobutaka Inoue also explains how the decade witnessed a magic and occult boom among young men who "were displaying strong interests in divination, magical power, and occult films and comics" and how students at the middle-school level experienced "playing a game called kokkurisan, a Japanese version of the Ouija board" (Inoue Nobutaka 1994). In 1974 the spoon-bender Uri Geller arrived in Japan and quickly became a TV celebrity. Geller's popularity, in turn, led to the emergence of a Japanese counterpart, Masuaki Kiyota. Furthermore, in summer of 1973 the TV channel NTV started its broadcast of Anata no Shiranai Sekai (The World You Don't Know ) (3), where guests' paranormal experiences were dramatized. Anata no Shiranai Sekai was presented by Iwao Niikura, who in 1968 had hosted the first programme on Japanese TV dealing with personal paranormal experiences, and the reinosha (spiritual medium) Gibo Aiko, who initiated a reino (spiritual ability) boom .The youth's fascination with the paranormal continued until the first half of the 1990s when a survey conducted among university students not only revealed a positive attitude towards extrasensory perception but a desire to acquire it (Oshima : 185).
This occult boom was followed by an unprecedented surge in the publication of works dealing with urban legends (toshi densetsu) and true psychic stories (shinrei jitsuwa) (Washitani: 221), beginning in the mid-1980s and lasting for over a decade as exemplified by the 12 volume collection of folk tales Gendai Minwa Ko (Thoughts on Modern Folklore, 1985-1996) by Matsutani Miyoko (1926-2015) or the already mentioned Shin Mimibukuro: Anata no Tonari. Particularly popular was the research and compilation of stories, gossips and rumours mainly taken place in schools began by folklorist Tsunemitsu Toru in the mid-1980s which led to the publication in 1990 of Gakko no Kaidan (School Ghost Stories). In 1994 these school ghost stories were turned into a television series, and in 1995 they reached the silver screen (Michael Dylan Foster: 205). Similarly, the urban legend Toire no Hanako (Hanako, the toilet ghost) spread around primary schools at the same time as a renewed interest in Kokkuri-san was taken up by junior and high school students. Hence, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, TV stations were saturated with paranormal themed programmes featuring shinrei shashin (psychic photograph) and shinrei video (psychic video). The popularity of shinrei shashin began in 1973, reached its peak in the 1980s, and somehow waned in the 1990s (Oshima: 50 ). Nonetheless, this cultural phenomenon has remained sufficiently popular, due to the commercialization of digital video and photo cameras, and later camera phone able to capture photos and short videos, and has continued to be an unlimited source of inspiration to films which stories capitalize on these technological advances. For instance, an indication of those cursed by the videotape in Ring is their faces appearing distorted in photographs. In an interview, Nakata Hideo, director of Ring, explains how scriptwriter Takahashi Hiroshi took up this idea from the phenomenon of nensha (Kalat 2007: 29) or thoughtography and its later variation shinrei shashin (Totaro 2000) (4), although, in his book Eiga no Ma, Takahashi alludes to the film Amityville 3-D (Richard Fleischer, 1983) as the major source of inspiration (Takahashi, 36) . Likewise, Konaka Chiaki, one of the most influential figures in early J-horror productions, was deeply impressed by the TV programmes on paranormal phenomena made by Yaoi Junichi in the 1970s which featured shinrei film on 16mm . These shows proved instrumental in the formation of Konaka's portrayal of ghosts in films starting with his first work as scriptwriter (Konaka 2003: 127-28, quoted in Oshima 2010: 39-40), Psychic Vision: Jaganrei ( Ishii Teruyoshi, 1988), for some the film that laid the foundations of J-horror.
