What The Horror: Analysing My Auto-Ethnographic Methodologies

Following on from my previous blog post, where I discussed my reasoning behind my chosen topic for my digital artefact, this blog post will focus on analysing my auto-ethnographic methodologies I intend to use for this project.

As Ellis, Adams and Bochner explain in their overview of auto-ethnography, “auto-ethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno).” (Ellis et al, 2011) For my research project, I will be analysing my experience with Japanese horror films in an attempt to understand the culture of the Japanese film industry.

jhorror film posters
Three of the films I will be watching. Source: IMDb

I originally chose this topic because I thought it would be a fun way of exploring something I never thought I would experience. However, after conducting my initial research on the topic, I encountered my first ‘epiphany’. Many J-Horror films are based on Japanese urban legends and folktales, and this discovery made me realise that I have an opportunity to learn far more about Japanese culture than I had originally anticipated.

As Leon Anderson states, one of the advantages to auto-ethnographic research is that it focuses on self-understanding.

“The kind of self-understanding I am talking
about lies at the intersection of biography and society: self-knowledge that
comes from understanding our personal lives, identities, and feelings as
deeply connected to and in large part constituted by—and in turn helping to
constitute—the sociocultural contexts in which we live.” 

(Anderson, 2006, p. 390)

Currently, my self-understanding in relation to my topic is that I’m not a huge fan of horror films – I’m not alone when I say that I don’t like being scared. However, in light of my epiphany, I realise that I am closing myself off to a whole genre that’s rich in culture and history, making me ignorant to a large part of society. Improving my understanding of this genre, as well as the people that find joy in consuming this content, could allow me to become more open-minded and empathetic towards other cultural norms.

In my previous blog post, I referred to the reflexive approach to auto-ethnographic research. This form of auto-ethnography is incredibly important for achieving the ‘self-understanding’ that Anderson discusses. Reflexive ethnography is when a researcher also documents the personal developments and changes that they’ve experienced over the course of their research, as a form of establishing a deeper connection with their chosen culture. (Ellis et al. 2011) As my previous experiences with horror films have not exactly been positive, I’m hoping that I will encounter a few personal changes throughout my research – which will hopefully include improving my tolerance for scary movies. Although, even if my stance on horror films doesn’t change, acquiring knowledge of a new culture will certainly result in some personal developments that I can reflect on in my final project.

 

References:

Anderson, L. (2006) ‘Analytic Autoethnography’, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 373-393.

Ellis, C, Adams, ET & Bochner, AP (2011), ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Research, vol. 12, no. 1.

Myers, C. (N.D.) ‘7 Creepy Japanese Urban Legends That Inspired Horror Films’ Ranker. Viewed: 16 September 2018 <https://www.ranker.com/list/japanese-urban-legends-that-inspired-horror-films/christopher-myers&gt;

 

Get Ready, Get Set, Get Spooked: An Auto-Ethnographic Dive into Japanese Horror Films.

When it comes to Asian culture, I’m pretty well versed in some areas. I’ve grown up being exposed to Japanese media culture, through games and television shows, as well as food that my Asian friends have introduced me to. For the most part, these interests have continued on to the present day. Thus, I was struggling to think of an aspect of Asian culture that I’m interested in, yet haven’t explored.

Enter, Japanese horror films.

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Source: Giphy

Why have I chosen this topic?

While I have watched a few horror films in my life, they weren’t exactly the most pleasant experience. My mother is a horror film buff and she’s always casually watching them at home while doing household chores. That trait hasn’t exactly transferred to me. Watching a scary movie always results in sleepless nights, consisting of constantly glancing over at the end of my bed and never leaving the safe confines of my tightly wrapped blanket. Even watching a let’s play of a horror game on YouTube has evoked that reaction a few times – which I’m certainly not proud of.

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In short: Me + Horror Movies = Not a great combination. Source: Giphy

However, it has been several years since I’ve actually taken the time to watch a legitimate scary movie, which [hopefully] means I now have the mental maturity to not act like a child after watching one. Not only am I exploring this topic to test my emotional endurance, but I am also genuinely curious to learn about the history of J-Horror and how it’s presence has shaped the film industry.

While attempting to decide which film I should watch, I’ve noticed that many of these movies are based on Japanese legends and folktales. Although these stories have paranormal elements, these cultural features give these films a bone-chilling sense of realism. (Thessaily’s Place, 2013) This, along with several other specific techniques, makes the genre of J-Horror notoriously more frightening than Western horror films. Therefore, this Digital Artefact will generate some interesting perspectives on the Japanese culture, as well as the Japanese film industry, from a girl who has little to no tolerance for jump-scares.

I have only heard about J-Horror films that have been adapted for Western audiences (i.e. The Ring or The Grudge); which are often referenced in popular media. I already knew that I didn’t want to watch the original version of a well-known Western remake as I feel I have heard too much about these films in passing, and my experience may be altered from knowing what to expect. However, there are some J-Horror remakes that I haven’t heard of and don’t know anything about (i.e. Dark Water), so I don’t think watching this film would give me a skewed perspective.

After researching various forums and lists, I have narrowed my selection down to three options:

jhorror film posters.JPG
Source: IMDb

I have chosen these three because they seem to explore a wide range of themes. Suicide Circle seems to be based more in reality, as it has more of a ‘crime thriller’ than a ‘horror’ premise. Kwaidan and Dark Water are focused more on supernatural themes, with Kwaidan being based on folklore and Dark Water following a more traditional horror film story line.

