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12/26/2003

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zod

"Has, likewise, the too-gruesome-to-watch horror method -- Natural Born Killers, Reservoir Dogs, you name it -- become and remained a popular element of western entertainment?"

I'm guessing you haven't heard of Takashi Miike and his ilk. Splattercore is just as popular, if not more so, in Japan as it is in North America.

san

I'd always separated the two genres, horror and splattercore, in Japan, and considered the latter to be strictly niche compared to the popularity of paranormal horror. But it's a good point: the market for gore is there, but is it perceived to be as popular a selling point as over here? Is it fetish or merely preference?

san

How about this? Is Manhunt the reflection of the fetish interest's of some western designers at Rockstar North? Or is it all shock value? As in, what can we do to top GTA?

Skwirl

I wouldn't consider Natural Born Killers, nor Resevoir Dogs part of the horror genre. While the films can be shocking at times, there main purpose isn't to scare you. Natural Born Killers is closer to a(n extremely) dark comedy, while resevoir dogs is an ensemble drama.

JohnHummel

I personally don't consider "Manhunt" to be a "horror" game in the same way people would consider "Resident Evil" or "Fatal Frame" a "horror" game.

"Manhunt" seems more intent on "shock" value, perhaps with a little scare with the feeling of being hunted. In many ways, while you are the hunted, you are also the hunter, which brings it's own rush of adrenaline.

In "Fatal Frame" (I haven't played 2 yet - but with my Christmas Gift Certificate to Circuit City, it's comin' home soon!), the game is more about fear and terror. Being alone, wondering if this corner will be the one with something waiting to end your life in a wail of neverending pain - or if it lurks beyond the corner.

Odds are, knowing me, I wouldn't be afraid playing Manhunt, unless it offered the same quality of gameplay as, say, "Thief II", one of the few games that could give me that terrible thrill of being hunted. Not many games have been able to capture it the way "Thief" did.

san

I would advance the argument that both our friend Secret Skwirl and John are correct in excluding "Manhunt" (I'm using quotes, people; I can't stand typing all those tags into comments) from the genre we call "horror" in both film and i.e. -- interactive entertainment; otherwise, known, of course, as video games. But, I would say "Manhunt" and the films mentioned are horror stories but not "horror" stories, a horror story being anything that is horrific or elicits a horrified reaction; "horror" stories being things that belong to a genre, genres by nature being somewhat loosely defined; but categories are sometimes helpful if not necessary to evaluation.

Is "Manhunt" a "horror" game. Probably not. Is Fatal Frame 2 a "horror" game. Yes and yes, both of the genre and eliciting the reaction. But still "Manhunt" may qualify as a horror experience: the game that most scared me -- hardly one we would call a horror game -- was the original "Doom"; dashing around the corner and I would literally spring from my seat when I ran into whatever that was. That being said, I went out yesterday and bought "Manhunt", at KB Toys no less. They were -- and may still be -- having a pre/post-Christmas 20% sale on *all* video game software and hardware, but I was thinking, No way a boutique toy shop in a conservative suburban Texas mall will carry "Manhunt", yet there it was. Having paid $40 instead of $50 for the game, I dug through a bin and found a Sony PS2 headset and got to pay only $24 for that -- at those prices, I just had to have the full experience that includes headset support. The downside is that I didn't feel comfortable spending another $50 on Fatal Frame 2 -- not in stock at KB Toys; thus I'm one game short of my comparison piece (and also a game short of one I'd like to have in my collection, and one my wife would actually play with me).

In the event, we'll at least have Jane's impressions versus mine. Or if I can scare up $50 -- 5GB Mac iPod for $150 going once, going twice -- we'll have the full comparison twixt "Manhunt" and "Fatal Frame 2".