Neglecting these facts, some non-Japanese film writers, evidencing a lack of knowledge of Japanese popular culture, have repeatedly turned to hibakusha (atomic bomb victims), as a hackneyed trope to interpret any kind of Japanese horror film, such as drawing comparisons between the deformed faces in Ring's photographs and the "human deformities and wounds inflicted by the atomic bomb" (Lowenstein:115) . Meanwhile, others have analyzed the convoluted images in the cursed videotape showing words like funka (volcanic eruption) or people crawling on the ground, perhaps dying in the eruption of Miharayama in Oshima Island, predicted by Sadako's mother, "in terms of nuclear disaster and trauma" (Ho 2015: 141) as "a metaphor for the testimony" (147), whatever that is supposed to mean. Coleen Balmain has also seen "a metaphorical reference to the traumatised and defeated Japan after the Second World War" (58) in the disfigured face of Oiwa, the woman betrayed and murdered by her husband in the kabuki play Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan. Certainly, this drama and its many film adaptations served as narrative, visual and thematic models for Ring and other J-horror works, but hardly for the above connections. Film director Kurosawa Kiyoshi has described these adaptations to the big screen as the quintessential Japanese horror film (Yokoyama: 146), listing three versions among his best 50 best horror films: Yotsuya Kaidan (Misumi Kenji ,1959, 7th place), Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (Nakagawa Nobuo, 1959, 10th place) and Yotsuya Kaidan - Oiwa no Borei (Mori Kazuo, 1969, 28th place) (Kurosawa 2001 : 28-43) . Furthermore, in the documentary Ikai Hyakumonogatari ~J-Hora no Himitsu o Saguru~, Takahashi Hiroshi acknowledges having based Ring's Sadako on Oiwa, while Juon's director Shimizu Takashi explains how he tries to incorporate into his films stage devices (butai no shikake) used in kabuki, particularly those employed in the ghost play Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, such as toitagaeshi (5) .
(Ichikawa Jun, 1988)
Technological devices as a medium to transmit a curse is a common motif in modern Japanese horror films. As pointed out by some (Sharp :89 and Harper :118) the film No Life King (Ichikawa Jun, 1989) anticipated this trend later popularized by Ring. No Life King had been adapted from the novel of the same title written by Ito Seiko and published in 1988. The story takes up on a rumour circulating among elementary school children of a deadly version of the popular video game The Legend of the King IV called No Life King. Those who unknowingly end up purchasing this game and are unable to complete it will die along with all their family members. More a social drama than a horror story, No Life King reflects on adults neglect of their children, and these consequent estrangement from the adults' world. Left to their own devices, children create their own reality of the world based on rumours and gossips. Meanwhile, adults are simply puzzled and unable to understand the minors' fascination with these scary stories as exemplified by the cram's school nurse, wondering repeatedly: "Do nanchatenno kana, kodomotachi" (What's going on with children?). The rumored curse in No Life King makes use of a technological device in the form of video game cartridges to propagate itself, a leitmotif imitated later in Ring's videotapes carrying Sadako's curse . But rather that Sadako's cursed video in Ring spreading like a virus by duplicating it on videotapes, Mark Schilling has written how No Life King "reflects the real-life ways in which "urban legend" memes pass from mind to young mind like viruses". Just as almost a decade earlier, from winter 1978 to summer 1979, the legend of Kuchisake had been all the rage on Japanese school playgrounds, from the summer of 1986, just before Ito's novel No Like King came out, a new wave of strange rumours (kikaina uwasa) swept through schoolchildren's network of dark information (yami no joho nettowaku) . Some of the most talked-about ones were the sightings on TV, between August and September 1986, of the spirit of the pop singer Okada Yukiko, who had committed suicide in April that year, the cursed Kleenex TV advert (see note 4) or the last episodes of manga classics Doraemon and Sazae-san (6).
