Film School: Shiraishi Koji

Thanks this time to Twitter, I was fortunate enough to make contact with director Shiraishi Koji, whose horror films include the excellent Noroi, Kuchisake-Onna, Teketeke, and more.

Shiraishi-san graciously agreed to answer some questions via email. In the section that follows, my questions and Shiraishi-san’s answers are given first in English. Below that is the original Japanese.

It took a number of emails and the work of two translators to get this hammered out (as yours truly still doesn’t know Japanese), but it’s definitely worth it. Special thanks to AnMitsu for the translation, and Mami for help polishing the final English version.




AS: You have quite a long list of horror films in your portfolio. How do you define horror? What kind of horror films do you like, and what filmmakers inspire your own work?

SK: For me, horror is, above all, the genre that I am most asked to do for jobs. Also, it is SF and fantasy. And it is the body which can contain all the elements, including social issues, political problems, adolescence, friendship, family love, love, adventure, romance, action, violence, panic, mystery, suspense, tragedy and comedy, and musicals… I love various film genres, not just horror movies. So, considering the percentage of horror in total, it would be relatively a small portion. My favorite movies include Crazy Thunder Road and Phantom of the Paradise. I’ve never thought “I like this kind of horror,” so I will list the titles of some of my favorite movies that come to mind. As for Japanese movies, Inugami no Tatari, Yatsuhaka-Mura, Horrors of Malformed Men, Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell; as for Western movies, The Thing, The Exorcist, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Unbreakable, C’est Arrive Pres de Chez Vous, Altered States, The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead 2, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Zombie, Irréversible, The Hitcher, Blue Velvet, Freaks, Seven, The Night of the Hunter, Angel Heart, Jacob’s Ladder, Lifeforce, Zombio, Videodrome, The Toxic Avenger, An American Werewolf, The Howling and so on…

I can’t choose just one director who influenced me most, since I was influenced by various films and directors. In my case, I can’t think of any one person. I think I got entertaining film elements, like exciting and thrilling ones, from Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi, Brian de Palma, John Carpenter, James Cameron, Okamoto Kihachi, and Fukasaku Kinji. In terms of horror, I think the images that I have in my mind would be Nomura Yoshitaro, David Lynch, and Dario Argento. In terms of the supernaturalistic worldview, the influences from the works by two master manga authors, Morohoshi Daijiro and Umezu Kazuo are very deep. As for the techniques of fake-documentary, I was influenced by the film C’est Arrive Pres de Chez Vous and the techniques of Japanese TV variety shows. In the case of a narrative film, the frequent use of holding a camcorder is influenced by Lars von Trier. Also, as far as entertaining by constructing an elaborate film cut (for example, trying to show non-one cut scenes as single cuts), Brian de Palma is very influential, although his elaboration looks very different from mine. I just want to entertain audience members by using techniques as much as possible. In terms of violence and humor, I’m influenced by the early works of director Kitano Takeshi and his variety shows that he did as Beat Takeshi. Regarding those parts of my films that avoid sugar-coating bad things [lit., “dislike fake goodness”], influences are from TV shows like the Hissatsu series and various works of Kudo Eiichi. The models for drawing human perspectives are directors Lee Chang-dong and Abbas Kiarostami. And about the most central part of a movie, i.e. to pursue romanticism [here meaning something like a deeply-held dream or goal], the most influential work is Crazy Thunder Road.

AS: Some of your films are based on urban legends (Teketeke, Kuchisake-Onna). Why do you use this material in your films?

SK: It’s because I was asked to do it and it was the project. It was not my idea. The person who planned it was a producer. The producer usually creates such a project thinking that viewers find it easier to deal with or are interested because they know the characters, in other words, more people go to the cinema if a movie is created with known and popular characters. I myself am not so interested in urban legends per se. Rather, I am more interested in creepy murders, missing cases, and unresolved crimes with a lot of mysteries.

AS: The supernatural is a big part of most of your work. Can you tell us about your own views on the supernatural (ghosts, etc.)?

