SciFi Japan

    Halloween, SciFi Japan Style!

    SFJ Staff Choose Their Favorite Japanese Films for Halloween! Author: Bob Johnson

    Newspapers, television, radio, internet blogs, magazines and more. When Halloween rolls around everyone starts talking about the best horror films to watch for any Halloween celebration. Most of the usual suspects are mentioned, from Universal classic monster films to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE EXORCIST or any number of slasher/gore films. However, here at SciFi Japan, we realize there are more choices to make and some you may not have thought about. So if you love Japanese cinema (and we assume you do if you are visiting this site), then here are some staff picks for Halloween. Treats from the East to liven up any Halloween feast!

    JU-ON (The Grudge) by Bob Johnson For a spooky Halloween I would suggest checking out one of the creepiest films to come out in a long, long time Takeshi Shimizu’s JU-ON. Hitting Japanese theaters almost a decade ago (2002), this film holds up really well. It is one thing to shock an audience with a quick scare or sicken them with gore. It is another thing altogether to set a mood, build up a scene and send shivers up a person’s spine. That is what JU-ON is all about. JU-ON presents a twist to the ages-old story of a haunted house. In this house the haunting can follow visitors as the leave the house, stay with them and catch up with them when they least expect it. The two occupants Kayako (the mother, played to contortionist perfection by Takako Fuji) and Toshio (the son, hauntingly portrayed by Shimba Tsuchiya) were brutally murdered by the man of the house and now carry out the curse the house has upon it. Takeshi Shimizu deftly guides the film on an even path and keeps the spookiness coming. JU-ON is not your typical horror film. It is a spine-tingling creepy feast for the psyche. One that will have you looking around corners and jumping at shadows afterwards. What more could you want for Halloween?

    THE GREAT HORROR FAMILY by Ed Godziszewski When I think of what you ordinarily watch for Halloween, there are a lot of genres that you can pick from, and Japanese cinema has no shortage of worthy candidates. But if you want a little bit of everything, and to have some fun at the same time, you just can`t beat the TV series THE GREAT HORROR FAMILY. In its 13 episode run, all the classic Japanese horror staples can be seen, from traditional yokai to modern J-Horror characters such as a JUON (The Grudge)-inspired female ghost. Directed by an ensemble of directors including JU-ON`s Takashi Shimizu, the series features the comic adventures of a family which moves into a supposedly haunted house. The cast of characters is inspired--there`s the father who is consumed by the occult yet totally oblivious to all the supernatural happenings swarming about him, while other family members who could care less are psychically blessed. The family`s house sits at a kind of inter-dimensional crossroads through which the most bizarre creatures all wish to pass. If you`ve seen it in Japanese horror, it probably puts in an appearance in this clever and genuinely funny show. Available on DVD with English subtitles, this little-known series is guaranteed crowd-pleaser for anyone with a taste for Japanese horror.

    FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD/THE H-MAN by Richard Pusateri In the past, a group of friends began a series of "Monster Rallies" to honor the memory of a friend who passed away. We met the last Thursday of each month, ordered take out Thai food and watched a double feature of a Godzilla movie (with my annoying running commentary) and a traditional monster movie; usually a Columbia creep show. The monster rallies ended about the time TriStar released that GODZILLA movie in 1998, and as far as I`m concerned morphed into a Halloween dinner and movie evening with my choices usually being Japanese monster movies. In the past MATANGO was a hit as we tried to make it into a weird parody of Gilligan`s Island. I made a drinking game of taking a nip every time a character said "Hey!" I added a bonus chug whenever a Birerley`s beverage product placement appeared. When Kumi Mizuno said "They all want me!" as she powdered her cheeks, the group roared in approval. Last year, my suggestion of FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD was rejected, perhaps because a new guest was a Japanese-American woman and our hostess may have thought the guest might think we were weird or something showing a weird Japanese movie. So we watched the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of The INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES. (RIP Ray Dennis Steckler 1939-2009). This year I will suggest THE THRILL KILLERS aka THE MANIACS ARE LOOSE to honor Steckler. But eventually I will prevail and we will enjoy FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. I like the movie because it starts with an atmosphere of dread, with a girl dying from radiation poisoning, a graphic depiction of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, references to starving war orphans after the war ended, a sock hop full of teenagers being devoured by a subterranean monster (with a glowing nose-horn!?!?) and a living detached hand that starves to death! AAAAAHHHHH! Then, led by Eiji Tsuburaya`s silly special effects scenes, the movie veers into absurdity, subversively defusing the earlier dread and creepiness with a cartoony climax battle between the odd Frankenstein teenage monster and the cute monster Baragon. A second choice might be THE H-MAN as it has a delightful English dub starring the marvelous talents of Paul Frees. THE H-MAN`s climax of a woman in her underwear trapped in the Tokyo sewer system being threatened by a madman with the H-Man on one side and the gasoline fire on the other might be a sensational way to celebrate the end of the harvest season, if that`s what Halloween is about. I go to Dia de los Muertos to honor the memory of the recently departed anyway.

