Japanese Horror vs. Hollywood Adaptations – A Comparison
Updated: Apr 10
If you’ve read my Horror Films That Don’t Keep Me Up At Night blog post from a few months ago, you already know that I’m a giant baby when it comes to horror films. You’ll also know that one of my favourite horror films is The Ring (2002). For those of you who don’t know, The Ring is an American adaptation of the Japanese horror film Ringu (1998) Directed by Hideo Nakata and based on the novel Ring written by Koji Suzuki.
My love of The Ring has kick started a new obsession of mine which is Japanese horror films. It started with Ringu, I then moved onto Dark Water (2002) and Ju-on: The Grudge (2002). I’ve come to the realisation that the reason I am a fan of Japanese horror films but so afraid of Western horrors is due to cultural differences, don’t worry – I’ll explain.
So in order to explain my point fully, I’m going to take the films I mentioned earlier; The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water and compare key elements within them to their Japanese origin movies. These films also have a fair few sequels in both countries but to keep this simple I’m only going to discuss both country’s first film in the franchise.
So sit tight and keep an eye on your TV set…
Ringu (1998) vs The Ring (2002)
Directors: Hideo Nakata (JP) / Gore Verbinski (US)
Lets start by discussing the underlining plot of these films before we start comparing. Ringu/The Ring follows the story of a cursed video tape, a tape that contains cursed images that after you watch them have the ability to inexplicably kill you in “7 days…”. As this is an urban legend and teenagers are stupid in horror films, this legend and the tape spreads leaving a number of teenagers dead. One of these teenagers happen to be Tomoko (JP) / Katie (US) the niece of journalist Reiko Asakawa (JP) / Rachel Keller (US). Reiko/Rachel is now set on finding the origin behind this tape and if it really does kill you in…
Of course I’m going to leave out the obvious elements for example: one is set in Japan, one in Seattle, one contains American characters, the other Japanese characters, one is in English… you get the idea.
Which version did I find scarier? – The Ring (2002) US.
Ju-on: The Grudge (2002) vs The Grudge (2004)
Directors: Takashi Shimizu (JP) / Takashi Shimizu (US)
The strange thing about these two films is the fact that although both very different, they share the same director, a few actors and possibly even the same house set. The main plot of Ju-on: The Grudge/The Grudge goes as follows. A family comprised of a sick elderly mother, her son and his son’s wife move into a new Japanese home, the family hire a carer for their mother who visits daily to provide assistance. One day though, the company that provides carers cannot get hold of this particular worker so send a replacement carer to the house; Rika (JP)/Karen (US). Rika/Karen soon find out that this is no ordinary house upon finding a young boy taped up in a cupboard. The haunting’s don’t end there though, Rika/Karen as well as the whole family find themselves constantly faced with ghostly encounters who have the desire to scare and kill anyone involved with her home.
Which version did I find scarier? – The Grudge (2004) US.
Dark Water (2002) vs Dark Water (2005)
Directors: Hideo Nakata (JP) / Walter Salles (US)
Dark Water was probably tamest film out of the three as it’s a lot of build up for an almost anti climatic ending. As some of you will notice Dark Water (JP) shares a director with Ringu! The plot of Dark Water follows a recent divorcee Yoshimi (JP) / Dahlia (US) in the middle of a custody battle with her ex husband. Yoshimi/Dahlia must now find an affordable apartment for her and her daughter to live in or face losing custody. The pair find a dingy apartment that’s small and generally gross looking but decide to move in anyway. A few days in they find a leak in one of the bedrooms that day by day worsens and no matter how many times it’s reported to maintenance is not fixed. It is believed that the leak is coming from the apartment above although nobody has lived there for a while. One day, Yoshimi/Dahlia’s daughter Ikuko (JP)/Cecilia (US) explores the roof unattended. When her panicked mother finds her, Ikuko/Cecilia shows her mother that she has found a child’s backpack/satchel despite being told that there isn’t any other children living in their tower block. Ikuko/Cecilia asks to keep the bag but her mother doesn’t allow it and leaves it in lost and found. The bag however keeps showing up in unconventional ways along with a young girl in a raincoat which begins to arouse Yoshimi/Dahlia’s suspicion.
Which version did I find scarier? – Dark Water (2002) JP.
So comparing all 6 film watching experiences has made it clear to me that generally, the US remakes of these Japanese horror films usually contain more detail. Perhaps this is due to Western audiences needing everything wrapped up for them whereas Japanese audiences prefer for films to be left to the imagination. US remakes generally have more gore and scares in them – this doesn’t mean that the Japanese horror films aren’t scary though – simply that they use different tactics eg: suspension and mystery rather than cheap jump scares and special effects. All of these things add up to why I find myself loving Japanese horror over Western horror. I find it easier to watch as to me, it’s slightly less scary. Overall I enjoyed watching all of these films, even though I was pretty much watching the same film twice but one with subtitles! Let me know if you have any Japanese horror film suggestions for me!
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