SK: The ghost is, in the end, originally a human and [its] existence is too easy. So, for me, it is not something that I am interested [in] to draw [on] in my films. I think it is not so fun to draw ghosts in movies. What I am interested in is a world that human values can never understand, and that’s why it is so scary. So, naturally I tend to lean on the world of the Cthulhu Mythos. I feel the romanticism in the unknown world or presence that cannot exist in this world and I feel it is worthwhile for the movie. To create a movie, by finding and picturing the value in something not valuable in society, I think the movie shines. The supernatural thing can correspond with this, which I think is worthwhile for movies.

AS: Many of your films, although scary, also include a lot of humor (which I really appreciate). I loved to see you and Kiyoshi Kurosawa playing yourselves in Okaruto—it was funny, and it also made me feel like I was included in the joke. Why do you choose to include so many comedic elements in your films?

SK: I did not mean to include humor intentionally. But, since human beings are comical by nature, maybe that’s why it turns out like this. Since the [purpose of a] movie is to visualize and auditorily create the world which the filmmaker feels; I think I see and hear the world as scary and comical. By the way, the appearance of director Kurosawa was not a joke; I was just trying to make it real.

AS: Noroi is one of my very favorite horror films. Many people say that found-footage horror is passé, but in Noroi it works really well, with some genuine scares, and also some genuinely interesting and sympathetic characters. Can you talk a little about the inspiration for the film’s story? Specifically, I’m very interested in the Kagutaba legend depicted in the film. Is Kagutaba based on any existing stories, or is it totally fictional?

SK: I’m afraid I can’t say anything about Noroi.

AS: While a few of your films have been distributed in the West, many have not. Do you have plans to make your films available in the West?

SK: As far as I know, there is no plan. That’s a shame. In Japan, it is difficult to make a living by making movies, because the budget of many of them is too low and the salary is also low. Only a handful of directors who keep filming major films can make enough for a living. I am not in that position. For that reason the core of my films will tend to reflect that reality. So, I would like to work in foreign countries and be successful. But I can’t speak English at all, so I need to study. But, I do not have enough time and money for that. That kind of cycle continues. I’ve got to do something about that.

AS: Would you like to say anything to your fans outside of Japan?

SK: I will do my best to make movies even better and more fun in the future. Please wait for it!

Original Japanese(日本語原文):
AS:これまで白石さんが製作された映画には多くのホラー映画がありますが、白石さんにとって「ホラー」とは何を意味しますか?そして、どのような ホラー映画がお好きですか?また、どの映画製作者(監督)から、最も影響を受けましたか?


「こういうホラーが好き」というのはあまり考えた事がありませんので、思いつくままにタイトルを挙げると、邦画なら『犬神の悪霊(たたり)』『八つ墓村』『江戸川乱歩全集 恐怖奇形人間』『吸血鬼ゴケミドロ』、洋画なら『遊星からの物体X』『エクソシスト』『ジョーズ』『未知との遭遇』『アンブレイカブル』『ありふれた事件』『アルタ―ドステーツ』『死霊のはらわた』『死霊のはらわた2』『悪魔のいけにえ』『悪魔のいけにえ2』『ゾンビ』『アレックス』『ヒッチャー』『ブルーベルベット』『フリークス』『セブン』『狩人の夜』『エンゼルハート』『ジェイコブス・ラダー』『スペースバンパイア』『死霊のしたたり』『ビデオドローム』『悪魔の毒々モンスター』『狼男アメリカン』『ハウリング』……などなどです。


AS: 白石さんの映画のなかには都市伝説(テケテケ、口裂け女等)に基づいたものがありますが、なぜ都市伝説を映画の中で用いようと思ったのでしょ うか?


AS: 超自然的なものが、ほとんどの作品のなかで大きな部分を占めているようですが、超自然的なもの(例えば幽霊など)に対する、白石さん個人の見 解をお聞かせ願えないでしょうか?


AS: 白石さんが製作される映画の多くは、怖いながらも、多くのユーモアにも溢れているように思います(その点については、個人的に非常に気にいってい ます)。 映画『オカルト』では白石さん自身と、黒沢清監督も出演されておられましたね。非常に面白く拝見し、またこれも白石さんのジョークの一つであると 感じたの ですが、なぜホラー映画のなかに多くの喜劇的要素を組み込もうと思われたのでしょうか?


