Hideyuki Kikuchi "Talk Live" Event in Tokyo, July 2003 

Continuing in last year's tradition, this summer's event was designated the 
time for Japanese ghost stories. The evening began with Kikuchi-sensei 
asking all the attendees (as well as the staff of Loft Plus One) to help him 
with something by watching a short video. The psychedelic black and white 
footage that followed was none other than the cursed video featured in "The 
Ring" (or "Ringu" for purists). For those of you who've been living under a 
rock for the last few years, the story goes like this; once you've watched 
the cursed footage, you have to make a copy and show it to someone else 
within seven days or meet a horrible end. And so on, and so on.... Now 
Kikuchi-sensei had the tape we needed to copy, and he generously agreed to 
loan it to anyone who transferred a million yen into his bank account. 

This was a pretty good introduction to the evening's theme. The ghosts in 
the films we saw were often jilted lovers or abused retainers taking revenge 
on their oppressors, and the collateral damage from their hauntings was 
often quite high. For example, the deformed specter of a woman appears to a 
samurai with a shady past on his wedding night, but when he cuts her down he 
finds he's murdered his innocent bride instead. The father of the bride 
comes to see what all the shouting is about, and is in turn butchered by his 
son-in-law, who sees the spirit again. Later, the samurai is hampered by 
the vengeful ghost while his enraged in-laws hunt him down. Good stuff, if 
you can overlook the fact that the spirit of the abused manages to get a lot 
more innocent people killed. 

These ghost stories were produced in the late 50's by a new executive 
looking to bail out a failing movie studio. He put a stop to the company's 
penchant for making artsy films, and started to crank out the kind of flicks 
guys in there twenties would go see--war movies, action pictures, and ghost 
stories. By using relatively unknown actors (often in wardrobe they brought 
with them) and shooting on a very tight schedule, he was able to keep costs 
down, and the lurid subject matter ensured a good return at the box office. 
In short, it was the Roger Corman formula for success. And the head of the 
studio didn't care what anyone thought of him. When one of his affairs was 
revealed, the media criticized him for making one of his starlets his 
mistress. He responded by correcting them--he had in fact taken his 
mistress and made her a starlet. 

The program continued with some very tense scenes from the relatively new, 
straight to video title "Ju-on." Shot with unknowns and minimal budget over 
the course of nine days, it proved so popular on video that a theatrical 
version was shot, and a sequel hit theaters during the summer. Though I 
don't exactly condone that sort of things, there are some shady looking 
copies of the film available through some online auction services, going by 
the name "The Grudge" in English. Rumor has it that Hollywood is planning a 
remake of this feature as well, but this sort of tale seems to be better 
done on the shoestring budget. For example, the straight to video version 
seems scarier because it uses normal people in true-to-life locations--it's 
not too difficult to imagine this happening to one of your friends in your 

One of the points brought up by the spectral action at school in "Ju-on" 
was the lack of western movies focusing on haunted schoolhouses. While 
Japanese novels, comics, and films have often dealt with pianos that play by 
themselves in the dead of night, or a girl named Hanako who appears from 
nowhere to terrorize school bathrooms, the only American movie I could 
recall that had a haunted school was the movie "Lady in White" with Lukas 
Haas. Later, over coffee, I gave my own theory for why the Japanese were so 
hung up on ghosts at school while we weren't. As a teacher here for over a 
decade, I've seen how the kids are at school all day every day, spending 
more time there than they do at home. That means something horrible at 
school would have grave consequences for them. On the other hand, we 
Americans spend far less time in the classroom, so the big spooky house next 
door is a much more appropriate setting for a ghostly encounter. 

And so another night filled with eerie black and white horror imagery from 
Far East came to a close. As with the previous year's program, I found it 
especially entertaining because virtually everything was new to me instead 
of something from a hundred afternoon Creature Double-Features. I hope my 
Japanese peers are as surprised and delighted by the western fare introduced 
during the rest of the year. 

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