Re: "torn-apart/sewn apart woman’s body" as Contagion

by on Jul.13, 2012

(this post is a reply to Johannes’ previous post on Leif Holmstrand )

Speaking of The Ring and “torn-apart/sewn apart woman’s body”:
It is interesting that in Ringu (リング ) the original Japanese version of The Ring, Sadako’s body is a twisted, creaking body,  moving in a way that looks like it was badly put together, like a puppet with mismatching joints (watch from 1:00

(* This video is prequel to Ringu in which the creaky-ness gets even further, but even in the original Ringu, you can see how oddly her shoulder joints move, how her fingers crawl. )


In American version, Samara’s body, other than being bloated from water it was submerged in, is normal/human looking. ( )

Samara walks smoothly towards her victim after crawling out of the tv, while Sadako staggers, crawls, and writhes.

(Sidenote: I wonder if the american love for the Child image (in Lee Edelman’s lingo) prevents Samara from becoming too non-human like Sadako.)
I liked the Japanese version better in which woman’s/girl’s twisted & warped& creaking body becomes contagious, warping and twisting the face of the beholder: when the beholder’s eye and Sadako’s television-body-eye meets, when the Vision occurs, the contagion is not only passively transmitted; the contagion transmutes, turning Ryu, one of us, human/non-grotesque (male) body into the Other, grotesque twisted body of Sadako/torn-apart-sewn-apart (woman’s) body.

Meanwhile, in American version where Samara’s body isn’t all that grotesque, the deformed body of the victim suggests mutilation, one-way attack rather than transmission/transmutation of contagion.

(Also, instead of showing just the Eye like in the final scene of Ringu, Samara reveals her entire face which diffuses the power of Eye,  human, yet non-human, moist  & creepy part of body that looks too similar across different species)

To ramble a little more about torn-apart woman’s body in American vs. Original horror movie issue:

I was upset when Let me In erased one of my favorite moment in Let the Right One in(the swedish original), which was the scene where Eli’s scar in genital area briefly appears: The scar/torn-ness makes her/his/its gender ambiguous, thus magnifying the horror of her/his/its non-human-ness, but somehow American version, didn’t/ couldn’t go that far.

Why do American adaptation of foreign horror films seem to be obsessed with quarantining the contagious grotesque/torn-apart “women” body, the foreign body, the non-human/not-normal-us body?

7 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    Yes, Sadako seems to barely cohere. The doesn’t even fit into her body. It’s a much more monstrous body in that regard. Holmstrand actually talks about this monstrous quality in his book, I’ll post about that later; for him it ties into a kind of transgendered worldview I think (he writes/makes art both as a woman and man).


  2. Kim

    I watched Homstrand’s “Self 1-18 (A-Z)” ( which seems related to ringu in a couple of ways, the sleep-walking hypnotized zombie multiplying, the partially opened eye, technology etc.

    Haven’t watched that many american remakes but I’d take a guess it might have something to do with protecting gender roles, not have them flow over, mutate. Horror genre in general seems less interested in really scaring people except in a contained, entertaining way. Well at least the big budgeted ones.

  3. Johannes

    Yes, Kim, awesome find. Seems to tie in to the medium-focus of Ringu.


  4. Kim

    Another thought that occurred to me which might be here or there: that the concealment of sex, the concealment of physicality reinforces these roles the same way concealment of self reinforces, at least so it seems to me, a “sincere” expression. Thinking of literary works where the author’s name is actually present in the text never seem earnest but always kind of devious, a construct, a performance of the self.

  5. Janaka

    I think mentioning some of the cultural influences behind Ringu might help illuminate the reasons behind the differences. I’m a little rushed so forgive the fragmentary nature of this post.

    Ringu (and other installments in Japan’s horror cinema) borrow heavily from their theatrical traditions of Noh, Kabuki, and Butoh. Specifically, the “torn-apart” movements come from Butoh, which emerged as an artistic response in part to the atomic bombing of WWII (and thus represents its own homage to “contagion”). The power of the eye, and facial expression, are also prominent in kabuki and Noh masks. It might be interesting to note, for example, that the great Korean horror film “A Tale of Two Sisters” does not have the same torn-apart movements in its iconic ghost scene–despite other similar physical appearances–most likely because Butoh is not a cultural influence in Korea.

    What’s also interesting is the tradition of vengeful ghosts in Japanese culture, namely Onryo, who are much more often than not women. They were usually powerless in life and become strong in death. Women (and in Ringu’s case, children) most easily fit into this narrative. Also, the signature ‘long black hair’ appearance is thought to have been derived specifically from the tradition of women letting their hair down in mourning at funeral services.

    What I think is especially interesting is how the cultures view vengeance / contagion. Namely, that in the West (America and Italy especially) we are obsessed with zombies–a kind of biological contagion—a physical contagion that, if I had more time, I might argue is “masculine.” Meanwhile, coming from the East (Japan and Korea as examples) there is a preoccupation with a kind of psychic contagion—which ultimately twists and destroys the physical through supernatural influence. I would suggest this may a kind of “feminine” contagion.

    On a side note: Let the Right One In. SPOILER ALART. In the book, it is revealed the child was actually born a boy and became castrated before (or in the act of) being turned into a vampire. So the shot referenced is a nod to that backstory that the movie chose not to include. I think the remake just decided not to touch it, for reasons of simplicity and also because we’re squeamish about nudity–especially when it comes to children.

  6. Johannes

    Thanks for this insight. I was just re-watching Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, which makes similar Kabuki-influenced use of eyes (his underlings spy on people with exagerated eyes). Of course, we cannot explain this merely as a cultural tradition; that would be very normalizing. It would be like someone saying Janaka likes horror because he’s an American an leave it at that.

    I agree that the book original of Let the Right One In is not as good, though the castration has its own issues there (pedophilia etc).

    It’s interesting that they took Morrissey out of the remake title, but also interesting that apparently this is how they translated the original into Korean (at least Kim Hyesoon re-translated it as “Let Me In” when we were talking about movies, it – along with David Lynch’s films – was her favorite she said).


  7. James Pate

    This post and Johannes’ previous one bring to my mind Zulawski’s films, especially Possession and Szamanka but some of his others too. Films where the main female character is a kind of medium for unseen forces. In many ways, he turns the whole ‘earth mother’ notion on its head, and instead of the feminine being seen as rooted, connected to the seasons, cyclic history, etc., the feminine is related to the unearthly, the unnatural, to breaks outside of the natural order. In Possession, there’s the famous scene where the ‘mother’ is tossed about by some internal-seeming force in the subway tunnel, and yet it also seems at times like she’s dancing…And as in Ringu, the movement is jolted and twisted, the parts meaning more then the whole…