Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

J-HORROR: New Media's Impact on Contemporary Japanese Horror Cinema

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

J-HORROR: New Media's Impact on Contemporary Japanese Horror Cinema

Article excerpt

Résumé: Les récents films d'épouvante japonais, connus collectivement sous le terme de « J-Horror », exemplifient le phénomène de la dispersion transnationale d'un cinéma digital multi-médiatique qui est paradoxalement, déterminé par des contingences culturelles, industrielles et économiques régionales. Le potentiel véritable du cinéma digital ne se retrouve pas dans les effets spéciaux générés par ordinateur qui apparaissent dans la série Star Wars, mais plutît dans les mouvements régionaux, comme le « J-Horror », qui renversent le courant traditionel des capitaux et de la culture, c'est-à-dire, le monopole hollywoodien. Ce phénomène n'est pas nouveau dans l'histoire du cinéma. Ce qui le rend unique est le déploiement vernaculaire de sa spécificité médiatique, temporelle et régionale.

The main objective of this essay is to scrutinize new media's effect on contemporary Japanese cinema, especially the horror film genre "J-Horror." In particular, I want to examine the ongoing contestation and negotiation between cinema and new media in contemporary Japan by analyzing the impact of new media on the transnational horror boom from Japan to East Asia, and finally to Hollywood. As the case of contemporary J-Horror films exemplifies, the new, digitalized, multimedia form of cinema is now a dispersed phenomenon, both ubiquitous and transnational as technology, yet regional in the economic, industrial, and cultural contingencies of its acceptance. While academic discourses on the connection between cinema and new media have been increasing, many of them are following the historical constellation of hegemony and capital in cinema, namely Hollywood's place as production and distribution center. From my perspective the emerging possibilities of new media in cinema have less to do with the progress of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) effects in such Hollywood franchises as the Star Wars series (USA, 1977-2005, George Lucas) than in the ways regional movements or genres such as Dogme 95, Chinese Sixth Generation Films (typically low-budget films made outside the state-run studios), and J-Horror have challenged the long-standing flow of capital and culture, i.e. the centrality of Hollywood. I argue that such a phenomenon is not entirely new in the history of the cinema, but what makes it most interesting is its vernacular staging within a specific time and locale and particular media. How did a low-budget B genre intrinsically linked to regional popular culture become a transnational film franchise? The answer lies in the contingencies of new media's influence at all levels of production, text, distribution, and reception. Simply put, I frame J-Horror's emergence since the 1990s as a form of trans-media commodity, one that is based less on theatrical modes of exhibition than on new digital media.

THE SHIFT TO DIGITAL PRODUCTION

The first part of my essay focuses on the contemporary Japanese film industry and J-Horror's production processes, and examines how the J-Horror boom is connected to digital or computer technologies. Beginning in 1989, the decline of Japan's once-vaunted economy has ushered in widespread cultural change. What has emerged in this period of the Japanese film industry is a reconfiguration at all levels of production, distribution, and reception. The role of film studios has shifted from actual filmmaking to the distribution of films in multimedia formats, such as DVD and cable television. Within the industry's risk-adverse environment, most directors have become paradoxically independent as filmmakers, and increasingly dependent on multimedia financing and distribution by the major film companies. The Japanese film industry has been mainly categorized into two types of filmmaking groups, "major" and "independent," and the former now stands for three film companies: Toho, Shochiku, and Toei, with the rest of the filmmaking productions more or less independent.1 As Geoff King observes on American cinema, "The term 'independent' has had rather different connotations at different periods. …

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