The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.
Chapter 8 GHOST MOVIES （1955）
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan)
- Monster, Devil, Ghost etc.
An English Japanese dictionary contains the following words that describe various kinds of spirits that cause harm to people: apparition, bogey-man, demon, devil, fiend, ghost, goblin, monster, ogre, phantom, Satan, spectre. By further checking in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and Kenkyusha Shorter English-Japanese Dictionary, the following list of words was obtained. For reference, the Japanese is also cited.
Apparition; something that you imagine you can see, especially the spirit of a dead person. 幻影、幽霊
Bogey-man; an evil spirit, especially in children’s imagination or stories. Someone who people think is evil or unpleasant. 悪霊、悪鬼、おばけ
Demon; an evil spirit or force, something that makes you anxious and causes you problem, someone who is very good at you. 悪魔、鬼、邪神、悪の権化、鬼神のような人、精霊
Devil; the most powerful evil spirit in some religions, especially Christianity. An evil spirit. Speak or talk of the devil etc. 悪魔、魔神、魔王、怪異な偶像、邪神
Fiend; a very cruel, evil, violent person. (Longman might mean a person, instead of a kind of monsters) 魔神、悪霊、鬼、魔鬼、悪魔王、鬼のような人、
Ghost; the spirit of a dead person that some people think they can feel or see in a place. 幽霊、亡霊、怨霊、妖怪、変化、幻
Goblin; a small ugly creature in children’s stories that likes to trick people. 悪鬼、小鬼
Monster; an imaginary or ancient creature that is large, ugly, and frightening. 怪物、化け物、怪奇な形の動物(植物)、異常に巨大なもの
Ogre; a large imaginary person in children’s stories who eats people. Someone who seems cruel and frightening. 民話・童話の人食い鬼、鬼のような人
Phantom; the image of a dead person or strange thing that someone thinks they see. Something that exists only in your imagination. Seeming to appear to someone, not real, but seeming real to the person affected. まぼろし、幽霊、幻影、錯覚、妄想
Satan; the devil, considered to be the main evil power and God’s opponent. 魔王、大魔王
Spectre; something that people are afraid of because it may affect them badly. 幽霊、亡霊、怖いもの
Both languages have many words about spirits and the evil they visit upon human beings. There are some differences in the images of these words, which can be attributed to differences in culture. Therefore, multiple Japanese words are applied to each English word. Anyone who understands Japanese well will see that Japan has many more words related to evil spirits than the UK does. Furthermore, in English there are words describing monsters that only appear in children’s stories. However, there is no such limitation in Japanese, which might be taken to mean that the Japanese have a rather childlike attitude to evil spirits, or that they are much more deeply affected by them.
In this essay, in order to avoid confusion due to the discrepancies of meaning, the following terms are adopted. Demon is given as a generic name for evil things or spirits. Before classifying them in detail as a next step, I would like to give an historical outline of Japanese demons.
It has been believed among Japanese from time immemorial that spirits lodge in everything, and that the gods govern the systematic transitions of nature. For example, the climate is characterized by the four seasons, which are brought about by the shift of each season’s gods – the warm weather god comes from the eastern sea and kicks out the cold weather god into the western sea, resulting in the arrival of spring. Similarly, when the giant catfish moves violently under the ground, an earthquake occurs, or the thunder god beating a drum results in a thunderclap. In comparison with other countries, Japan has a lot of natural disasters caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, volcano eruptions, thunderstorms, heavy rain, floods etc. Some of these were believed to be evil carried out by demons, or sometimes as divine punishment, as with stories in the Old Testament.
Exact dates are not known but from at least several centuries BCE, there was cultural exchange between Japan and the countries on the Korean peninsula. Historical records tell of a Japanese dependency on the Korean peninsula, which existed for several centuries into the Common Era. (Korea denies this, which is one source of conflict between the two countries.) The tributary system was the prime instrument of diplomacy, and along with Chinese culture, technologies and goods, Buddhism came into Japan between the 7th and 9th centuries. After Buddhism was authorized by the government in the early 7th century, some denominations were propagated using didactic novels. These said that if people believed in Buddhism and did good deeds, they could go to heaven after they died. The implied consequences of not doing so led to the emergence of various folklore connected with evil spirits and ghosts. These stories, created in China, tried to make readers believe in the existence of gods and monsters. Since these books were usually illustrated, the appearance of the imaginary demons took root in people’s mind. (These might be the prototype of modern Manga.)
The 15th and 16th centuries in Japan were an age of civil wars. Feudal lords scrambled for political power, notably in the Onin War of 1467, and the Meio coup d’ etat of 1493. People experienced many terrible things such as killing and various crimes, so the idea of a hell with many monsters must have been very easy to believe. At that time, Mitsunobu Tosa is said to have drawn a famous picture scroll depicting demons named ‘Night Parade of One Hundred Demons.’ From the latter half of the 16th century, the wars had ceased and after a new government was established at the beginning of 17th century, a peaceful society was maintained by stable politics until the Meiji restoration of 1868. Peace brought about a cultural efflorescence, which resulted in the regeneration of the arts and the birth of new entertainments. Novels and dramas naturally adopted the genre of terror, producing and systemizing many monsters. One of the most popular of these books is ‘Night Parade of One Hundred Demons,’ drawn by Sekien Toriyama in the 18th century.
