‘Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience’ (Ellis et al 2011)
In this blog, I will be analysing my narrated experience detailed in my previous blog post, which outlined my data collection regarding Japanese horror films and how it is structured by my own cultural framework.
The selection of my field site, Japanese horror movies, was based on an epiphany I had when I was a kid and spending a lot of time watching some horror movies from China, Korea and Japan. My first impression about Japanese horror movies is that they are very similar to East and South East Asian horror films. I think it is because there is some similarity in cultural tradition and religion, between Japan and other countries in the region, which is Buddhism. Besides, most of the Japanese horror movies that I’ve known and watched before are based on supernatural or paranormal stories and local folk tales in the past, which is exactly my favourite kind of horror movies. These are my initial experience with Japanese horror using autoethnographic methodology. As Ellis (et al, 2012) stated, “Doing autoethnography involves a back and forth movement between an experience and examining that experience in order to reveal the social and cultural context in which the experience occurs”.
As a Vietnamese, scary local folk tales seemed like a familiar thing to Vietnamese kids. And those scary stories told in Japanese horror films always trigger me and give me goosebumps whenever I hear about them. Buscher (2017) stated that “These folk tales began as oral tradition passed down from each generation to the next, and originate through the Shinto belief system that is indigenous to Japan. Like most mythologies, these stories were used to reinforce cultural norms and explain the enigmatic in a pre-scientific era’. One example of this is Kuchisake-Onna, a female ghost who are present throughout folk tales. Kuchisake-Onna was said to wander around wearing a medical mask and asks kids if she’s pretty. Then she either cuts the kid in half or slits their mouth depending on the child’s answer. In fact, there was a genuinely big scare in Japan in the 1970s that she was wandering about, to the point where teachers personally were escorting children home from school. (Bricken, R 2014).
Japanese horror haunts me in a way that no Hollywood horror movies can do. I think the main reason is that I am from the similar, if not the same, cultural and religious background with Japan. As mentioned in my other blog post, I am from Vietnam. Throughout my childhood, I had been exposed to various East Asian horror films. Therefore, I can relate more to these scary folk tales. That is why I feel more scared watching Japanese horror than Hollywood horror. As Oller (J, 2017) said, “Fears are cultural, so each culture has an evolving relationship with horror”. On the other hand, it always gives me goosebumps when it comes to looking at the scary figures in Japanese horror. I think Japanese are very talented in putting the scariest, yet the most aesthetic, art, in their movies. This is another thing that I believe no other cultures can do like Japanese. Oller (J, 2017) also stated: “Japan always puts out some of the most engaging genre art, sometimes in animation and sometimes in horror”.
One of the most widely-known Japanese horror film that I have seen is The Ring (Ringu). In fact, Ringu was drawing from long-standing traditions in Japanese art and film history, stretching back hundreds of years. The monster in the film was based on a Japanese legend in a local folk tale named Yuurei, a female ghost with a white face, long black hair, and a long white kimono that trails off into mist. Yuurei’s appearance symbolises how Japanese women looked when they were buried. Traditionally, Japanese women wore their hair tied up while living, but it was let down when they died. The body is dressed in a white kimono to show the purity of the person’s soul. The misty legs show that it is a spirit (Frey, M 2002). Ringu kicked off a rebirth of the Japanese horror film as a genre, spawning a whole series of “J-horror” movies, most of which were remade by Hollywood, including Juon (The Grudge), Kairo (Pulse) and many others. Vengeful Japanese spirits became big business.
Yourei ghost from the history of Japanese art
The way that I have come to understand more about Japanese art and the history of Japanese horror by reflecting on what I have found in my epiphanies will be utilised for my digital artefacts. These epiphanies have provided me with important insights about Japanese history and art during the process of learning about Japanese horror films.
Bricken, R 2014, ’14 Terrifying Japanese Monsters, Myths and Spirits’, Gizmodo, 1 October, viewed 20 September 2018, <https://io9.gizmodo.com/14-terrifying-japanese-monsters-myths-and-spirits-1498740680>.
Ellis, C, Adams, TE & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>.
Frey, M 2002, ‘Sadako’s Secrets: Explaining “Ringu” at the Asian Art Museum’, Jetaanc, Northern California, n.d, viewed 20 September 2018, <http://www.jetaanc.org/ringu/>.
Oller, J 2017, ‘A Brief History of Japanese Horror Movies’, Film School Rejects, 25 October, viewed 19 September 2018, <https://filmschoolrejects.com/brief-history-japanese-horror-movies/>.