The Haapsalu horror and fantasy film festival starting today will honour the Japanese ghost movie maker with life work award, even though it is early to call him «grandmaster» – Mr Nakata’s newest film also featuring in Haapsalu.
«I don’t really like horror movies, I just like to make movies,» somewhat surprisingly, Mr Nakata confesses in a flash interview to Postimees.
First of all: congrats, Nakata-san! I hope this doesn’t mean your life work is done – at 51?
(Laughs.) I hope not. Still, I have to admit I have received one such reward already, seven years ago at the Gerardmer fantasy film festival, in France. I felt real early, even then. But it is still nice to be recognised.
You broke through, internationally, with Ring, which became the cornerstone of J-horror – the Japanese horror movie new wave. 15 years have passed. How is your national horror movie doing?
Sadly, no good news. I don’t want to tell that whatever started 15 years back is totally finished, but the fact remains that Hollywood no longer makes repeat versions of our movies. I guess it became too much, the public over there is fed up movies like that. The same goes for Japanese viewers, horror movie is far from its popularity back then.
But for one: the genre will not die. So let’s wait for the new wave.
When will that come?
Why not in ten years? Honestly, I don’t know. These things come in cycles, however. The need to resist fear is always there, it’s deep in human nature, like an instinct. Like sex. Try to picture a cave man. They had to protect themselves and family from enemies, and also have babies – otherwise humanity couldn’t continue, be evolutionally successful. I do not know the truth, but this is my theory.
What happened 15 years ago? Why did Ring became so popular – the most popular Japanese horror movie of all times, they claim?
In a way it was like happy marriage. The right moment. There was this story making rounds of a cursed video cassette, the viewer of which dies in seven days. It was the peak, both in schools and in the streets it was talked about.
In Ring, the contemporary household technology is an effective source of fear – namely by this, ghost make themselves known.
That also happened to be the time when Japanese teenagers got themselves their very own TVs and video recorders – it no longer was just one for the family, all watching TV together. A more private relationship was created. The idea that a TV set may also be a window to hell, suddenly seemed very realistic to them. One more reason to go see it.
Absolutely. For at that time the Japanese horror film was a B-film or went straight to video cassettes, never reached the cinemas. I was actually startled when the distributor decided to show Ring in 150 cinemas. A movie with $1.2m budget.
Long since, Ring lives a life of its own, who could count up all the sequels and comebacks. In Japan, it now came out in 3D, Hollywood is next in line, they say. But, you’re no longer involved in that?
Sadako 3D, (the curse of the girl Sadako, from Ring, comes to life again) was quite popular among Japanese teenagers, a sequel is being made. Would be no surprise if Hollywood catches on. I myself, for a long time now, have nothing to do with that.
Tongue in cheek: did you go to Hollywood for not being satisfied with how they handled Ring?
(Laughs.) On the contrary, I liked the Gore Verbinski version – it had that right atmosphere – and he tried hard also, even fighting with the studio to keep several interesting episodes. Like the one where a horse goes insane on a ship. Goes berserk, falls into the sea and perishes in the propeller. A very disturbing scene, predicting that the place where Naomi Watts is headed with the ship holds negative energy and something far worse is on its way.
In Japan, we couldn’t afford such complicated-to-shoot episodes. Like with that same parable (a brief fragmented dreamlike-surreal episode, from the video tape, on the Sadako curse – TT), shot by Verbinski in seven days, we had to do in two hours. Did I answer your question?
Yes. And yet, could we still find some fault with Ring?
I’d be a little critical at how Verbinski or studio – I don’t know which – uses Sadako’s face in the film.
As you remember, in our movie, we do not show it. Even at the end, where Sadako climbs out the TV screen to kill her victim, it is covered by hair. Only one eye is briefly uncovered. Hollywood, however, exploits its terribleness to the full, like all the grimaces of people that have died supernatural deaths
The two cultures’ difference clearly comes out. In Japan, it is more frightening to show less – less is more! In the West, it is a habit to uncover everything, in that sense their Ring is more like The Exorcist (a 1973 classic movie by William Friedkin – TT), where the face of Linda Blair becomes almost like a battlefield of good and evil. Which doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent movie.
There’s more differences in the movies due to a differing view of the world of spirits.
The Western values are usually based on the confrontation of good and evil, God and the devil. The man caught in between. Like The Exorcist, one can’t relate to demons, you never know why they torment you. A demon always attacks, is aggressive towards you.
For us, spirit means a human being, a former one. A spirit like this never equals a demon. It may act like a demon but we may at least understand why Sadako became an evil spirit. That’s the difference.
The mere fact that there are spirits all around us, just watching us, may be frightening. Not to mention that you may upset some and provoke wraths. For a Japanese viewer, not much is needed.
You don’t only make horror movies?
No, documentaries also. I really like doing something else. The horror movies, it was pure chance. I was made an offer. I even have to confess I don’t really like horror movies, I just like making movies. Sounds like a paradox, but that’s the way it is.
One of my greatest influences is Hitchcock – he also didn’t do horror movies, though Psycho is considered one.
Hitchcock offers more inspiration than old Japanese ghost movies?
Inspiration comes from all over. My last work The Complex was indeed inspired by a Swedish movie Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson). When you see The Complex, you’ll understand what I mean.
You mean loneliness?
Yes. Today, people are drifting further apart. Isolation, affecting the Japanese life, leaves much room for ghosts to act.
• Born 1961, in Okayama
• Director of 17 movies, Ring (1998), Ring 2 (1999 and 2005), Dark Water (2002), and Chatroom (2010) being the best known
• Three movies of his have spawned at least one new version: Ghost Actress (1996, USA 2009), Ring (1998, South Korea 1999 and USA 2002) and Ring 2 (1999, USA 2005, also being director)
• The last movie, The Complex, comes to Japanese cinemas in May