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 classroom. 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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