I have no idea how obscure NOROI is compared to other Japanese horror films. I assume its fairly mainstream, but I’m not an expert on Japanese horror nor involved in any of the Western subcultures that have grown up around Japanese media. I’ve chosen to post NOROI today for its quality alone. Otherwise, the only Japanese horror films I’ve truly enjoyed and respected have been the original PULSE and some definitely more obscure pinku films (see link below). I’m sure I’d find more to love if I dedicated some more time to them, but that will have to be a project for another year.
NOROI is a “found footage” horror film and I generally hate that trend in horror. It worked for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, but its overuse has, in my opinion, detracted from part of what makes horror films great: the evocation of atmosphere and a sense of place. Found footage horror tends to focus on the action of characters and relies too heavily upon the gimmick to provide a “realistic” foundation for its subject. At this point it is more likely to detract from that “realism” as it has become cliched and thus a reminder of the artifice involved in production.
NOROI manages to use “found footage” while also developing a very strong sense of atmosphere and place. It is much closer, actually, to the geography-bound horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft than many of the movies that claim to be directly based on Lovecraft. Like Lovecraft’s best work, NOROI develops a complex mythology hinting at realities beyond the camera’s frame and the characters’ knowledge. As in Lovecraft, the measured revelation of new knowledge is a source of dread for both the characters and the viewer.
From the small amount of research I’ve done, critics were both appreciative and critical of NOROI’s complex narrative. Apparently this complexity is what makes it stand out from most contemporary J-horror. What some critics describe as “confusing,” I would describe as involving. I’m a fan of movies that take me on a journey. I want to be transported into areas of experience that I am unfamiliar with and I treasure the process of getting there. NOROI, for me, is an “epic” horror movie. It takes the viewer through many different time periods and locations and truly gives the sense of having lived the events depicted. Some television directors have described contemporary TV series as being like “novels” in the way that they develop. It’s a fair comparison for a television story told in “chapters”. NOROI also manages to feel like a novel but does so within the time restraints of a feature film. I consider this a greater accomplishment.
Finally, I can honestly say that NOROI scared me…or at least made me feel a strong sense of dread. This is rare for me. I watch a lot of horror films and one begins to become hardened. In fact, I don’t even watch horror films anymore in order to be truly scared. There are other things I enjoy about them. Nonetheless, when a film succeeds at scaring me, I have to give it some extra credit. I realize that this is something most people want from their horror and, judging by reviews on IMDB and elsewhere, NOROI does the trick for quite a few people. If you want to be scared by a movie you find on my blog, NOROI is probably the best choice for you (at least this year).
If you’re looking for something more obscure or strange, I’m including a link below to an article I did for Network Awesome about the truly bizarre, Cronenberg-ish pinku film called NAKED BLOOD (1996). I can’t make it a featured film on my blog because the link to the film is broken, but the essay I wrote about the film is still up and you can likely find NAKED BLOOD streaming somewhere out on the internets if you try hard enough.