After the opening of diplomatic relations, the new government established in 1868 was confronted with the risk of Japan becoming a mere dependency of European countries. It rushed to introduce western culture as one measure to combat this risk. Japan, as well as Asian countries, was particularly underdeveloped in science and technology, which led to the indiscriminate acceptance of anything connected with them. Since then, interest in demons has been regarded as unscientific, and their existence officially denied. Nevertheless, human beings are often attracted to matters that cannot be explained by science, and even now many people believe in the demons and spirits that were established in earlier times.
In his book “Introduction to Psychical Research” (Yuzankaku,Tokyo, 2004. In Japanese), Kazue Abe divides demons into three broad classes.
(1) Monster: Some body and/or action whose real figure is unidentified. It has mysterious power.
(2) Bogey-man: An animal or utensil becomes a kind of demon by obtaining magical power. It does harm or mischief to humans.
(3) Ghost: Dead person whose spirit can go to neither heaven nor hell and that consequently has to wander the earth.
I would like to explain each demon in detail according to this classification:
What is a monster? The explanation above is not clear, so here are some other definitions from other sources.
(1) Among public beliefs, a monster was thought to be an extraordinary phenomenon beyond man’s understanding, or a non-realistic and unscientific existence that could have a mysterious power. (Wikipedia ‘ demon’)
(2) Japan is said to have 8 million gods. In ethnology, monsters are gods that have gone to ruin, loosing their miraculous power. A monster does not appear in front of specific person, unlike an evil spirit that has the power to haunt, but appears at a fixed time and place. (Kobank.jp)
(3) Strange living things and phenomena. (Shigeru Mizuki, the famous comic writer who specialized in the stories of demons.)
Are you able to get some kind of image of what a monster is? Since each source has a different definition, you might be rather confused.
As mentioned at the beginning of the previous section, Japan has many natural disasters, which were thought to be divine punishments or the action of evil deities. For example, when a landslide occurred, people thought the anger of the mountain gods must have been aroused, and made offerings to appease them. And when a boat sunk at sea, people believed that a big evil sea monk dragged it down with him when he returned to the bottom of the sea. When someone was missing in the mountains, it was thought that they had been abducted by mountain gods or spirits. Similarly, when someone drowned in a lake, they were thought to have been taken by the lake’s guardian spirit.
In many countries around the world, the soul/ spirit is thought to live on forever after a body has died. The main Japanese religions, Buddhism and Shinto, have different images of life after death. Buddha dared not to explain about it clearly. Some Buddhist sects have been strictly obedient to his determination, while others have told their followers that they will go to a ‘land of peace and happiness’ – the image most Japanese have of heaven. Some other sects took in other religious stories and folk tales that had become attached to Buddhism in China and India. Some of these stories describe the passage from earth to heaven and hell. According to Japanese folk belief, the typical image of the route after death has been described as follows: When a person dies, they walk through a beautiful flower garden until they come to the bank of a river, named Sanzu-no-kawa. Several people are already waiting to board the boat bound for the opposite shore. Once they get across to the other side of the river, their death is settled. This means if a man does not get in the boat for some reason, he might return to life or come back to this world as a ghost or spirit. They get out of the boat to enter the other world and first go to hell. There, the kings of hell, led by Great King Enma, subject the deceased to intense questioning about their deeds before death. Successful candidates will go on to heaven, while the unsuccessful ones stay in hell. I think there are similar stories in Western culture. In hell, they undergo various tortures depending on their evaluation, which are not, however, related in as much detail as Alighieri Dante’s description in ‘the Divine Comedy.’
In hell, ogres are used by Great King Enma to punish people. The outside appearance of ogres is roughly similar to humans, but they have fangs and a horn on their head. For some unknown reason, they wear shorts made of tiger fur. The actual gate of the hell is guarded by two kinds of ogre – one with the face of a cow and the other with the face of a horse. Since according to Buddhism an ogre is an incarnation of evil, statues of Buddha holding down the ogres are often displayed in temples. (There is idolatry in-Buddhism.) These ogres quickly skived off from their jobs in hell and came to Japanese towns, mainly at night, to cause harm to people. They appear in monster stories as red ogres and blue ogres. The ogres’ outside appearance, size, physical strength, spiritual strength, and intelligence, vary in many ways from story to story. There was even one ridiculous story about a weak ogre being easily defeated by a man. We have many stories about monsters but unfortunately we are limited for space here. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend you to learn Japanese and enjoy these monster stories for yourself!
