The scene: It’s night; someone is alone in a dimly lit room. There’s an eerie stillness, a creeping anxiety. Then, behind them, you notice a strange shape: a hunched-over figure, lurking in a corner. It is standing deathly still. The head is obscured by what looks like tendrils of jet-black hair. A chill runs down your spine as you suddenly realize the person isn’t alone. There’s something in the room with them, something that shouldn’t be there, something anomalous, incongruous … menacing.
Scenes like this have come to define Japanese horror or “J-horror.” The genre’s ability to evoke the supernatural has made it into a worldwide cultural phenomenon, popularized by the films of Takashi Miike and Hideo Nakata, and also by anime, manga and video games. However, while a great deal of attention has been given to modern J-horror, relatively little has been said about its precursors, especially the literary influences that so deeply inform its aesthetic.
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