Connor B. Malander
Department of History
December 8, 2010
THE RING AND THE GRUDGE: SUBVERSION OF CULTURE THROUGH EMPTINESS AND LONELINESS
THE Onryō’S QUEST TO DESTROY THE BOURGEOISIE
Hollywood; thoughts of the movie star and the next big feature film come to mind at the mention of it, but rarely does it evoke feelings of fear. The horror movie, on the other hand, does a fine job of evoking our fear responses in one form or another. Gore Verbinski’s The Ring and Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge, as well as their Japanese predecessors, Nakata Hideo’s Ringu and Ju-On by the very same Shimizu bring about feeling of fear American audiences just aren’t quite used to, and for good reason. The Ring and The Grudge aim directly at our sense of society’s basic structure and the very core of the bourgeois family archetype, bringing about our fear of the denial of death and a specter enacting vengeance upon the society (read: us) as its cause for torment. Where the American horror audience expects the unseen male monstrosity lurking in the dark, ready to strike; instead, they find a simple, relentless, female ghost who refuses death in the most traditional of senses, seeking only to destroy the lives and concepts of life of all those it comes in contact with, and with little or nothing to do to stop it from happening.
We will start with Hideo’s Ringu, as it is important as a jumping point to Verbinski’s American remake, The Ring; Ringu is the highest grossing horror film of all time in Japan, and for good reason. Hideo uses the local legend of a videotape that, after watching, causes death in seven days. Already, we can see Hideo hitting an important concept squarely on the proverbial head; death is timed, to the minute, and there is seemingly nothing you can do to change this. Our society is structured death as being something random; it occurs, we go through specific actions associated with death, and we do not expect another death until the next one occurs in what appears to be a completely random fashion. It is in the nature of the bourgeoisie to mourn death and then proceed with life as culture deems it appropriate. -------------------------------------------------
Verbinski’s remake was entirely essential because of the major cultural differences between Japanese and American moviegoers. American horror films are, for the most part, based on Gothic roots, whereas their Japanese counterparts are heavily influenced by the widely popular and well known tales of ghostly vengeance and morality in feudal Japan as well as Japanese mythology. 1
1. Tsai, P. "Horror translation: From Nakata Hideo's Ringu to Gore Verbinski's The Ring". M.F.A. diss., State University of New York at Buffalo ,2008 American horror films have long been obsessed with bodies. Sheer ghost stories are less dominant in the history of American horror films than in that of their Japanese counterparts. When briefly comparing American ghost-themed films with modern Japanese horror, Terrence Rafferty, a film critic from The New York Times, notes that “We don’t like enemies we can’t confidently define, much less see,” and “there are few equivalents in American movies to the seductive female revenants of the Japanese cinema”1
Enter the onryo, which for the sake of simplicity, we will define as a ghost seeking vengeance. Onryo are typically female, and are usually depicted dressed in a funerary white kimono, having flawless, pale skin, sunken dark eyes, and long flowing black hair. As an aside, interestingly, this is also a very typical description of a beautiful Japanese woman; let your interpretations run wild with that. What the onryo is isn’t the focus of this paper, however; it is what these onryo do and how they function that is paramount....