What American anime fan hasn’t heard the old cliche about how Japan is so weird, what with their violent porn cartoons? Though there’s a grain of truth that the likes of Fight! Iczer-1, Wicked City, and even Macross: Do You Remember Love? were proactive with their use of gore and nudity in the 1980s–where did this trend originate? V-Zone, a short-lived magazine, suggests that Japan’s infatuation with western horror films may have been a factor.
There’s an old anecdote that when Steven Spielberg’s E.T. was released in Japan in late 1982, it was an enormous hit, but its the closest competition was Ruggero Deodato’s faux docu-shocker, Cannibal Holocaust. Some say it was because long lines to see E.T. drove people to see the Italian gorefest which was being marketed as a pseudo-documentary ala Mondo Cane. But it was clear that Japan in the ’80s had a considerable appetite for sanguinary cinema, and home video’s rise was set to satiate those desires on a whole new level.
With video streaming part of our daily lives today, it’s easy to forget what a revolution home video was during the 1980s. Magazines aimed at trend-setting Tokyo-ites, such as Takarajima (a counter-culture/city living magazine that was published from 1974 until 2015), would include lists of the best tapes to play at your next party, including the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Faces of Death, because “horror is a must at parties.” Otaku-centric publications like Comic Box Jr. ran lengthy features on how you could have Yasujiro Ozu, Cream Lemon, and the latest music videos from America all on your TV, while OVA anime magazines advised on how to best arrange your TV and VCR player in a four and a half tatami room. Video was becoming a way of life in Japan and V-Zone was an extension of that.
V-Zone was not without its predecessors, though. Starting in the late 1970s, the Japanese edition of the sci-fi magazine Starlog featured the early work of Katsuhiro Otomo, helped bring Moebius to Japan, and offered Japanese readers a look into the world of western horror, fantasy, and science fiction films. Uchusen, a largely tokusatsu-focused magazine still published today, also ran gruesome ads for Lucio Fulci films. Horror was almost considered an extension of SF fandom and this broad approach of covering horror alongside anime and tokusatsu was how V-Zone began.
Released in 1985, the first issue of V-Zone positioned itself as more of an otaku jack-of-all-trades publication, with articles on garage kits and Kamen Rider alongside coverage of OVAs, with a heavy focus on Cream Lemon and pornographic animations. Only a brief article on horror films hinted at the turn the magazine was going to take.
V-Zone’s second issue totally shifted gears towards the world of horror, sci-fi, and cult cinema, which would be the focus for the remainder of its run. Coverage was still given manga anthologies and ads for Wicked City and horror, but the tokusatsu, porn OVAs, and model kits of the previous issue were gone. An editorial at the end of the first horror-themed issue remarked: “if the first issue was anime, and the second was horror, who knows what the third will be!” V-Zone embodied horror as a western import with the likes of Re-Animator, Maximum Overdrive, ALIENS, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 all getting extensive coverage. Coverage of a film fest showed Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman schmoozing with manga legend Go Nagai (perhaps the meeting that lead to Nagai’s cameo in Toxic Avenger 2?). Japanese readers were voracious for American horror, and V-Zone found its new niche for the remainder of its run.
The magazine also took a historical approach, chronicling silent-era cinema, famous zombie films, and early Japanese horror films including Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (one of the most famous kabuki plays written about a vengeful spirit, it’s been adapted to film many times, but the 1959 Nobuo Nakagawa version is the most beloved). A feature on Hideshi Hino’s Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood, was sealed shut in the magazine and readers had to cut it open to see the gruesome behind-the-scenes shots. There were other horror manga anthologies out at the time that also included film news such as Monthly Halloween (which ran manga adaptations of Return of the Living Dead and Re-Animator), Horror House (with idols and the Toxic Avenger sharing the same cover), and V-Zone’s imitator/competitor; Dunwich magazine, but V-Zone had its own unique place in Japanese film history.
While it’s true that the bulk of the magazine’s coverage was western focused, the magazine did its own part to foster new Japanese talent, too. Shinichi Wakasa (tokusatsu effect artist for the Heisei Godzilla and Gamera films) ran a column on how to make your own effects makeup, gore, and even craft realistic squibs with dimestore prophylactics. Otaku culture at that time was already filled with guides on making your own Kamen Rider costume and resin casting model kits parts, so it wasn’t a huge leap to guides on crafting your own monster effects.
Riding the V-Cinema (direct to video films) wave, V-Zone made their own attempt at entering the video horror market. Directed by pink film auteur Kazuo Komizu (Entrails of a Virgin) Guzoo: The Thing Forsaken by God was a 40-minute latex and blood exhibition about a group of girls that are picked off by a tentacled menace. Several issues of V-Zone included behind the scenes features on how the titular creature was built. Guzoo was touted as “Volume 1” on its box, but V-Zone didn’t last long enough to produce another film.
V-Zone’s final issue was in 1987. The cause of the magazine’s end is unknown, but in a way it prophetic of the coming end to the horror craze. Between 1988 and 1989, Tsutomu Miyazaki carried out a series of grizzly pedophilic murders on four girls, shocking the Japanese public. When the police raided his home they found a mountainous collection of anime and horror tapes. Collecting videos was something of a badge of honor for horror and anime fans, but now it became synonymous with a serial killer in the Japanese zeitgeist.
V-cinema would go on to shift away from horror films like Conton: Jushin Densetsu, and Guinea Pig, and towards hardboiled crime flicks from Takashi Miike and Toshimichi Ohkawa. The video stores have long since shuttered and the magazine has folded, but V-Zone currently lives on as a cult movie film fest in Kanazawa (along with being the title of an unrelated bondage/fetish magazine). If Emotion can return as a line of nostalgic t-shirts and goods, hopefully so can V-Zone.
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