Japanese horror director Hideo Nakata, best known for terrifying audiences by bringing the vengeful demon Sadako through a television set in the smash-hit movie Ring, wants to make a romantic comedy.
Spine-chillingly claustrophobic, Nakata’s new release revolves around a troupe of actors haunted by an evil mannequin, marking something of a departure from his previous works.
“Traditionally in J-horror, a ghost — something which isn’t supposed to exist — appears faintly as an apparition behind you, often out of focus,” the 54-year-old said in an interview.
“Like Sadako in Ring: when the TV gets turned off, you see her reflection on the blank screen but when you turn around she’s not there.”
In his latest offering, the object of fear is a life-size doll being used as a prop in a theatre.
“Japanese people used to decorate their homes with ornate dolls and you’d hear stories of the doll’s hair growing or its head moving slightly,” Nakata explained.
“People would talk about dolls being possessed by spirits.”
Perhaps inevitably, Nakata will always be remembered for the pallid, lank-haired Sadako of the 1998 masterpiece Ring, which triggered the global J-horror boom.
The blood-curdling scene in which the ghost climbs out of the disused well her body had been dumped in and drags herself through the TV screen to stare murderously at her victim helped the movie rake in $100 million at the box office.
“I liked the idea of using the simplest of electrical appliances as the window from which Sadako, who existed only on a videotape, emerges from Hell and comes alive.”
Nakata, who subsequently directed the Hollywood sequel to Gore Verbinski’s 2002 version Ring, thinks J-horror’s popularity overseas is partly down to western audiences growing tired of gory violence.
“American cinema-goers were more used to zombies attacking people,” he said. “Maybe, it was a reaction to the extreme splatter movies of the 1980s and 90s, where the object was biting people to death. Maybe that sparked the interest.”
Likewise for Nakata, the western horrors that stood out for him as a kid growing up were those that terrified viewers without resorting to stomach-churning gore.
“I went to school in the 1970s and films like The Exorcist, The Omen and Suspiria were must-see movies,” he said.
“But I didn’t enjoy films like the Evil Dead as much, with all its grotesque cruelty,” he added, referring to Sam Raimi’s supernatural cult favourite.
“It just feels too fake if there is too much blood,” Nakata added.
“In Ring I tried to keep the blood to a minimum — I think there was just a bit of congealed blood around the fingernails, that was it.”
Nakata believes the creepy ghosts made famous by himself and contemporaries such as Juon (Grudge) director Takashi Shimizu should elicit sympathy as well as terror.
“There is always a battle between good and evil and Christian morals at the heart of scary films made in the West,” he said.
“Japanese ghosts like Sadako are demons, yes, but when she was alive she was treated abominably and suffered terrible abuse before she died.
“She now possesses the power to curse or kill people, but she’s not pure evil. There’s room, on an emotional level, to feel sorry for her.”
Nakata insisted that his future remains in horror, despite a desire to cast off the shackles and make a romantic comedy.
“The late Wes Craven once told me: don’t do more than two horror movies,” he said. “But I guess it’s my destiny.
“I want to do something like The Intern (starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway),” he laughed.
“But horror is an indestructible genre and as long as there are people out there who want to be scared to death, I’ll keep striving for new ways to scare them.”