5 Japanese Novels that Influenced Popular Media and Why You Should Read Them
It’s no secret that a ton of books have influenced media over the decades. A ton of movies these days are based on books. Video games often use novels to inspire story lines. And every comic character has more or less appeared in every form of media that exists.
While most movie adaptations get a fair amount of attention for their source material, it’s not always easy discovering the source material for other forms of media, especially when it involves stuff from other countries. Here’s 5 Japanese novels you’re probably familiar with in some shape or form that you absolutely need to get your hands on.
Audition gets a lot of hype as a great intro to Takashi Miike films and as a pretty messed horror film. What a lot of people don’t know is that it’s actually an adaptation of the book Audition written by Ryu Murakami. Both the book and film follow the story of a man who decides to hold a fake audition so that he can potentially find a woman to date after years of being a widower. When he quickly becomes infatuated with a gorgeous young woman, he soon finds out that she might not be what she appears. If you enjoyed the movie at all, you absolutely need to read the book. Miike’s adaptation is near perfect when it actually follows the source material, and he throws in his usual out-there stylistic choices to ramp it all up a notch. Miike’s version, despite the extra disturbing stuff thrown in, actually manages to be less suspenseful. Murakami’s novel is written entirely from the point of view of the man and only gives us clues in the form of very shaky evidence that’s easy to write away. It’s wonderful and makes the finale that much more enjoyable considering it comes out of nowhere.
4. Dark Water
While most people know of Dark Water from the pretty bad 2005 film that appeared during the tidal wave of Japanese horror movie remakes, a ton of people also know that it was a remake of a Japanese movie of the same name that came out in 2002. What most people don’t know is that the Japanese film itself was based off of a short story by author Koji Suzuki. The short is called “Floating Water” and comes from an anthology of short stories all centered around water called Dark Water. All versions more or less have the same set up in the form of a mother and a young child facing some odd paranormal events centered around water sources, but Koji Suzuki’s version decides to leave it all up to speculation and possibilities. It’s a neat little way to tell a story, and it’s really cool to see how the movies decided to lengthen the story and tie up the end to something more concrete. Dark Water also contains a story, “Dream Cruise”, that became an episode of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series.
3. Battle Royale
Battle Royale is a cult classic that gained a ton of new fans after the inevitable comparisons to The Hunger Games. What some people don’t know is that, like The Hunger Games, Battle Royale first got it’s start as a novel by Koushun Takami. The movie is one of the best adaptations I’ve seen, following the source material extremely close, which is why I highly recommend the novel to anyone who’s a fan of the movie. There’s one major difference when it comes to the characters (and it’s one that I don’t want to spoil) and the book does a tremendous job of showcasing the various relationships between the characters which makes the whole ordeal even worse. There’s also more explanation and a little history into the whole kids killing kids thing which makes it a nice read to just even learn more about this alternate Japan we got a small taste of. Battle Royale also has a wonderfully graphic and gory manga that I highly suggest people check out as well, as it kicks all the fight scenes up a couple notches.
2. Parasite Eve
Parasite Eve is perhaps the weirdest thing on this list. Most of its popularity is due to the video game series based on it, with the movie also being fairly well known. But very few people know that one of the most infamous survival horror games was actually based on a book. Parasite Eve, written by Hideaki Sena, is a science fiction novel that is very, very heavy on the science. In fact, that’s probably the most bizarre thing about it when you consider all the different adaptations. Parasite Eve is a story essentially about an evil mitochondria that has become its own intelligent and conscious life-form. I seriously can’t even begin to describe how bizarre the novel is, but it’s precisely why it’s so good. Coupled with a story heavy on science, specifically biology, the story throws in a ton of interesting (and real!) facts about the human body, cellular reproduction, and the history of mitochondria which actually almost lends the out-there story some credibility. It’s one of the most interesting things I’ve ever read, and fans of the video game will probably take delight in discovering the origin story of all those things they were fighting.
1. Ring/The Ring Trilogy
Ringu is probably the novel that’s directly responsible to getting me into Japanese literature. Nearly everyone has seen the American version of The Ring and, like Dark Water, it was part of the flood of remakes of Japanese horror. The Japanese film, Ringu, was actually based on a novel by Koji Suzuki (who also wrote the story that inspired Dark Water) called Ring. Ring itself is also the first part in what is called “The Ring Trilogy” that is finished out by the novels Spiral and Loop. By now we all know the story; there’s a cursed film and if you watch it you die in 7 days. While the Japanese film stuck more closely to the source material than the American one did, Ring gets more and more complex and interesting especially as the trilogy fleshes out. Like Parasite Eve, the Ring trilogy ends up becoming heavy in science fiction and biology and has less to do with ghosts and the paranormal than it does a whole bunch of other terrible, odd, and downright bizarre things. The Ring trilogy is perhaps one of my favorite series of all time and each book builds upon the story the previous one left behind. And Loop brings it all together with a shocking twist that will make you never look at anything Ring related the same way ever again.