As for the films, "Natural Born Killers" and "Reservoir Dogs", I found them both horrific experiences, but not horror genre films; and they both likely have more in common with "Manhunt" than any horror genre video game. "Ensemble drama" is an apt description as any for "Dogs"; although, I would contend that "Killers" was an extremely dark satire, not dark comedy, and to me on that point there is a wide margin of difference.

eli

"And is that changing, somewhat, with the success of the American remake of Ringu and other "thinker" horror films; even bloody enough films like the Final Destination and I Know What You Did Last Summer franchises play up, play better, on the elements of psychological and paranormal suspense than the endless iterations of Friday the 13th and Halloween movies some of us grew up on."

Nonsense. Look at the Alien series: psychological suspense has been part of Western cinema for a long time. Before that you had Psycho, etc. Trying to shoehorn Western and Japanese ideals of horror into respective cubbyholes doesn't seem like a great idea, because as soon as you do, there'll be an exception to break the rule. Look at IMDB's top-rated horror movies from the 80s, when Friday the 13th was popular:

(ranking, name, year)
5 Shining, The 1980
23 Thing, The 1982
6 Aliens 1986
43 Evil Dead II 1987
24 Spoorloos 1988
41 Misery 1990

They're pretty much ALL psychological thrillers, with the exception of Evil Dead II which is hokey-horror. (Spoorloos was from the Netherlands but was remade here as The Vanishing in 1993.) And, Friday the 13th isn't even on the list...

san

I'm not trying to pigeonhole any further than current trends. In the 80s when I was in Japan, all the kids were doing the doo-wop 50s thing -- ducktails, motorcycle jackets, poodle skirts, etc. -- but now that has faded, or rather metamorphosed into a more unique mode that's not a carbon copy of Americana 30 years prior. So, when I ask, Are American tastes changing and is Japanese influence motivating some of that? I mean right now, this moment and not over the curve of decades.

From my work in criticism of Japanese literature I've discovered a deep fascination with the occult in Japan right now -- right now meaning over the past decade or so as in that field I live on translation time -- and I wonder if that's rubbing off over here. Fairly bloodless psychological suspense abounds in popular, mainstream fiction. And even Nobel laureate Oe's latest novel is inextricably intertwined with that sort of paranormal occult material -- though he's removed himself a step or two from the populist fashion.

"They're pretty much ALL psychological thrillers..." I'd agree with that to the extent I'm not sure why IMDB classified most of them as "horror" at all. I've not seen "Spoorloos" so I can't accurately say, but if "The Vanishing" were very faithful to the original, it was a straight suspense thriller with no element of "horror" as a genre. The others on the list have reason for putting them there that I think defy the whims of horror-genre devotees. "The Shining", you got King and Kubrick fans and with the latter, cinema snobs. "The Thing" brought in the science fiction crowd, as did "Aliens", also on that one, the Scott mavens and the sequel crowd. "Misery", again the King fans, Reiner fans -- if he has much of a dedicated following -- the film reviewed very well and it was something of a comeback for James Caan. In fact, I'd say that "Evil Dead II" is the only purely horror genre film on that list. And I wonder how the Friday the 13th films fared in aggregate.

I'm not arguing that psychological suspense isn't and hasn't been a huge part of American cinema, but I am proposing that paranormal psychological suspense may be, right now, slowly overtaking the slasher flick as the typical American horror movie.

waka

Two points:
First, I think that the reason we're having trouble classifying Manhunt is because we are using the term "horror." Obviously, Manhunt is horrific. That's the point. However, the difference between Manhunt and a game like Fatal Frame is that in FF, the horror revolves around the protagonist's safety, while in Manhunt it is derived not from implied threat but from explicit violence. Both are intended to scare the player, but Manhunt differs from the "horror genre" mold (including the previously mentioned horror cinema) because the frailty of the main character is not the main source for scares: we're more worried about what he will do, not what will be done to him.

