|2005 Winter - Intro - Hideo Nakata - Roy Lee - Koji Suzuki - Horror on the Horizon
Interview with Koji Suzuki, novelist of the dank and dread
portrait by Tadayuki Naito
Koji Suzuki was born in 1957. He is a graduate of Keio University where he majored in French literature. His 1990 debut novel Rakuen (Paradise) won the Fantasy Novel Grand Prize. His bestselling trilogyRingu (1991), Rasen (1996), and Loop (1998)have spawned extremely popular television programs and movies. His books in translation are sold throughout the U.S. Other fictional works include Seize the Day and Honogurai Mizu no Soko Kara (Dark Water). Kamigami no Promenade (The Gods' Promenade) appeared in April 2004 and Birthday was due out in November. He is currently at work on Edge City, his first full horror novel since Rasen. Suzuki is also active in children's literature, writing his own stories and translating English works into Japanese.
In the darkness of the small hours, around 2 AMthat's the best time to encounter ghosts in Japan. This has been true since ancient times. If a gentle rain is falling, it's all the more likely you'll perceive signs of a ghost's presence.
"Walking along a body of water, you sense ghosts being born," says novelist Koji Suzuki. Dank, confined spaces, he believes, are the most conducive to the appearance of ghostly spirits. In the movie version of his novel Ringu, the ghost of Sadako lingers by a well. And water is the constant background for encounters with the restless dead in his story collection Honogurai Mizu no Soko Kara, on which the upcoming film Dark Water is based.
It is damp settings rather than dry ones that the Japanese associate with spirits. In Western horror movies, the bathroom is a frequent backdrop to terror. J-horror too makes audiences recoil by suggesting that a disembodied spirit is about to creep into a damp space, a space so damp it's hard to breathe. In Ringu the spirit enters via a videotape, and terror builds as the main character fears losing her child with the spirit closing in. Ringu achieves a realistic terror that we can all feel by making an everyday articlea videotapethe point of contact with the world of spirits. This is one face of J-horror, and it was Suzuki's spark that lit the J-horror boom. Interestingly enough, Suzuki claims never to have had a personal encounter with ghosts. He doesn't believe in them, he says. In fact, he denies even being interested in horror films.
"I'm basically a logical sort of person," he says. "I don't believe in wispy things like ghosts. I'm not interested in them. I hardly ever read horror novels or see horror films. WellI did see Hitchcock's Psycho, and The Exorcist, things like that. My early work came from the perspective hunting tribes must have had in primeval times: the need to overcome hardship and win glory. Ringu was a departure. If you read my trilogy, Ringu, Rasen (Spiral), and Loop, you'll see that it's not typical horror fiction with a no-hope, no-escape ending, where the ghost that was thought to be defeated in fact reappearsthat's not what I've done. I'm the complete opposite of a 'horror' sort of person. There's a pretty wide gap between me and the type you usually think of as a horror writer."
Suzuki is unimpressed with conventional horror flicks, with their hordes of evil spirits, splashes of blood, and jarring sound effects. He gives them the ultimate thumbs down, observing that they are not even scary.
"To me, blood-and-gore horror movies are for kids," he says. "Kids are taken in by that sort of stuff. But real fear, the genuine article, has to stimulate the adult imagination. In America and Europe most horror movies tell the story of the extermination of evil spirits. Japanese horror movies end with a suggestion that the spirit still remains at large. That's because the Japanese don't regard spirits only as enemies, but as beings that co-exist with this world of ours. Japanese literature is full of ghoststhe short stories of Junichiro Tanizaki and Naoya Shiga, for example. Soseki Natsume too, in Yumejuya (Dream+Night). These aren't horror stories, though they make you shudder. My new novel is the first horror novel I've done since Rasen, but the fear in it has nothing to do with ghosts. It's a more modern fear. The fear I feel nowadays, the fear I hope to make readers feel, is a dread mingled with excitementtrembling hands, throbbing heart, pounding pulse."
In addition to Suzuki's Ring trilogyRingu and Rasen (Spiral) are currently available in translation in the U.S.Loop, Rakuen (Paradise) and Seize the Day are about to be published in translation. Moreover, Miramax has optioned the rights for his short story Hyoryu Sen (Drifting Boat), part of the same collection that generated Dark Water.
"After Ringu and Ringu 2, I'd love them to do a remake of Rasen," Suzuki says, "because Rasen and Loop, together with Ringu, make a complete trilogy. I'm very grateful for the fact that all three books have been translated because it makes them available to more readers. The books are the main thing. The films are good because they introduce people to the books. And if, some time or other, Hollywood should do a sea story like my Rakuen, that would make me very happy."
Rakuen is the story of a man who overcomes difficulties to win the girl he lovesthe perfect theme for a Hollywood remake, in Suzuki's view. His dream? To see a Hollywood "human drama" based on a J-horror novel.
Articles from the 2005 WINTER issue:
Kateigaho International Edition Issues:
2005 SUMMER - 2005 SPRING - 2005 WINTER
2004 AUTUMN - 2004 SUMMER - 2004 SPRING - 2004 WINTER
2003 AUTUMN - INAUGURAL ISSUE