    YOKAI DAISENSO by Dan Ross My most cherished memories of Halloween consist of gray skies, skeletal trees, the smell and sound of rustling brown leaves on the ground as me and all the other kids joyously dressed up and wandered about the neighborhoods trick or treating for candy. To me the idea of Halloween is a link to that past, a place where fun and wonder happens more than getting scared out of my wits. To that end I find Takashi Miike`s YOKAI DAISENSO (2005) to be an excellent Halloween movie. It centers on a young boy in festive yet strange surroundings, it deals with the ups and downs of family relations and the excitement and wonder of exploration. And then there are the Yokai! As has been discussed in several SciFi Japan articles in the past, Yokai are creatures of Japanese folklore that come in all shapes and sizes. From Kappa the water demon to Karakasa the one eyed umbrella with arms and a long tongue, there are many, many types of Yokai. In YOKAI DAISENSO these goblins take our young hero Tadashi on a quest to free the downtrodden Yokai that have been enslaved by the evil Kato Yasunori who is turning the good goblins into horrible machines of destruction in order to kill off all humanity in the world. The Great Yokai War is on as Tadashi with the help of his goblin friends learns how to be a hero who will be able to defeat the bad guys. Coming from Takashi Miike, the mastermind behind one of the most disturbing horror films ever made, AUDITION (1999), this happens to be a great family film that stays action packed, light hearted and yet can still bring a tear to your eye.

    MATANGO/Toho’s Dracula by Aaron Cooper Released with the unfortunate name of ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE to American television, MATANGO is actually a creepy, atmospheric film done at a time Toho Studios was mostly concentrating on giant monster fantasy fare. It is the story of a group of castaways lost on an island with little to no provisions, undergoing the temptation of a strange fungus that eventually mutates people into horribly disfigured entities. Matango goes down the path of desperation, greed, lust, betrayal, and paranoia. It`s a more moody and psychological film filled with tense and horrific moments that lend to an overall feeling of dread through the entire film, and features a great cast that enhances the emotional terror of the film. Cast member Hiroshi Koizumi is quoted as saying this was one of his favorite films to be in. If you are in the mood for something a little different while still sticking to a more traditional Halloween scare fare, try out EVIL OF DRACULA (aka The Bloodthirsty Roses), or LAKE OF DRACULA (aka Bloodthirsty Eyes), Toho Studios attempts at straightforward vampire films. EVIL takes place at a girl`s school while LAKE takes place at a waterfront village, but both put a modern spin (as of the time of their filming) along with Japanese flair on to the classic vampire lore. Filmed very similarly to Hammer horror of the time, which makes one wonder just what could have or would have happened if Toho and Hammer ever did co-produce a feature.

    JIGOKU (HELL) by Norman England I was poking around some boot VHS tapes at a Chiller show in the early 90s when the guy next to me asked, "Have you ever seen Hell?" Although the image of my previous girlfriend came to mind, I was sure that wasn`t what he meant. Sure enough, he held up a tape with HELL scrawled on the label. "It`s really scary; those Japanese films are creepier than they have a right to be." It took 18 years until I tracked down a copy of the film at a friend`s in Tokyo – as warned, it was creepy, like a bad dream that keeps shifting course until you have no idea where you are or how you`re ever going to get out of the growing insanity. JIGOKU (it`s original title) tells of two college students, one seemingly nice and the other an over-the-top creep who somehow has the dope on everyone`s sordid past. After the two are involved in a hit-and-run, they flee to the hometown of the nice guy. Of course, everyone there is guilty of some such and after a poisoned meal claims the town Hell finds itself with some new guests to accommodate. From there the film becomes a visual decent into the weird, a weird that has to be seen to be believed. And for a 1960 film, JIGOKU is intensely graphic. Dancing girls, groups of people in the throws of death, barbarian like monsters wielding huge clubs, fire (lots of fire), infidelity, murder, premarital sex, and a graphic stroll through the landscape of Hell... This Halloween you can do a lot worse!

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