Grand master of horror Nakata Hideo

As a grand master of Japanese horror, Nakata Hideo also caused plenty of sleepless nights among Europeans. The father of J-Horror is back on familiar territory with The Complex. Nakata on mysterious apparitions, intangible ghosts and the fear of Hitchcock.

How did you love of film develop?
'During my childhood in the countryside, I had to take a train to the cinema. It was amazing to go on a trip on my own. Moreover: if you went to the pictures ten times a year, you got to go to see the 11th film free. That provided an added incentive. Incidentally, I also watched tons of films on TV: from Chinese kung fu films to Godzilla films, and from Hollywood productions to Bruce Lee. Whilst studying I saw westerns with Clint Eastwood, Lawrence of Arabia, European cinema and work by people such as François Truffaut and David Lynch for the first time.'

Did you even have any time left for studying?
'Well, that was sort of a problem, because I saw about 300 films per year after moving to Tokyo. It was so cheap back then! When Alfred Hitchcock had just died a lot of his films were programmed. For example, you could watch three of them in a row for what amounted to two euros. That was thirty years ago, but still.'

Did you also watch Japanese films?
'I only started watching the Japanese classics later on as our generation looked down on our own cinematic history quite a lot. And that while we have such a glorious film tradition.'

How did the student become a filmmaker?
'I had started studying architecture, but quite soon transferred to journalism. I spent the majority of my time sat in the dark. Of course I did my utmost to study, but films started playing an increasingly important role in my life. During my final year at university, I wanted to see how a film was made. I was lucky as a friend arranged for me to do an internship with Masahiro Shinoda, a prominent 1960s Japanese New Wave director. I became so enamoured with working behind the scenes that, after graduating, I started working as assistant director for Nikkatsu, one of the largest Japanese film studios back then. I worked there for seven years.'

Although you make various genres of film, you are known as a master of Japanese horror. Does that annoy you or are you proud of that?
'Well, I'd sort of want to stop being pigeonholed as a horror director, but people just always think of me as the horror guy. And it doesn't bother me that much really. I'm not fussed about which genre I tackle: as long as the story's good and interesting. For example, my next film is going to be an action thriller in which two men with special gifts fight one another.'

Ringu kept most people up for nights on end. What scares you?
'Ha ha! (thinks) Hitchcock's greatest talent was to capture shocking emotions in a 2D frame. In the last scene of The Birds it seems as if the whole world is going to fall apart, mainly thanks to the fabulous direction. You know, the thing is with this genre is that you don't want your audience to lean back and relax. As a filmmaker you therefore have to do your best to make viewers feel uneasy. Hitchcock could do that like no other. I learnt a great deal from his work and continue to do so.'

A film like Ringu, the original The Ring, is viewed as 'creepy' everywhere in spite of the fact that there are differences between what Asians and Westerners think is scary. What is that down to do you think?
'I've noticed that there are some clear differences. If you look at Western horror films such as The Omen and The Exorcist, then good and evil are clearly demarcated. These are the basic elements of Western horror. You will never find out what motivates the devil, because he's the devil. He is always bad and out to destroy mankind. He often does so by possessing people like in The Exorcist. In many Asian cultures ghosts were once people. Some of them are good and want to help people, while others are bad. However why they are the way they are is always explained. Their nature is always based on what they experienced during their lives. They have a story in other words. The spirits basically live in the same world as humans. There is often something melancholy about them.'

Does that also explain the sad element in The Complex?
'What people globally view as scary is the right mix of melancholy and reality. And even horror has to have a good, emotional story. If all you want to do is scare people you are better off sending them to a haunted house. I purposely don't make on-the-nose horror; the best scary films are subtle and complex like The Haunting from 1963 in which mysterious noises, loneliness and isolation up the tension even more. It is precisely when you can completely identify with the characters that things become exciting. Almost nothing creepy appears on screen, but as far as I'm concerned it should be viewed as one of the all-time greats. I watched it again and again whilst making Ringu. Not to copy elements from it, but as an inspiration, to create a particular atmosphere.'

After spending time in Hollywood, you have returned home for The Complex. Are you going to stay there?
'Actually, in the meantime I've made three Japanese productions. After Ringu's success, American producers invited me to make The Ring Two. The sequel to the remake of my original film in other words, ha ha! I am open to international productions, but I really wanted to spend some time at home with my family now.'

Are you ever afraid that the success of Ringu will haunt you forever?
'Of course, that might happen, but it does lead to all sorts of crazy stories. For example, a couple of years ago I was approached by a very rich fashion designer from India. He wanted me to make a film about an Indian couple who basically experience exactly the same things as the characters in Ringu. Imagine: Ringu, Bollywood style! In any case, he piqued my curiosity. He proposed that I travel to Mumbai and I thought to myself: why not, I've never been there before. Later on, the meeting was moved to London and then Cape Town. What the hell? In the end, I never heard from him again. The point being: I won't rule out ever doing anything in India. The country's booming and an incredible number of films are shot there. I won't make an Indian Ringu though as I'm done with that theme.'

The Complex – Nakata Hideo
Sat 2, 22:00, LantarenVenster 5

This is an article from the Daily Tiger dated Saturday 2 February 2013.
Text: Maricke Nieuwdorp