Nightmares from the Past: 'Kaiki eiga' and the Dawn of Japanese Horror Cinema

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Nightmares from the Past: 'Kaiki eiga' and the Dawn of Japanese Horror Cinema

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While the global popularity of Japanese horror movies of the past twenty years such as Ring (Ringu, 1998) and Ju-on: The Grudge (Ju-on, 2002) has made these films the subject of much academic attention, the previous nine decades of popular Japanese horror cinema remain an understudied area of film history. Known as kaiki eiga or "strange films," domestic horror movies based on classic Edo period (1603-1868) ghost stories, as well as imported pictures like Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), were a mainstay of commercial genre cinema in Japan from the silent era through the 1960s, and wielded an influence on the so-called "J-horror" pictures that achieved worldwide success at the turn of the millennium. This dissertation examines the history of kaiki as a category of popular film, the similarities and differences between kaiki and the English-language concept of "horror film," and the large body of kaiki cinema produced in Japan during the prewar and postwar era that has, until now, remained virtually unknown to Western scholarship. I trace the development of the kaiki aesthetic and the discourse of kaiki eiga in Japan and its relationship to American and European horror cinema as well as native traditions of the fantastic and grotesque. Attention is given to the role of actress Suzuki Sumiko, the nation's first horror movie star, in establishing the visual portrayal of kaiki monsters onscreen, and the work of the Shint?h? studio and director Nakagawa Nobuo, who brought the domestic kaiki film to the pinnacle of its critical respect and anticipated much of the style of the later J-horror pictures. The dissertation concludes with a brief look at the ways in which the kaiki genre influenced the J-horror movement, and the ways contemporary filmmakers like Kurosawa Kiyoshi retain kaiki elements like the vengeful spirit in the creation of the unique aesthetic known as J-horror.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2015. Major: Asian Literature, Culture & Media. Advisor: Christine Marran. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 295 pages.

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Crandol, Michael. (2015). Nightmares from the Past: 'Kaiki eiga' and the Dawn of Japanese Horror Cinema. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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