The monstrous child of Japanese horror film has become perhaps the most transnationally recognisable and influential horror trope of the past decade following the release of “Ring” (Hideo Nakata, 1999), Japan’s most commercially successful horror film. Through an analysis of “Ring”, “The Grudge” (Takashi Shimizu, 2002), “Dark Water” (Nakata, 2002), and “One Missed Call” (Takashi Miike, 2003), I argue that the monstrous children central to J-horror film of the millenial transition function as anomalies within the symbolic framework of Japan’s national identity. These films were released in the aftermath of the collapse of Japan’s bubble economy in the early 1990s — a period known in Japan as ‘The Lost Decade’— and also at the liminal juncture represented by the turn of the millennium. At this cultural moment when the unity of national meaning seems to waver, the monstrous child embodies the threat of symbolic collapse. In alignment with Noël Carroll’s definition of the monster, these children are categorically interstitial and formless: Sadako, Toshio, Mitsuko and Mimiko invoke the wholesale destruction of the boundaries which separate victim/villain, past/present and corporeal/spectral. Through their disturbance to ontological categories, these children function as monstrous incarnations of the Lacanian gaze. As opposed to allowing the viewer a sense of illusory mastery, the J-horror monster-child figures a disruption to the spectator’s sense of power over the films’ diegetic worlds. The child’s presence threatens symbolic wholeness, exposing a glimpse of the amorphous real: a fissure in the symbolic order which prevents the spectator from viewing the film from a safe distance. The frisson resulting from this sudden loss of mastery correlates with anxieties surrounding the child’s symbolic refusal to remain subordinated in its ‘proper place’ in contemporary Japanese society, particularly in response to the disintegration of secure narratives of progress in The Lost Decade.
Jessica Balanzateguim, University of Melbourne, Australia
This paper is part of the FilmAsia2013 Conference Proceedings (View)
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