Over the course of the 2000s, there was an influx of western remakes of Asian horror movies that subsequently became known as the ‘J horror craze’, regardless of whether or not the original originated in Japan. Many of the most popular western horror franchises in the world today are such remakes and, in some cases, the western versions are part of the same universe as their Asian counterparts.
From the familiar long-haired yūrei to the plots morphed beyond recognition, some of the following ten examples are well-known, whereas others may come as a surprise.
The American three-film Ring franchise is one of the most famous victims of the J Horror craze. In fact, the first instalment (2002’s The Ring) is often credited with being the spark that ignited the trend. The successful series went on to release two sequels The Ring Two (2005) and Rings (2017).
Before there was any original film to be made at all, The Ring started out as a novel by Kôji Suzuki. It then went on to be adapted into a psychological horror film of the same name in 1998. Directed by Hideo Nakata, the original (as is the case in the remake) focuses on the story of a reporter who is tasked with investigating deaths caused by viewing a supposedly cursed video tape.
The popular Grudge series that first breached the Western world in 2004 is part of a huge twelve film franchise called Ju-On (three American, nine Japanese) created by filmmaker Takashi Shimizu.
All films in the Ju-On series – including the American releases – are part of the same universe in which a woman is murdered in a fit of extreme jealousy by her husband, along with their son and his pet cat, leaving the family home cursed by their spirits. Anyone who comes into contact with the curse is subsequently killed, and so it is able to spread.
2005’s Dark Water, directed by Walter Salles, is yet another tale that originally sprung from the mind of novelist Kôji Suzuki. The film itself is a remake of the original Japanese adaptation released in 2002.
As the remake stays true to, the original follows the story of a mother and daughter who move to a new apartment following a custody battle. The run-down environment in which they subject themselves to becomes even more unbearable when supernatural forces come into play and a strange water leak springs from the floor above.
In 2001, a Japanese film entitled Pulse (or Kairo) – directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa – was released. It would later be the subject of a Wes Craven and Ray Wright written remake in 2006. Kurosawa later adapted the script into a novel of the same name.
Pulse is an apocalyptic psychological thriller that follows a group of college students who stumble upon the abrasively named ‘Forbidden Room’ on the internet and are subsequently haunted by ghosts that are able to use it as a gate way into the real world. The people who have been exposed to the programme then start committing suicide in a variety of disturbing ways.
The Eye (2002) – or Seeing Ghosts – is the first instalment of a three-part Hong Kong-Singaporean horror film series directed by the Pang brothers. The film was remade a few times, in both Hindi and Tamil, before Hollywood got a hold of it in 2008.
The plot follows the story of a violinist that had been blind for the majority of her life, and an eye transplant she undergoes after receiving a pair from a donor. The transplant allows her to see into the spirit world and foresee gruesome deaths. It turns out that the donor had had the same ability, and had committed suicide after being driven away by fellow villagers who saw her more as a bad omen than someone they should trust.
Masayuki Ochiai’s Shutter (2008) originally started as a Thai production of the same name, directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom.
Released in 2004, the original – as is the case with the remade version – follows the story of a wedding photographer and his wife who are involved in a tragic accident which leads to the death of a young woman. Following the accident, he starts to find ghostly manifestations in his photographs.
Mirrors – the 2008 supernatural horror starring Kiefer Sutherland – was originally intended to be a straightforward remake of its South Korean counterpart, but instead ended up being morphed into an entirely new story with a new name.
In the 2003 original entitled Into the Mirror, the story takes place in a department store and follows a detective in his pursuit to uncover the truth regarding a string of gruesome deaths that occur within the store – deaths that all involve mirrors.
Yam Laranas, who directed 2008’s The Echo, also co-wrote and directed the Filipino original Sigaw in 2004. The original played a large part in the rising popularity of horror films in the Philippines. Iza Calzado also stars in both films.
The plot regards a man called Marvin who has recently moved into a new apartment that at first seems perfect for him. When the frequent domestic violence from down the hall becomes too much for Marvin to bear, he takes it upon himself to find out more about the couple involved. In doing so, he uncovers something that triggers a series of hauntings, cursing himself and his girlfriend in the process.
One Missed Call
One Missed Call (2008) started out as a Japanese horror film in 2003 under the same name, written by Minako Daira and directed by Takashi Miike. Again, the concept of the film was based on a novel by Yasushi Akimoto entitled Chakushin Ari.
Both the original and the remake revolve around the terrifying stories of people who receive voice-mails from their future selves which feature the disturbing sounds of them dying. Since the calls reveal the time and date of the prophesised death, protagonist Yumi Nakamura seizes the time and uses it to try and identify who or what is making the calls.
2009’s Uninvited originally started out as a South Korean film called A Tale of Two Sisters that was released six years earlier. The original film is the highest grossing Korean horror film, and it won Best Picture at the Fantasporto Film Festival in 2004, whereas the American remake was met by mainly negative reviews.
Written and directed by Kim Jee-woon, the original itself is inspired by a folktale from the Joseon Dynasty era known as Janghwa hongryeon Jeon. The film follows the story of two sisters – one a recently discharged mental patient who is forced to endure a series of unsettling events concerning her stepmother and the ghosts that haunt their house.
Some remakes of J-horror films have since become western classics, whereas others would have perhaps been better left untouched. Either way, remakes allow stories to break through the language and cultural barriers that may deter certain audiences. Is this a good thing, or does it just enable the curses to spread and ensnare more victims than ever?
Are western remakes good for story sharing, or do you think more people should just embrace the subtitles and leave J-horror be?