Saturday, June 16, 2007


(Hideo Nakata and the Hollywood Game)”

A good movie from Hollywood is like a ghost: you hear about them, but you hardly (if ever) actually see them.
Hideo Nakata… now he’s a man who knows his ghosts.
I’m sure you know the story.

The cursed videotape. Sadako of the long black hair, whose unquiet spirit lives in a well, who emerges from television sets to literally scare her victims to death.
I’m talking, of course, about Ringu, Hideo Nakata’s chilling adaptation of a Koji Suzuki novel, a movie which single-handedly ignited the Asian horror film scene, paving the way for film-makers from Korea (Kim Ji-woon, Park Ki-hyung), Hong Kong (Kuo-fu Chen, Pou-Soi Cheang), Thailand (the Pang brothers), and Nakata’s homeland, Japan (Norio Tsuruta, Takashi Shimizu), to strut their spectral stuff on the silver screen.
The boom was so resounding, it was heard all the way in Hollywood, which has gone on a feeding frenzy, purchasing English-language remake rights to even the most lame and tepid of the recent entries.
Thus far, there’ve been two Rings (the second brilliant, the first not)*, two Grudges (both ultimately disappointing), a Dark Water (brilliant), and a Pulse (again, brilliant), with more still ‘round the corner: The Eye, One Missed Call, Mirrors (from Korea’s Into The Mirror), and the long-in-development redux of Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters).**
Even Sigaw is being remade as The Echo, with Jesse Bradford (of Bring It On and Swimf@n) in the lead role.

This entire redux frenzy can largely be traced back to Nakata’s door.
With low budgets and simple stories, Nakata is able to infuse the screen with atmosphere and character, two things Hollywood has difficulty grasping. He expertly crafts confidently-paced tales, exploring themes of abandonment and betrayal and love, of the elusive power and nature of the feminine. All this, and he scares the hell out of us too. What more could you ask for?
Directors of the caliber and talent of Walter Salles (who directed the Dark Water remake) and Jonathan Glazer (see below) interested in revisiting his work: surely this must be a strong testament to the integrity and craftsmanship of the originals. Sadly, it’s these same characteristics that evaporate into the rarefied, climate-controlled air of the multiplex when the remake is particularly clumsy and inept.

There is also the inherent problem of the test screening.
The release date for Salles’ Dark Water was bounced around a lot due to the issues raised by unsatisfactory test screenings, which forcibly reshape a film, sometimes even changing its ending to better suit the audience’s tastes. (Famously, films like Fatal Attraction and Pretty In Pink had their endings revised due to this process.)
More and more, a Hollywood film is Art by Committee, if you can still even call it “art” when the final fate of a film is left in the hands of test audiences across America.
Subjected to this process, a film becomes a cold, calculated thing, designed to cater to the least common denominator, engineered to take the particular form of its essential self that would probably rake in the greatest amount of cash. It’s sickening. I’m sure Hideo Nakata didn’t approach Ringu like that.
But such is the beast called Hollywood.

Other Asian directors have tried: Peter Ho-Sun Chan directed The Love Letter (with Kate Capshaw), before returning to Hong Kong and establishing a production company instrumental in the making of Gin Gwai (The Eye), and pan-Asian horror anthology, San geng (Three, where his elegiac “Going Home” is contained), as well as its sequel, Three… Extremes.
Whatever his reasons, Chan walked away from Hollywood.
We can only hope that Nakata, fascinated as he is by water (a recurring image in his films), can expertly navigate Hollywood’s turbulent seas; for his English-language films to ultimately have the same distinctive stamp of his earlier works (and The Ring Two was a fine start).
Perhaps then, on the inside, he can help subvert the establishment, and show Hollywood just how to catch those ghosts.

Parting shot: Since The Ring Two, Nakata’s name was floated in connection to the remakes of The Eye (ultimately landing in the directorial hands of David Moreau and Xavier Palud) and The Entity (the based-on-a-true story film of a woman who is repeatedly raped by an invisible presence), as well as an adaptation of Japanese suspense novel Out.
While things went back and forth on those projects, Nakata directed Kaidan back in Japan, and is currently at work on the Death Note prequel, L (much to my consternation; see Afterthoughts (5): Archive April 2007).
Recently, he’s been reported to have reunited with Ringu producer—as well as his co-writer on the script for Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water)—Taka Ichise, to tackle Inhuman, a horror movie pitch made by Eric Heisserer, loosely based on a Japanese murder case.

* Nakata brought to the Dreamworks sequel the slow, measured tread and creep so blatantly absent from Gore Verbinski’s slick The Ring, which was crippled even further by an unnecessarily busy script by Ehren Krueger.

** And though not a horror movie the way the others are, Nakata’s Kaosu (Chaos), a film with Hitchcock’s shadow long and dark over it, with its twists and turns and reversals, was once also being considered for the remake treatment by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth).

(The above article is a revised version of a piece previously published under the same title.)

(Image courtesy of

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