Secondly, I've also noticed that the Japanese accept stories of suspense and the paranormal far more easily than people in the West. This does not particularly surprise me: the culture has a rich history of ghost stories and the like. Neither Buddhism nor Shinto require strict membership (so most people practice both, as appropriate), and both have tons of supernatural stories to draw on (some available in English, thanks to Lafcadio Hearn). I think that this cultural background makes it easier for the Japanese to suspend their disbelief about such things.

waka

san

Waka: *Very* well put. "Manhunt" is an I would never do that game, while FF is a That could be me game. Both are frightening. Both might qualify as horror genre because they are intended to elicit the feeling of horror. But the mechanism by which they achieve horror is entirely different.

And also, so true, true about the Japanese and the occult. Many Buddhist and Shinto; some Buddhist and Christian; very much due to the non-exclusive teachings of Buddhism. All of this allowing for a wealth of paranormal mythology to take root and grow into a rich tradition. I'm very interested academically in the renaissance of occult interest in Japan in the 80s and 90s, continuing into the new century; but, unfortunately, I'm not literate in any Japanese alphabet. I can, and have in the past -- though I've forgotten all of it for now -- taught myself to speak a little Japanese, but I've yet to devise a good plan for developing at least semi-literacy in the language. This impasse rather stunts my ability to do research, as I'm entirely dependent on translations -- which may take 10 years to get put away -- and on the conclusions and interpretation of other westerners who are literate.

waka

A lot of good Japanese horror and suspense is actually available in English. Here are some suggestions:

- Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.: This is a thin volume of classic Japanese ghost stories (Riki-Baka, Mimi Nashi Hoichi, Yuki Onna, etc) as translated by Lafcadio Hearn. This is an excellent little volume if you are interested in Japanese ghost stories. Don't pay the $72.00 listed in Amazon--they have some weird out-of-print version listed. The one I have is ISBN 4-925080-32-6, was reprinted in 2002, is 181 pages long, and cost about $10. You should be able to find this in the English section of your local Japanese book store if you live in a big city.

- Japanese Tails of Mystery and Imagination, by Edogawa Rampo. Rampo was one of the first Japanese authors to write Western-style mysteries and stories, and this book is a collection of a few of them. He also wrote a long series of incredibly complex detective mysteries, but as far as I know, this book is the only example of his work translated into English.

- Though far less useful academically, Kindaichi is a fun series of detective manga starring a young genius detective. This is sort of the manga distillation of Rampo's detective stories: the complexity is still there, but the stories have been organized so that they are fit for quick manga consumption.

- If you are interested in Japanese film, any book by Donald Richie would be excellent. I recommend A Hundred Years of Japanese Film.

- Finally, Haruki Murakami is a Japanese author who writes stories that are almost contemporary horror. I highly recommend The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, While his work is not easily classifiable, it is certainly full of fantastic and horrific events. The man is a genius.

As for learning Japanese: I must warn you that Japanese is quite difficult to learn to read. As a spoken language, Japanese isn't so bad: unlike English, the grammar is mostly consistent and there are very few special cases. The written language, however, is quite complicated, and will take a long time to learn. I've been studying the language for over ten years now, and while I am able to hold conversations comfortably, I still read at about a 3rd grade level. Some people pick up the written language much faster than I have, but the challenge is still significant.

I don't mean to deter you from studying, though. Japanese is such a great language, I highly recommend you take some formal classes if you are interested in learning.

waka

Philip

Just as a side note--Edogawa Rampo was the pen name of Hirai Taro. It is the Japanese transliteration of one of the name of one of the founders of American horror, Edgar Allen Poe.

waka


Yep. One of the nice things about Japanese Tails of Mystery and Imagination is that Rampo was actually involved in the translation of his own stories. The translator worked with Rampo (who could read English fluently) to make sure that the nuance of each line was correct. The result is a very high quality translation. I wish there was more of his work available in English.

waka

eli

"I'd agree with that to the extent I'm not sure why IMDB classified most of them as "horror" at all."