No Life King gives thought to this phenomenon characterized by rumours spread using the latest technological advances and the potentially harmful effects on children. Word of mouth, home telephones or simple messages written on paper are shown as the initial forms for conveying new rumours about the cursed video game. Later in the film, rumours are spread nationwide in a matter of seconds through the computer network system available at the protagonists' high-tech cram school. These advancements in technology during the late 1980s and early 1990s not just enabled faster dissemination and exchange of information but added more credibility to the authenticity of the rumours. The pokeberu (short for pocketto beru, pager) or the phone service Dial Q2 were some of the tools that bridged the transition to the communication revolution brought by mobile phones and internet social media. The information-call service Dial Q2 (equivalent to the 800 and 900 number services in the United Kingdom and the United States respectively)started in 1989 initially providing information on various issues such as sports results, fortune telling, cooking or medical guidance, but it soon developed into an extremely profitable tool for adult chat and dating businesses which led to the consolidation of the country's adult entertainment industry. This phone service was seen as exercising a bad influence on teenagers, as was the video game in No Life King which is eventually banned from sale, so that, in 1994, stricter regulations on Dial Q2, such as age verification, were introduced as various cases of juvenile crime in the form of enjo kosai (compensated dating bordering in prostitution, a term coined by Dial Q2's users) or high telephone charges incurred by minors were reported in the media (See Tomita : 29-41). Since the implementation of harsher regulations, Dial Q2 use began a steady decline until the service eventually terminated in February 2014.
(Ishii Teruyoshi, 1988)
The pager was introduced commercially in Japan in 1986 targeting primarily salesman, 40% of its users in 1989 (Takahiro : 34), but rapidly developed from a businessman's essential item to a youngster's communication tool (Takahiro : 39) by the first half of the 1990s giving rise to the phenomenon berutomo ( pager friend) , particularly between joshikosei (female high school students), but also to the less friendly itaberu (itazura no beru, prank pager message) (Okada : 84). 1995 represented the golden age of the pocket-bell with more than 10 million users. In 1996, teenagers accounted for 64% of telephone company NTT Docomo's pokeberu users (NHK Special Sengo 70-nen Nippon no Shozo). These teenagers devised a code based on the combination of numbers pronounced in Japanese to create a word as for example 084 or ohayo (good morning) or 3470 sayonara (goodbye). Although the popularity of the pokeberu was short-lived, this new mobile device still managed to find a spot in children's mystery literature such as the series Popuraru Shanbunko Misuteri Entateimento Bunko: Dokkiri Futago Meitantei (1994) which were already presenting stories of ghosts making full use of the latest communication technologies at the time as in the volume Yurei no Pokeberu Messeji (Pager messages from ghosts). The short story Hanako-san ni Yobarete (Hanako-san called) presented in the later volume Byoin no Obake ga Pokeberu Narasu of the same series, has a teenage boy staying at a hospital receiving a message(1010216-875, toire ni iru - Hanako/ I'm in the toilet, Hanako) on his pokeberu from the famous Japanese ghost (7). A decade later, the number messages used in early pagers, as from 1991 some pagers allowed the sending of characters/letters, were refashioned to a new generation of mobile phone users unfamiliar with pokeberu culture like in the short story Shinigami Meru (God of Death's Mail) as part of the collection Nazo no Meru Resutoran (Mail Restaurant Mystery) from the popular children series Kaidan Resutoran (Thriller Restaurant). The story begins with rumours of a deadly chain message which shows the number 564219 (koroshi ni iku, I'm coming to kill you) being spread among elementary school children. Anybody who receives such message four times and does not reply it will be killed by the shinigami . Emi, the protagonist of the story, gets this message but ignores it thinking that it is just another mistake by her grandmother who has recently started using a mobile phone. It finally dawns on her the real nature of the mail and, just before the fatal fourth message reaches her phone's inbox, she stops the curse by answering back with the simple number message 967 (kuru na, don't come). Shinigami Meru was adapted into a short anime feature and became the basis for a long live action film, both comprising the work Gekijo-ban: Kaidan Resutoran (Thriller Restaurant The Movie, 2010) directed by Ochiai Masayuki.
