©JU-ON Film Partners

Ahead of the Tokyo International Film Festival’s celebration of Japanese horror films, we speak with two of the genre’s masters.

By Christopher O’Keeffe

Despite its occurrence in late October of every year, Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) has never really taken advantage of the looming presence of Halloween. That’s all set to change as this time around Japan’s most prestigious film event is dedicating one whole night to three of Japan’s finest horror directors. Around the turn of the millennium, Hideo Nakata (“Ringu,” “Ringu 2,” “Dark Water”), Takashi Shimizu (the “Ju-on” series) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Pulse,” “Cure,” “Tokyo Sonata”) spearheaded the J-Horror movement, leaving a lasting impact on the world of horror.

Although busy abroad shooting their next features, Weekender was able to get hold of both Hideo Nakata and Takashi Shimizu to answer a few questions on ghosts, ghouls and J-Horror.

First we asked what two of Japan’s reigning masters of the genre think are the key ingredients to making a successful horror movie. Shimizu cites several reasons: “It is hard to pick just one thing, but I think these are some very important points. Firstly, to have a story set within ordinary, daily life. Second, having a character who has made a mistake, something which everyone can sympathize with. Finally I want the film to have some kind of psychological impact on the audience, which they will take back home with them after leaving the theater.” Nakata chooses just one: “I think one aspect is creating a certain length of the silent moments, and then how silent it is before and after something scary happens.”

“Ringu,” released in 1998, and 2002’s “Ju-on” were phenomenally successful on release and saw Hollywood scramble to adapt Japanese horror hits. What was it about the films that connected with audiences and tapped into people’s fears at that time? Shimizu looks at his own personal history with horror for an answer: “I didn’t like horror movies at all in my childhood. With Ju-on, I put into it all the nightmares from when I was young, the fears from which I could never escape. This might be a part of the reason [the film was so successful].” Meanwhile, Nakata sees the wider effect of society at play: “People used to have a TV and a video player at home; at the time ‘Ringu’ was made lifestyles had been gradually shifting and kids had started to own sets in their own rooms. American horror focuses on dynamics to create a scary movement; however, Sadako was a mysterious silent ghost. She is only shown in the dark TV monitor and you never even see her face, and I think this was a very fresh, unusual approach at the time.”

From their humble J-horror origins, Nakata, Shimizu and Kurosawa went on to successful careers in film but their names will forever be linked with the fear they inspired in their early hits. Experience the terror all over again with some of the finest examples of the genre at TIFF’s Masters of J-Horror night.

“Masters of J-Horror” takes place October 28 at Shinjuku Piccadilly and will feature Nakata’s debut film “Don’t Look Up”; his latest, “Ghost Theater”; Shimizu’s terrifying tale of vengeful spirits “Ju-on”; and Kurosawa’s unsettling account of a twisted serial killer, “Cure.”


Gekijorei Film Partners, “Ghost Theater” Director: Hideo Nakata Release Date: November 21, 2015

28th Tokyo International Film Festival

The Tokyo International Film Festival brings together a huge and varied selection of the best cinema from both Japan and abroad. Under nine main sections—including “Competition,” “Asian Future,” “Japanese Cinema Splash” and “Special Screenings”—the latest works by everyone from the most revered screen veterans to the hottest up-and-comers are represented. Additional highlights include a Special Animation Program focusing on anime phenomenon Gundam, retrospective screenings of the works of screen legends Orson Welles and Ken Takakura, and the 4K Digital Restoration of Akira Kurosawa’s epic “Ran.” The past and future of world cinema is represented at Tokyo’s biggest film event of the year.

Dates: October 22 (Thu)–31 (Sat), 2015
Venues: Roppongi Hills, Shinjuku Wald 9, Shinjuku Piccadilly, TOHO Cinemas Shinjuku and other theaters in Tokyo.
Web: www.tiff-jp.net
Tickets go on sale October 10. To buy tickets, or for more information, visit the site.