I would tend to agree, but if we classify Manhunt as horror, then we should hold movies to the same standard for the sake of comparison.

san

waka: an excellent bibilography and many thanks for composing it. Never fear that you'll disturb my study; I'm afraid that diving into Japanese enough to become near literate may wind up a retirement project.

eli: Yes, you're right: that's a bit of trying to have my cake and eat it, too. If we define "Manhunt" as horror, even through a somewhat fogged lens, I think we have to grant IMDB similar latitude to to include films that elicit horrorified reactions but may not immediately come to mind as horror genre films.

What may have foremost come from this discussion is the notion that horror as genre, be it in games, films, literature, what have you, is a moving target dependent on what is presently scary in the real-world sense for a particular society. During the Cold War, popular horror novelist Stephen King wrote a lot of his books with a back story heavy on ambiguous, super-secret and sinister government spy agencies operating projects that in some way crossed paths with his central characters. In the post-Cold-War 90s I think the western horror genre concentrated to a greater extent on the truly fantastical as opposed to the more concrete bogeymen of King's heyday.

Now, entering a new century, we've obviously just been given quite a real scare that has just barely begun to trickle into popular fictional media in concrete form, let alone the eventual abstractions that will lend models to other sorts of stories. Games will undoubtedly reflect what comes of this. Indeed, games may break ground in recognizing these events as part of our societal landscape. But I'm left to wonder just how, when and in what way turn-of-the-century events will become incorporated in all the varied flavors of western fiction -- fiction being in this modern day more or less our new mythology.

Karl

I think the problem people are running into here is an overbroad use of the term "horror" to include things that are not actually horrific, but would be better referred to as terrifying. (Side thought.. horror is to horrifying is to horrific as terror is to terrifying is to...?)

So Manhunt is a horror game.
FF is a terror game.

Unfortunately, these days, people tend to take "terror" as having soemthing to do with terrorism. Oddly, terrorism as we've seen doesn't really inspire terror so much as horror. We should be calling it horrorism.. go figure.

san

"(Side thought.. horror is to horrifying is to horrific as terror is to terrifying is to...?)"

We can probably simplify the logic of that statement a bit to: Terrorifying is to empathy as horrifying is to sympathy. That's not spot on, but in terror entertainment the object would be to feel as directly as possible the character's emotions via shared experience; where as in horror entertainment we respond -- we are horrified -- by the reaction, horror, of the character as we look on or observe what he experiences. Again, that's awfully vague -- best I can isolate at the moment.

And, yes, right now, unless we're talking about Counter-Strike or the like, to term a title "terror" entertainment would immediately mislead any audience of relatively singular mind, especially those easily influenced by the events of the moment.

Fred

"...the Ringu thing has caught on swell in that culture. Every other contemporary novel has a paranormal angle, either outright or very thinly veiled. Has, likewise, the too-gruesome-to-watch horror method -- Natural Born Killers, Reservoir Dogs, you name it -- become and remained a popular element of western entertainment? And is that changing, somewhat, with the success of the American remake of Ringu and other "thinker" horror films..."

The problem with that theory, is that paranormal and "spooky" elements have been steadily rising in US mainstream culture for about 10-15 years now, so it's nothing new. I'd put the "X-Files" as the real breakthrough there (although I personally trace it back to "Twin Peaks") -- before that any occult or paranormal elements automatically put you on the fringe. About that time you also started seeing Vampire fiction coming back into vogue. Seems like the only new (pen-n-paper) RPGs being introduced were horror-based (Vampire: the Masquerade, that series, and all it's imitators). Since at least the mid-90s, the Romance genre has been very heavy into horror elements and the paranormal. "The Blair Witch Project." "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

All spoken as someone who doesn't much like horror, it's rise in popular US culture has been pretty unescapable for quite a while now.

Now the point about the differing amount of gore could be interesting, but I think that's a completely separate variable, rather than an either-or with the psychological elements.

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