Autoethnography: What’s it all about?

When I first came across the term “autoethnography” I had initially dismissed it as another tedious, research-related term which I would struggle to comprehend and eventually get frustrated by. However, mid-way through reading “Autoethnography: An Overview” (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011), I had the realisation that the term referred to the method of using personal experiences as a means to subjectively comprehend cultural experiences (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011, pg.1), with subjectively being the key word. Because, as the article points out, “autoethnography is one of the approaches that acknowledges and accommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researcher’s influence on research” (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011, pg.4).


My IRL reaction to the term “autoethnography”

When I started to think about this form of research, it occurred to me that I have been an autoethnographer since I started university, although for most of the time unknowingly. Through my blog, I have been using personal experiences to gain an understanding of cultural experience. With a huge interest in film, I realized that film-makers too (especially documentarians) are autoethnographers. They reshape their own personal  and cultural experiences and use it to create a narrative which goes on to share a film-maker’s experience. 

With this in mind, I am now beginning to think about how I will use auto ethnography to gain a further understanding on Asian horror films, particularly ‘J-Horror’. As someone who is a massive fan of the 1998 classic “Ringu”, I am incredibly excited to use J-Horror as the basis for my autoethnographic research. In the coming weeks, I will hopefully zone in on the specifics of the research process and through what medium I will present it.


Until then…


Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol.12, no.1, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>

Sadako, A Character Analysis

So I’m not looking at authors this week. I’m not going to mention them, or research them or understand their influences, because I’m going to focus on one character, Sadako. I’m going to mull through her character and what might make her so popular.

The ring as a franchise has been perpetuated by the character of Sadako, a vengeful spirit who uses video tapes to murder anyone who views them, unless they make someone else view it within 7 days. She is depicted as a pale child and woman almost interchangeably with long dark hair covering her face. This trope is nothing new to Japanese culture and literature, fitting neatly into the Onryo-Yurei archetype. Yurei being the broad term for Ghost in Japanese, and Onryo being the category of vengeful spirits.

As an Onryo character the audience expects certain tropes, most importantly an immense tragedy or wrongful doing that has brought them back and a person (or persons) that has caused this wrong-doing. Basic story structure for

an Onryo follows the protagonists/audiences discovery and fixing of this wrong-doing and the Onryo being satisfied and passing on from the physical world. I think almost all episodes of Supernatural follow this structure (Or just burn their bones).
Where Sadako diverges from this classic tale, is that she never seems satisfied. The audience follows her story, discovers the wrong done to her and watches the protagonist ‘fix’ it but we don’t get the resolution of her passing on, we are left confused and wondering if we missed something in her story that might be stopping her from moving on, some other unresolved conflict.
This confusion is confounded by the multiple and conflicting portrayals of Sadako presented in the novels and multiple films. Leaving the audience wondering if in fact Sadako does fit this neat trope of the Onryo, or if she is something much more terrifying and dangerous.

Sadako is commonly portrayed as psychic and uses these powers to spread herself and her vengeance through technological mediums. In the first film this is a VHS tape that curses the viewer, but in subsequent films and TV shows, restrictions seem to get lifted andshe is able to move through all screens and devices. She becomes the embodiment of the fear of technology. As her character evolves to take advantage of new technologies, she keeps the franchise relevant and popular in a modern technological society.

I believe this is of huge importance when considering her popularity in Japanese popular culture. Japan has grown into a global symbol of technological advancement along with South Korea and several other east Asian countries. Creating a mysterious and intriguing character that uses these technologies to generate fear, terror and death keeps her relevant and terrifying to older and newer audiences.
This combined with a seemingly relatable traditional character trope, I think has led to her success as the celebrity of the franchise.

Interestingly, a huge part of Sadako’s character is that she is transgender. This is explored in the novels as well as some of the subsequent films. Being unable to physically reproduce, she is forced to create the ‘Ring-Virus’ that furthers her DNA though technology. It is also suggested that she is born from some form of Oceanic demon.

Although these aspects of her character are not often represented in popular culture and overlooked by many of her representations. I wonder if her being transgender is still too taboo for Japan and perhaps even the for broader world to talk about in their understanding of this character.


Further reading on Sadako and Japanese Ghost lore






Sadako Yamamura

Having Epiphanies and coming to grips with Auto-ethnography

This past week, I found an essay online by Jessica Balanzategui, a screen studies PHD student at the University of Melbourne, titled ‘Everything in this World is Artificial: Media Contagion, Theme Parks and the Ring Franchise’. Being an exceptionally long essay she touches on many themes in relation to the Ring, but in part the essay looks at the cultural significance of ‘The Ring’ franchise as a spectacle, and the importance of the character ‘Sadako’ in perpetuating the popularity of the franchise, just as she perpetuates her ‘curse’ in the films (Blanzategui, 2014).

Reading through this essay I realised that while focusing on Hideo Nakata, the director of the first and second Ring films and his influences, I had missed the real celebrity of the ring, the character of Sadako.
So far through this process my brain has been focused on the authors of media and their influences into how they construct and shape their work, rather than the influences the content of media may have on the culture.

Coming a better understanding of the character of Sadako (Samara in the US version) and why she is so popular, would give a greater insight into Japanese popular culture than just the reasons and influences of her character.

In my glossing over of Sadako, I also didn’t look into the writer of original book, Koji Suzuki, and his influences while writing ‘Ring’.
Suzuki was writing Ring in 1989, during this time he was looking after his two daughters while his wife worked as a teacher of Japanese history. In a 2003 interview with the website ‘japanreview.net’ Suzuki explained the main the theme of his novel

                “And so the theme of the Ring is really about the love I have for my daughters. In my book, it’s not a heroine, but a hero: Asakawa Kazuyuki. He is a father. He has a daughter and he has a wife. And like many men, his greatest fear in life is losing his wife or daughter. 

Me too. For me the biggest fear is to lose my daughtersor wife. So in my novel,    Asakawa, the protagonist, fought for the life of his wife and daughter.”

Interestingly Suzuki’s focus when speaking about his novel is love and the importance of being a father, not necessarily the character of Sadako or her technologically driven method of killing. If it was not the authors original intent to create such a celebrity, what aspects of Sadako’s character make her so important in popular culture? What does the audience see in the character that demands such attention?

And I did it again, spent ages researching and reading about the author… Maybe I’ll look at Sadako in a separate blog.