AS:『ノロイ』は私の大好きなホラー映画の一つです。ファンド・フッテージ・ホラーはもう古いと言っている人が多いようですが、映画『ノロイ』では、これが非 常に効果的に使われているように思います(身の毛もよだつ瞬間や、大変興味深く、つい自分が入り込んでしまうような登場人物の存在があってこそだと思うの ですが)。この映画『ノロイ』の話の展開について、どこからインスピレーションを得たのか教えていただけないでしょうか?特に、私が気になっているのは、 映画で描かれていた「禍具魂」の伝説についてです。「禍具魂」の基になるような話があるのでしょうか?それとも、白石さんの創作でしょうか?


AS: 白石さんの映画の多くは、西洋では流通していません。いずれ欧米でも白石さんの映画を入手可能にするような計画はありますか?


AS: 日本の外にいる白石さんのファンたちに何か一言ありますか?


“Kuchisake-onna 2” (AKA “The Scissors Massacre”) (2008)

Another short review, because there’s less going on here than in some other films. What do I mean by that? Only that this is a fairly straightforward story of tragedy, which precipitates the “birth” of a vengeful ghost. There’s not much plot to analyze–but in this case, that may be a good thing.

If you’re not familiar, Kuchisake-Onna is a wicked-cool, terrifying yokai (roughly, monster) or yuurei (ghost) from Japan. I’m really not sure which classification makes most sense. While my significant other happens to be Japanese, she’s understandably noncommittal on issues of evil spirit cataloguing.  So I’ll refer any interested parties to the incredibly excellent blog of Mr. Zack Davisson. I don’t believe Zack D. has posted anything about Kuchisake-Onna yet, but he’s the go-to guy for this stuff.

The name “Kuchisake-Onna” is usually rendered as “Slit-Mouthed Woman” in English. Kuchisake-onna 2 is the (sort of) sequel (or prequel, I guess) to Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Womana mediocre (but watchable) horror film from 2007. I say “sort of” because the characters are different, the plot is totally unrelated, and the atmosphere is so completely unlike that of the first film that you’d never know they were related if not for the titles and the prominent roles of women whose mouths happen to be, er, slit.

“Urban legend” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in pop culture, thanks primarily to folklorist Jan Brunvand. More often than not, today folklorists use the term “contemporary legend” instead, because they’re very often not urban at all, and the whole point is that they’re set in the recent past (as opposed to the more conventional concept of a legend as a story set in historical times, but at a considerable remove from the present).

The contemporary legend of Kuchisake-Onna is fairly simplistic (and fairly terrifying). You meet a woman–on the road, in a public (but deserted) place–wearing a surgical mask. This is not uncommon in Japan, where people often wear masks if they’re sick so as not to spread nasty bacterial death to the folks around them. But this woman asks, “Watashi kirei?” (“Am I beautiful?”) Then she removes her mask, revealing a horribly disfigured mouth that stretches ear to ear (think Heath Ledger’s Joker and you’re halfway there).

Kuchisake-onna as she appears in the first Carved film.  (Japanese Tattoo Goods)

Regardless of how you respond, you’re gonna get cut–unless, of course, you answer “pomade,” a seemingly nonsensical response which abler minds than I have analyzed.

Kuchisake-onna 2 really has nothing at all to do with the first film, except that (eventually) there’s a woman with a slit mouth who kills some folks. But in this case, the seeming disconnect is actually kind of interesting. The film basically posits the existence of multiple kuchisake-onna, which I think is pretty neat. Here she is in the second film (sorry for the low-res screen capture):


It’s not the same person at all. The two kuchisake-onna are two totally different women with very, very different stories–a notion that is surprisingly innovative in the face of a fairly well-established tradition.

I wouldn’t call this a great film, but it’s very watchable. It’s also very slow, so don’t go in expecting a bloodbath (there’s some blood, but it’s nothing compared to most American genre flicks). The horror-y stuff really doesn’t come in until the very last section of the film (maybe the last half-hour or so), but it’s still an interesting contribution to the Kuchisake-Onna mythos. More than that, it’s totally tragic, so if you’re into unrequited love and hand-wringing and frowny faces, this is for you. Poor Masumi-chan is one of the more tragic figures I’ve seen in a scary movie in some time, which makes the ultimate appearance of the murderous slit-mouthed woman all the more unnerving.