With Hollywood turning more of its attention to the world of graphic novels for inspiration, I’ll cast the spotlight on a new comic book each week that has the potential to pack a theater or keep you glued to your television screens. At the end of some “Adapt This” columns, you’ll also find thoughts from the industry’s top comic creators about the books they’d like to see make the jump from page to screen.
This Week’s Book: The Suicide Forest by El Torres (w) and Gabriel Hernandez (a)
The Premise: The real-life forest of Aokigahara, which lies just outside Tokyo at the base of Mt. Fuji, is one of the most popular places in the world for people to commit suicide. Some say the spirits of people who killed themselves in the forest are cursed to haunt its confines — but what if those spirits get out? When the Japanese ex-girlfriend of an American living abroad ends her life in “Suicide Forest,” he finds himself dealing with a vengeful ghost who will stop at nothing to ruin his life.
The Pitch: Given the success of horror franchises like “The Ring” and “The Grudge,” which were based on Japanese legends and were later imported and remade here in the U.S., it’s actually a bit surprising that the legend of Aokigahara Forest hasn’t been tapped yet. The national landmark’s history is steeped in both morbid facts and eerie phenomena, which is something Torres masterfully mines for The Suicide Forest.
While many of the Japanese horror franchises that were brought to the U.S. in recent years had their settings and other elements changed for American audiences, a movie based on The Suicide Forest would obviously need to stay in Japan. Fortunately, the source material already offers a great entrance point that softens the culture shock. The primary narrative follows an American living abroad who has a difficult time adjusting to Japanese society, and we see many of the terrifying events that occur throughout The Suicide Forest through his perspective.
Like the vengeful “onryo” ghosts that haunted “The Grudge” and “The Ring” (and many of the other Japanese horror films imported to the U.S. in recent years), the antagonist of The Suicide Forest is another creepy blend of pale skin, jet-black hair, and blood-spattered features, deliberate in its deadly mission and always popping up where you least expect her. It’s a formula that works, certainly, but it’s given a new spin in the comic that would make a film stand out from its predecessors.
In The Suicide Forest, there’s a significant amount of time spent n the narrative of the person before she became a vengeful spirit. It’s a refreshing twist on the well-traveled “angry ghost” stories that allows you to actually feel some amount of sympathy for the cursed creature terrorizing Alan and his friends — and could offer a nice chance for an actress to show some range as both lonely soul and supernatural killer.
Along with Alan and his girlfriend-turned-ghost Masami, there’s another great role to be found in “The Suicide Forest” movie for an actress playing Ryoko, the park ranger who’s made it her job to police Aokigahara and bring some peace to the unsettled souls she finds there. While the notion of a spirit-hunting ranger patrolling the forest might seem far-fetched at first, a search for suicide victims’ bodies that occurs each year in the real Aokigahara forest often involves local monks who live near the forest and pray for the souls they believe are trapped there. So there’s not only some precedent for the character, but there’s also some great real-world research material for the right actor.
The Closing Argument: The flood of Japanese horror movies remade for American audiences has died down in recent years, so the timing could be right to remind everyone why these stories were so popular in the first place. A film based on The Suicide Forest would tread enough new ground to be distinctly different from franchises like “The Ring” or “The Grudge,” while also including some of the best elements from those films — specifically, the moody atmosphere and visual style. It would also take the familiar onryo legends to a new setting, breaking from the traditional urban environment and translating all that fear of ghostly creatures in bathroom mirrors and television sets to the wide-open woods.