Menacing and ghostly, ‘Shutter’ is a clever and stylish psychological thriller that revolves around an attractive, young American couple starting out married life. They are traveling from New York to Tokyo, where Ben (Joshua Jackson), an up and coming photographer, has a prestigious fashion assignment. His wife, Jane goes along too. But the honeymoon she was anticipating never happens and the Japanese adventure is anything but romantic…
Masayuki Ochiai has directed a film that is compelling to watch. The story is strong and frightening, the characters are set firmly in reality and the paranormal core of the film is fascinating, examining the controversial phenomenon of spirit photography. Tension builds throughout the film, which unfolds, layer by layer, with unexpected and grimly chilling results. Ochiai uses color and light to great effect and by setting his story in Tokyo he exacerbates the unease and disorientation the leading characters feel, finding their way in a foreign city as frightening events take over their lives.
Having previously directed ‘Infection’ and ‘Hypnosis’, ‘Shutter’ marks Masayuki Ochiai directing debut on an American film. We talk to the director about his experiences.
Q: How much were you inspired by the original Thai film?
A: “The original Thai movie was really well made with a very interesting structure, I loved it. It is not just about ghosts. The story has a plot with great twists and suspense. And that is what attracted me to the film in the first place. The difference with this one is that the original was made for the Asian market. This version aims to appeal to the international market and I had to keep that in mind. It could not have just an Asian sensitivity but had to appeal to a broader audience. So there are some subtle differences.
Q: You set the film in Japan rather than in America. What inspired that decision?
A: “We wanted Americans coming to Japan because that creates an element of mystery right from the start, as the country is strange to them. They are in a kind of ‘twilight zone’. The story is told through the eyes of Jane. Because they are foreigners, that adds to the tension and sense of isolation and gives the film another dimension. It is a deep, multi-layered horror story with many perplexing questions. The couple finds their photos have ghostly auras or images. But why are these images appearing? Who is haunting them and what does she want? It also worked having the film in Japan because in the Asian culture, people who are haunted have always done something bad or wrong. That is why they are followed by an evil spirit (and that is part of the story in this movie). But in America and the West, there is a different depiction of ghosts and spirits. “
Q: Can you talk about spirit photography, the phenomenon at the center of this story?
A: “We see a lot of spirit photographs in Japan. They are everywhere. People are very interested in the subject. They learn about it as children and usually children are afraid of the spirits. By adulthood, people have often overcome that fear but are still fascinated and really believe that this is a genuine, inexplicable, supernatural phenomenon. Most people believe that we see the world as the brain processes it, that we see everything through images our eyes can actually see but that is very limited because we don’t know everything about the functions of the brain. In Asia, we are interested in what we cannot see with our eyes but could still exist, such as ghosts. In the film we use spirit photography so that the audience can ask, “is this just in Ben’s mind or is there really a ghost haunting him?”
Q: What did stars, Rachael Taylor and Joshua Jackson bring to the role?
A: “Both stars were perfectly cast in the their roles. Rachael’s pureness and freshness was perfect for Jane, who starts out with an innocence, which works well in this world, which deals with the paranormal. Rachael was very naturalistic and her characterization was wonderful. During the course of the film, her character grows up and learns a lot. Joshua was great too. He has a lot of depth, which he used to portray this man who has a deep secret, actually layers and layers of secrets. Joshua was very skilled at starting out the film one way and then revealing more and more about his dark side – who he really is. The characters are newly married and even when things start to go very wrong, they try to keep the air of romance. They try to be positive and both actors conveyed that effectively. One of the important things that I wanted them both to do was to keep a positive thread throughout the film, even though dark things are happening that are very frightening, we did not want to make it too negative.”
Q: What is the fascination for you with horror and this type of psychological thriller? Do you want to do different kinds of films?
A: “I love horror films and there is a big demand for this genre I think because people are so stressed in their normal lives and they can relieve this stress with another form of stress by watching these films. (he laughs) It is the same idea as going on a rollercoaster ride. So I will keep on doing these movies but I would like to do other films too. I have directed dramas for Japanese TV. And I would like to romantic comedies sometime.”
Q: Why are horror films so popular in Japan?
A: “In Japan, people believe that everything, even a tiny little bug has a spirit or a soul. We tell children: ‘if you do something horrible to a dog, that dog will come back to haunt you.’ It is a kind of discipline. So the idea of spirits is used to raise children. Ghosts and spirits are embedded in Japanese culture.”
Q: Why are you and other Japanese directors so good at doing horror films and this kind of thriller?
A: “Well interestingly, it is ironic that I have been most influenced by a film that is not Asian. It was THE EXORCIST. I loved that film. I don’t think Asian directors are necessarily better at making these films at all but the way they see ghosts and spirits is just different from Western perceptions. American ghosts wreak havoc and destruction. They might destroy houses – but Asian ghosts are very quiet. Just by their very presence, just by being there, Japanese ghosts are scary. They often don’t have legs, they are floating in the air and people find them frightening. Perhaps that sensitivity is appealing to audiences who are used to the traditional Western ghosts who cause chaos.”
Q: What are your beliefs in terms of the supernatural?
A: “I am in between, I want to believe in ghosts. Ghosts might be just in our mind but could be real. I definitely want to become a ghost after I die!”
‘Shutter’ is out on DVD in Ireland from September 5th 2008.