Alas, what a long and very strange (I’m looking at you, Miike-san!) journey it’s been, but we’ve finally reached the conclusion of my series on Asian horror. In this final part we’ll discuss a few things, but all of them will tie-in somehow to Asian horror’s far-reaching influence and impact on western cinematic culture today. So, let’s dive right in and end where we kinda started.
Okay, right off the bat, let’s get the obvious out of the way, shall we? There’s no doubt that the success of 2002’s The Ring, directed by a still green Gore Verbinski here in North America, set off a chain reaction of eastern to western adaptations that quickly fizzled out after we grew tired of the trend and/or L.A. milked it to death and we moved on to the next big thing. This is what Hollywood does, and has been doing, for over a hundred years now. That’s why we had a bevy of torture porn films after the success of Saw, a million found footage films after the success of The Blair Witch Project, a crap load of ghost movies after the success of The Conjuring and even a handful of found footage ghost movies after the success of Paranormal Activity, and that’s just in the last 20 years of horror film history.
Even some of the films I mentioned in part two of my series had their North American versions debut just a few short years after their Asian counterparts, such as The Eye and Dark Water. But the one thing 2004’s Sarah Michelle Geller led The Grudge did that the others didn’t do was employ original director, Takashi Shimizu to take the directorial reins of the North American production. That’s why, at least in this writer’s opinion, The Grudge was probably the most faithful to the original film than any of the others. Although they didn’t get to direct their own North American adaptation of The Eye, the Pang brothers were enlisted to direct the action packed, fast paced revival of the film that put them on the map eight years prior in the 2008 Nicholas Cage led Bangkok Dangerous.
But what about our flag bearers? The visionaries? What about the trinity? Well, each of our main men had their work breakout in North America as well, with varying degrees of success however. Although some of the masters like Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino credit at least a glancing influence from the likes of Miike and Wook, it was all around horror legend Mick Garris who made the first move in establishing a foothold here in North America for these Asian masters when he gave Takashi Miike a spot in directing his own entry in Garris’ anthology series, Masters of Horror in 2006. Unfortunately, Miike’s episode, Imprint, would never make it to air as it was deemed too graphic and disturbing, but it can still be seen in the home video release of the series’ season one collection. Aside from a cameo in Eli Roth’s Hostel, that’s about all we get from Miike here in the west, although Tarantino would go on to star in Miike’s Japanese produced, English language, action western, Sukiyaki Western Django in 2007. It’s a fun watch that I highly recommend. Both Park Chan-Wook and Ryuhei Kitamura have had a little more success over here in North America with Wook at the reins of his very own cable miniseries and Kitamura directing a handful of features.
After the success of espionage thriller, The Night Manager in 2016, AMC and the BBC optioned another John le Carré novel adaptation for the small screen with 2018’s The Little Drummer Girl of which Park Chan-Wook was given full directorial duties on each of the six-episode miniseries. Much like his work in South Korea, Wook has not allowed himself to be pigeonholed into any one particular genre, finding himself capable in any style, as is visible in this visceral spy actioner.
Kitamura, on the other hand, has stuck to his roots as far as his North American body of work goes. In 2008 Kitamura made his American directorial debut in the Clive Barker produced The Midnight Meat Train based on a Barker short story of the same name and starring Bradley Cooper and Brooke Shields. Yes, that Bradley Cooper. Although it was downgraded to a theatrical release in secondary markets only (I saw it at my local dollar theater during release weekend), and just weeks before it hit the street, this Lovecraftian tale did an adequate job at showcasing Kitamura’s excellent camera work and visual style. But trust me, after you’ve seen a couple Kitamura films from his homeland, you’ll no doubt notice, as I did, he shows a little restraint in his North American debut. Meat Train was pretty well received from critics, but was an official box office failure.
His next U.S. release was not until 2012’s Luke Evans thriller, No One Lives… which was also a box office flop. I haven’t seen it yet, myself, so I can’t comment. But if you’ve got the Shudder app on your favorite streaming device of choice, check out 2018’s Downrange, (check out our review here) which was released direct to VOD so I have no numbers for you. But I can tell you that it was an official selection in multiple festivals, including the very reputable Toronto International Film Festival and gives Kitamura a well-earned shot at co-writing his own American film, which is why I feel it makes it so edge of your seat fantastic! Finally, released a mere few weeks ago, Kitamura displays his skills alongside new friend and colleague, the previously mentioned Mick Garris, in Garris’ most recent anthology project, Nightmare Cinema. On VOD right now as you’re reading this. I know it’s on my watchlist!
But how else have our Asian #HorrorFamily influenced us here in North America since they exploded onto the scene at the turn of the century? That’s a question I could probably research and spend another thousand words on. But I will say this: I don’t think without the bizarre conceptual storytelling of Miike, that you would have a market as open to films like Mandy or The Void. Without the technological ghost stories from Japan, like Pulse and One Missed Call, would we have the likes of Unfriended or Sinister? And my fellow gore hounds out there, would we ever have seen all those off the wall creations from films like Frankenstein’s Army or the creative kills and makeup effects of Manborg and Father’s Day (Troma, 2011) without first witnessing the zaniness in the creations of Nishimura and Iguchi? I don’t know. But I know I’m glad we never had to find out, right?
One thing is for sure; filmmakers from all corners of the globe, walks of life and genres will continue to have an impact on each other as long as there is such a visual art form as film. That’s what’s so cool about it: we ingest it, analyze what it means to each of us, and then spit it back out in our own way, if we’re ever lucky enough to have that opportunity. After all, isn’t Sadako vs. Kayako just Japan’s version of Freddy vs. Jason? Glad to see we’re still influencing them over there too ;)