I’ll admit, there are perhaps more sensible way for me to learn about Japanese culture and history that do not involve torturing myself. This method is not exactly palatable for all ‘cultural outsiders’. (Ellis et al. 2011) However, I feel that placing myself out of my comfort zone will allow me to develop a ‘reflexive’ approach to my auto-ethnographic research – this experience will be as much about my journey with the film as it will be about analysing the culture of J-Horror. (Ellis et al. 2011)

How will I document my auto-ethnographic research?

I have chosen to log this experience through a blog post. Due to the multi-media functionality, I find this format very versatile and will be able to effectively present my findings no matter which form of methodology I choose to partake in.

Although the most logical route to follow is a video response to my chosen J-Horror film, I’m afraid that it will result in complicated editing and possible copyright infringements. Additionally, I don’t think I will be able to coherently verbalise my thoughts while I’m terrified. Most of the footage will most likely be of me covering my eyes and screaming obnoxiously for a majority of the film. However, I will record short videos of my thoughts throughout the film, which will be included in my final blog post. To accompany this, I will live-tweet my viewing experience. I will log the time-stamps in the film that correlate with the tweets in order to give a well-rounded review in my final blog post.

References:

Myers, C. (N.D.) ‘7 Creepy Japanese Urban Legends That Inspired Horror Films’ Ranker. Viewed: 16 September 2018 <https://www.ranker.com/list/japanese-urban-legends-that-inspired-horror-films/christopher-myers&gt;

Thessaily’s Place (2013) ‘What makes Japanese Horror scarier’ WordPress. Viewed: 16 September 2018. <https://thessaily.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/what-makes-japanese-horror-so-much-scarier/&gt;

Ellis, C, Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1.

 

Screening of Akira: Auto-Ethnography

This week we continued the BCM320 screening saga, and watched the anime classic, Akira (1988). This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced anime; like many, I grew up watching Sailor Moon and Pokémon, as well as some Studio Ghibli films. I’ve also used my brother’s Crunchyroll account to delve into some more recent anime – as basic as it sounds, Attack on Titan is a personal favourite.

However, while I know that anime can sometimes get confusing and graphic, I wasn’t quite prepared for how confusing and graphic Akira would be. I’m not going to lie, I had no idea what was going on. After many hours of reflection, and a reading of the plot summary on Wikipedia, I still have not fully grasped the themes of this film. My live-tweets reflect this rather well.

While this confusion was quite jarring at first, I have come to realise that it is simply a step in the auto-ethnographic process. Ellis (et al, 2011) discuss this process in an article, stating that “scholars began recognising that different kinds of people possess different assumptions about the world…Auto-ethnography, on the other hand, expands and opens up a wider lens on the world…”

We are able to expand upon our knowledge of the world through “epiphanies”, which are “remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life.” (Ellis, et al, 2011)

Due to my prior experiences with anime and Japanese pop-culture, I thought I already had a reasonable understanding of this world. However, through experiencing this film and exploring it’s history, I was able to learn more about Akira‘s influence on pop-culture and discover not only it’s impact on Japanese culture, but on my own culture.

It was Akira that essentially opened the doors for anime to become embraced by western pop-culture. It is the reason why I was able to enjoy the aforementioned TV shows and films. Akira is also embedded in the music industry, as it makes a strong feature in Kanye West’s music video for Stronger, in which West essentially performs a live-action interpretation of the film. It was also a heavy influence on the Netflix phenomenon that is Stranger Things – with the 80’s aesthetic, as well as mirroring several key plot points.

Akira has indirectly had an influence on my consumption of pop-culture throughout my whole life. This was a surprising, yet extremely interesting, “epiphany” that will most definitely prompt a second viewing from me.

 

Screening of Godzilla: My Reflection

For our first ever BCM320 Seminar, we strapped in to experience the cultural phenomenon that is Gojira, more widely known as the original Godzilla film. As a class we were told to live-tweet the experience, which I’ll admit, was a bit of a struggle considering we also had to pay attention to the subtitles. It turned out to be pretty much what I expected; almost 2 hours of dated, albeit entertaining, special effects and sound design. However, through reading other people’s comments on the film, as well as researching the film itself, the seminar turned out to be way more of a history lesson than I was prepared for.

When it comes to my cultural background, I’m about as Australian as it gets. I haven’t explored ancestry.com but my understanding is that my family came from Europe way back when and have resided here ever since. I have travelled to several countries, however, the only country I’ve had the opportunity to truly immerse myself in is the American culture, as I was there for a year. Even though America is very different to Australia, they’re not exactly polar opposites. And while I have many friends from various different backgrounds, I have never truly had an understanding of what it’s like to experience another culture.

My experiences with Asian media as a whole are limited to occasionally watching a show on Crunchyroll, listening to a k-pop song, or playing some sort of Nintendo game console. So, while I knew that Godzilla was a cultural phenomenon due to the thousands of references in pop-culture, I wasn’t fully aware of its origins and historical context.

Gojira was released in 1954, 9 years following the nuclear attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The creature, Gojira, is a mutation as a result of nuclear tests, therefore is a blatant symbol of the impact of nuclear radiation on the country.  In the final moments of the film, one of the main characters explicitly states that more of these creatures would appear if the nuclear tests were to continue; this essentially acts as a PSA to the audiences of the film. It could not be more obvious that this film is a direct result of the terror and shock that was felt throughout the nation of Japan.

Therefore, even though my initial reaction to the film was humour and confusion due to the absurdity of the film, I left the experience with chills and thoughts that are still plaguing me days later