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Faith and the Muse's Must-See J-Horror Film List

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Tue, Dec 22, 2009 at 12:45 PM

Last week, West Coast Sound spoke with Faith and the Muse's William Faith and Monica Richards about their new album :ankoku butoh: and were intrigued by the influence of J-Horror on their new music. We then asked the duo to send us a list of their recommendations from the genre, which you can read below. Check out the initial interview as well.

click to enlarge FAM_Meiji_shrine.jpg

By: Faith and the Muse (William Faith and Monica Richards)

We have been marveling at the explosion of J-Horror (hipster term for Japanese horror films) in recent years, not to mention the almost countless American remakes. From these films, many fans are now all too familiar with the Classic Yurei - the tormented ghost that seeks revenge on those who cross its path. Japan has one of the oldest traditions of ghost tales, even as far back as 1776, scholar and artist Toriyama Sekien attempted to categorize them in his illustrated series of collections of ghosts and spirits. But their origins can be found even earlier, and coincide with oral tales of Nature spirits - these are actually classic Goddess tales, found not only in Japanese Shinto belief, but in Celtic, Nordic and even Native American mythology - all the same foundation of the consequences that await when one messes with Nature.

J-Horror has its very own Nature Mother, with snow-white skin and unbelievably long black hair, the vengeful spirit of the Woman Wronged. Here are some movies we recommend:

Kwaidan (1964)

The classic anthology of four short films based on Japanese ghost stories. The visuals are fantastic and definitely a major influence on the movies that have followed over the last forty years. "The Woman of the Snow" was a very special one to me, a classic Goddess tale of a young woodsman that is allowed to live after his encounter with the Snow Maiden, as long as he adheres to her rule - that he never, ever speak of seeing her to anyone. Of course, he transgresses and must pay the price. Another all-too-familiar ghost story is "The Black Hair" - a samurai abandons his faithful wife for better prospects and a higher ranking marriage, only to return years later with regret. The house in overgrown and rundown, yet she is mysteriously unchanged, as she sits at her spinning wheel. The end is fantastic, as he awakens in the arms of her long-dead corpse and her flowing, growing and changing long black hair! And "Hoichi, the Earless", as a young blind musician is called to the court of a long-ago drowned dynasty - we watch him perform for them, as they slowly return to stone as the mists of the ages swirl about him.

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990)

One of our favorite all-time films, Dreams is made up of 8 vignettes, most of which have their foundation in Japanese myth and legend. While not necessarily a horror film per se, several of the shorts have a lurid air about them: "The Blizzard" tells of a group of men trying to get back to base camp after a blizzard took them by surprise; exhausted, they stop to rest for a moment, and begin to fall asleep -- a death sentence in such conditions -- and as the last of the group begins to drift off after a final futile attempt to rouse his comrades, a mysterious woman appears, laying a shimmering blanket over him, urging him to rest and sleep. The reveal in this tale is another influence on "The Woman of the Snow" on : ankoku butoh :. "The Tunnel" is another riveting tale, focused on a lone veteran walking along a quiet mountain road; approaching a long, dark tunnel; as he draws closer, a feral dog approaches and, snarling and growling, urging him into the tunnel (a classic sentinel-at-the-threshold mythological construct). As he comes out the other side, he is followed out by a solider in full battle fatigues, with a blue face, not aware that he is dead, addressing the man as his Commander. Subsequent to this, the lone veteran is forced to reckon with his past decisions in a most profound and terrifying manner. An excellent film, highly recommended.

Audition (2002)

With no specific mythological underpinning, Audition is a flat-out brutal horror film. Beginning as a simple tale of a widowed man in middle age getting past grieving for his wife, his son and friend begins to urge him on into dating. Not a strong candidate for working the singles bar scene, the son and his film producer friend concoct a scheme to hold a fake film audition in order for him to meet aspiring actresses and, with any luck, find someone to date. Suffice it to say, the scheme works, and our protagonist finds himself smitten with an alluring, young ballerina with a dubious past. In short order, we learn that something is indeed amiss, as he calls her and we cut to a shot of her sitting alone in a darkened room by the phone, head drooping, long, black hair framing her sallow, hanging face; as the phone rings, we see her mouth slowly pull up into a frightful grin, an eery portent of what is to follow (this shot actually produced a shudder out of me). The arc of the film is long and slow, but like any rollercoaster ride, the drop is more than worth the climb; the final scene in this film is at once horrifying and engaging -- you are tense and wincing all the way through it, but you cannot look away, no matter how much you might want to (and believe me, you want to). The antagonist in the film bears a slight similarity to some of the classic Yurei of lore, and some of the action suggests a thread of relation, but it is very subtle and you'd have to look for it to even draw the comparison; still, some distant shadows of this surface in "She Waits By The Well" on :ankoku butoh :

Shutter (2008)

The original came from Thailand in 2004, but this remake as a U.S./Japanese version is classically creepy. A strange young Japanese woman eerily appears in the road to a newly married American couple as they drive late at night, causing a car accident. The wife, having just moved to Japan to join her photographer husband, is swept into an Otherworldly atmosphere as she tries to get to the bottom of the woman's continuing appearances, and the secrets her husband is ultimately hiding. The last image of the film alone actually gave me nightmares. This movie delved into 'spirit photography' - where photos can harbor strange lights around the subjects to ghostly images of the dead - it was quite an influence in the "Tree Ghosts" photo on our : ankoku butoh : digipack.

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