Almost a decade ago, long before “torture porn” was a successful horror subgenre, director Hideo Nakata unleashed “Ring.” Not unlike the fatal images in the movie itself, “Ring” spread its brand of almost bloodless, atmospheric terror across the globe; Nakata himself tackled tinsel town to direct Naomi Watts in “The Ring 2.” Along with other franchises such as Takashi Shimizu’s “Ju-on (The Grudge),” the term J-horror became synonymous with scares. Now back making movies in Japan, Nakata tells The Japan Times about his latest film, “Kaidan,” which combines his love of melodrama and period films with the horror his name is so strongly associated with.
There have been more than 10 adaptations of Encho Sanyutei’s original story, including films by masters such as Kenji Mizoguchi and Nobuo Nakagawa. What made you want to make your own version?
Taka Ichise, the producer, offered me another project, and I somehow instantly came up with this idea. The story deals with a handsome but doomed young man who gets involved with five beautiful women, so basically I wanted to work with five beautiful actresses (laughs). Of course there are many other kaidan (ghost stories), but I chose this one because it’s mainly a love story with some horror elements.
It’s your first period film.
Yes. I’ve always loved jidaigeki (period dramas). When I was in college, I would watch classic movies, mainly chambara (samurai action films). I’m also an admirer of Nobuo Nakagawa’s ghost-story movies. I’ve wanted to direct period films since those days.
How did you manage to give the film its very classic feel without it coming across as old-fashioned?
I watched three classics — Sadao Yamanaka’s “Humanity and Paper Balloons,” Kenji Mizoguchi’s “The Crucified Lovers” and Kenji Misumi’s “Yotsuya Kaidan.” Surprisingly enough, the oldest film, by Yamanaka, was the most modern, with contemporary dialogue. That was a breakthrough moment for me. “Kaidan” is for people living in Japan in 2007. But production designer Yohei Taneda did a lot of research, and we hired a dialogue coach.
A lot of film adaptations of classic Japanese stories feel like genre movies, but Kaidan felt more like a horrific morality play.
If you watch noh theater, there are many stories where the main character is a female ghost. The protagonist is watching from beyond into the living world. She can’t touch her lover, but still feels passion and jealousy toward him. I wanted to do a similar thing.
How do you feel about your adventures in Hollywood and the whole “Ring” phenomenon?
It’s amazing that after this long people still refer to me as the director of “Ring.” At the time I made it, nobody thought it would be successful. I’m proud it’s still talked about, but now I would truly like people to refer to me as the director of “Kaidan” — a new phase for me. I wouldn’t mind making more interesting and really scary horror movies, but I’m not such a huge fan of the genre. I’d rather direct straight drama or melodrama. As for Hollywood, making “The Ring 2” was not an easy experience, but that’s what I wanted. In contrast, I really enjoyed making “Kaidan.”
You’re directing “Death Note”-spinoff “L.” What can you reveal about the project?
I can’t say a lot about the story, but “L” will have big action sequences, which is exciting for me. I’m also directing a remake of “The Entity” and another original script, by an American writer, called “Inhuman,” which will be shot in Tokyo.
Do you personally believe things can be cursed or haunted?
I was a science major in college and view unexplainable phenomena from a logical point of view. But during production of “Ring 2,” there were some weird events. The crew thought we heard ghosts’ voices. There had been many suicides in the area where we were shooting, and local residents said it was haunted. If these things are just a misunderstanding of reality, they should happen randomly, but why would supernatural events occur frequently in the same place? It’s something I want to explain but cannot . . .