More than just a grudge
Focusing on the origin of Japanese movies that were a huge part of ushering in 21st-century horror, The J-Horror Virus sets out to document the core themes at the centre of this important movement in cinema. Although it touches upon traditional ‘Japanese horror’, the specifics of the term itself are expanded on rather than tied down, tracing inceptions (or viruses) to the early ’90s rather than Tartan Video colloquialisms. Although the specific pinpointing may frustrate those more conversant in J-Horror, filmmakers Sarah Appleton and Jasper Sharp set out to deliver an array of interviews — from scholars to native actors and directors — that tap into exactly what the subgenre is.
The interviews themselves — including the original Sadako, Rie Ino’o, and director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse) — provide an excellent commentary; from the offset director Mari Asato (Ju-On: Black Ghost) lending a thoughtful perspective to the wider context of horror:
In my opinion, horror is when everyday life is suddenly taken away. It could possibly be
a ghost, which is usually invisible to the eye. Our normal daily routine of eating, sleeping,
waking and spending time with family suddenly ends one day. I think that is the fear we
humans have in our hearts.
It is in these prosaic details where J-Horror hides and then manifests itself; Appleton and Sharp guiding us through the themes of vengeful spirits that have crossed over into a material world on the cusp of a new wave in technology. For those new to this (brief) movement in filmmaking, it becomes more and more clear in the documentary that the texture of these films — Appleton incorporating viral glitches and analog pulses in her editing — is an integral part of J-Horror's DNA. This remains a crucial part of the conversation throughout, as well as the cross-referencing of other storytelling (that leaves the ghosts behind), proving that it’s not all about grudges and raven-haired monsters.
Aficionados and connoisseurs of physical media may already be aware that both Appleton and Sharp are well-known among the boutique labels. Over the years, Jasper — who also lends his voice to the documentary — has brought some of the best releases of Japanese cinema to the West via Arrow Films. Sarah, following up on her collaboration with Phillip Escott in 2021’s The Found Footage Phenomenon, is also a major contributor to the boutiques, having a huge array of special features and other documentaries behind her. Although, at times, The J-Horror Virus may feel like a boutique feature (and that’s certainly not a bad thing), its strengths are in what it accomplishes with such a small independent group of passionate filmmakers who are integral not just to keeping physical media alive but educating audiences and inspiring upcoming documentary filmmakers.