No Life King clearly shares elements identified with the J-horror such as an urban legend of a curse transmitted through a technological device. However, if we take into account Kurosawa Kiyoshi's description of early J-Horror, it could hardly qualify as a forerunner of the genre. According to the director "The distinct characteristic of these early J-horror films ... was the cheap, flat, home video aesthetic due to the fact that they were originally produced on videotape. Placing something extraordinary in those ordinary looking video images, such as the image of a dead person person appearing in one's home videotape, was the charm of the contemporary Japanese horror films" (Wada-Marciano : 21). Scriptwriter Takahashi Hiroshi borrowed a video tape of the direct-to-video production Psychic Vision: Jaganrei (Ishii Teruyoshi, 1988) from producer Takashiro Chiaki (Takahashi : 14), and wrote a review in Cahiers du Cinema Japon (winter 1991, reprinted in Takahashi : 14-16) describing it as the precursor of J-horror (8). Borrowing the now familiar horror film trope of fake documentary or found footage, later popularized by The Blair Witch Project (1999), Psychic Vision: Jaganrei begins with a caption informing that what you are about to see is footage of an unaired documentary made for a TV programme to promote a new singer. The documentary includes interviews with songwriters, music critics and TV personalities, the recording of the song, and the behind the scenes of a music video. The making of the documentary and the recording of the song were unexpectedly disrupted with tragic consequences by the spirit of the original singer and writer of the song who had committed suicide years earlier under strange circumstances. One of the foundations of J-horror is that spirits are not just simply caught on camera, but that they purposely make their presence felt by inserting images on videos or sounds in music recordings to relay a message, a warning or a reminder.
(Tsuruta Norio, 1992)
In his review of Jaganrei Takahashi praises the subtlety in which the ghost of the singer is introduced at the start of the film, an almost unnoticeable white figure seen standing in the background, looking more like a passerby, while a female reporter begins the documentary on the new pop idol (Takahashi : 15). Regarded as standard fare in J-horror, the eerie presence of a figure lurking in the background, face hardly discernible, at the time of Jaganrei's release was considered a novelty by Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Tsuruta Norio and Takahashi Hiroshi who were struggling to find a suitable way of portraying ghosts in their films. A couple of years later, Tsuruta was commissioned to shoot a direct-to-video film adaptation of the manga Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi, so wrote a first draft of the script. Konaka Chiaki soon joined him to reshape the script and, between them, created perhaps one the most influential works in the J-horror genre. The second story, Rei no Ugomeku Ie (House of Restless Spirits), of the second series (Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi: Dai-ni-ya/ Scary True Stories: Night Two), in particular, has been enthusiastically praised by Takahashi and Kurosawa (Kurosawa 2008 : 27-30), the latter having even included it among his 50 best horror films (Kurosawa 2001 : 43). Also, the blurry image of an apparition on a school gym's stage in the first segment, Natsu no Taiikukan (The Gymnasium in Summer), of the second series will prove inspirational for Kurosawa's own depiction of ghosts in Kairo (Pulse, 2001). Furthermore, the manifestation of the ghost of a woman wearing a red dress during the climactic scene in the same episode is clearly borrowed for Kurosawa's Korei (Seance, 2000) and Sakebi (Retribution, 2006) , and the same ghost's lumbering approach in slow-motion to one the protagonists will be a revelation to Ring's director Nakata Hideo (Kurosawa 2008 : 25) and Kurosawa again (Kairo's first ghost appearance).
Although the main focus of this article has been on attempting to trace out the beginnings of J-horror within a Japanese socio-cultural context, needless to say, foreign film works have also left a strong imprint on the genre. The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961), The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963) or The Legend of Hell House (John Hough, 1973 ) (9) are just a few of the titles that continuously spring up in talks by and interviews with various J-horror creators. Interestingly, and uncannily linked to one of the main subjects in this article, a scene from a Hollywood comedy film which paradoxically sparked an urban legend in the early 1990s has also had a deep impact on Kurosawa, Tsuruta and Takahashi (10). In a joint discussion, they analyse a scene in Three Men and a Baby (Leonard Nimoy, 1987), just over an hour into the film, in which Jack (Ted Danson) and his mother (Celeste Holm) walk through the house with Mary, the baby. As they do so, a human figure can be seen in a background window on the left-hand side of the screen. This appearance in this particular scene gave rise to an urban legend that this was the ghost of a boy who had been killed in the house where it was filmed. The figure is in fact a cardboard cutout "standee" of Jack used in a scene that did not eventually make it to the final cut. Tsuruta describes this scene as brilliant (migoto) and jokingly confesses that if only he could shoot a sequence like that he could happily die right then (Kurosawa 2008 : 31).
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