As mentioned earlier, it has been believed by Japanese from ancient times that spirits lodge in every natural thing – mountains, rivers, trees, plants etc. – as well as humans and animals. Furthermore, the Chinese veneration of the old entered Japan along with Buddhism, and was transformed to the belief that even inorganic substances can have a spirit after they are used for more than a hundred years. Very often these spirits are malevolent. When tools, utensils, furniture etc. are thrown away after being used for a long time they can become possessed by spirits that harbor grudges against humans for their unjust treatment. Animals are also believed to be capable of becoming vessels of such spirits. They are, however, generally weaker than humans, so they are considered to be less malevolent than monsters. Indeed, there are many stories in which such spirits behave in a kindly way, as in the following story. One day, a man rescued an injured crane that had been possessed by a spirit. In order to repay the man’s kindness, it transformed into a woman and they married. As he was very poor, she wove her feathers into a fine fabric, which they then sold it at a high price and quickly became rich.
I will discuss the most interesting of the animal manifestations of such spirits.
CAT: Cats and dogs both live close to humans. However, unlike dogs, cats are thought to never completely lose their wild nature, and are basically selfish. Accordingly, it is no surprise that they are often the main character in bogey-man stories.
What is the character of the cat in such stories?
Compared to the fox (described later), it more often takes the shape of a woman.
It has a fondness for the bloody killing and eating of people.
Even though it sleeps during the daytime in full view of everybody, it has its own cat network, and uses it to gather information to aid its nocturnal activities against people.
Taking the form of a woman, it captivates men and causes them psychological and physical harm, before eventually returning to its original shape. Consequently, even today there are many people who prefer dogs to cats for this reason
DOG： In comparison to cats, there are few examples of evil spirits appearing in the form of a dog. There are, rather, many stories in which the spirit in a dog is good and tries to help people. One of the few examples of an evil dog spirit is ‘the chasing dog’. In these stories, someone is walking along a mountain path and then suddenly becomes aware that a dog is following them. Should the person fall, the dog will kill them. Looking at this story in a different way, the dog might actually be guarding the person. In an alternative example, a man treats a dog cruelly, causing it to harbor deep animosity. The man then uses this animosity for a curse. In stories like this, the man is clearly responsible for any evil done by the dog, and the dog’s obedience to its master is seen as a sign of its basically good character. (Different to the ill-natured cat.)
FOX: We have a lot of stories about fox spirits. (bogey-man). Foxes are very similar animals to dogs, but they inhabit the forest and are never tamed by humans. Nevertheless, there are many occasions when they encounter people, and they can appear in stories as both evil and good spirits.
I would like to explain the evil side first.
It has been said from ancient times that foxes are able to take the shape of anything (usually people and other animals but also inanimate objects like statues) to do evil to people. In particular, they often take the shape of a woman. This is attributed to the Chinese fortunetelling – ‘ Hakke’, in which everything is divided into positive or negative. As with electricity and magnetism, likes attract and opposites repel. The fox is characterized as negative and since man is positive, it often takes the shape of a woman to charm a man. Consequently, we have stories of love and even marriage between them. (In China, there are similar stories involving snake spirits and men.)
Over a thousand years ago in Japan, it used to be the duty of the government to offer prayers to the gods, and shaman had an important role in this. Seimei Abe, a famous shaman who lived in the 10th century, was said to have strong supernatural power. This power came from his mother, who was a fox spirit.
There are many stories of people being possessed by foxes. There are also many sayings and proverbs that involve foxes. For example, when it rains on a fine day, we say, ‘ there is going to be a fox wedding today,’ meaning that we have to be careful not to be fooled or tricked on that day.
The good side of fox spirits: We have 32,000 Shinto shrines where fox spirits are the principal image. The gods of these shrines, deities of agriculture, industry, commerce and the home, have been called ‘Miketsu gods’ since ancient times. An old name for foxes was ‘Ketsu’. There are many homonyms in Japanese and they are often used to make jokes, as well as sometimes causing confusion when talking about serious matters. This is probably why images of foxes came to be used as icons in shrines.
MAN: It is also thought that it is possible for a person to transform into an evil spirit or bogeyman. Some stories feature man-like creatures with a long elastic neck, or without eyes, nose or mouth. Sometimes they have 3 eyes, or a mouth in the top of the head. A hundred years ago, there used to be freak shows presenting people with deformities as bogeymen.
It is sometimes said that the deceased appear to grieving families. Some people say these apparitions are ghosts. A ghost is a spirit in the form of a person, and different to monsters and bogeymen, often behaves benevolently towards people.
As mentioned in the section about monsters, it sometimes happens that a person doesn’t go to heaven or hell after death. If the deceased still has an attachment to something in this world, he or she does not cross the Sanzunokawa (the river separating the two worlds), and stays on earth as a ghost in order to achieve some goal.
Examples of good ghosts:
A wife died at a very young age and couldn’t bear to be separated from her husband. She came back to this world as a ghost every night and continued to live with him.
In another story, a mother died just after childbirth. She came back to suckle her child, or bought sweets when she couldn’t give milk. There are many variations of such folk stories.
However, there are many cases of ghosts harboring grudges. Here are several examples.
In the oldest love novel in Japan, Genjimonogatari, written by Shikibu Murasaki, around A.D.1000, there is a sad episode of a lady who lost her lover to another woman, and then became a ghost (though she is alive) and haunted her rival to death.
Michizane Sugawara (A.D.845~1164) was defeated in a political battle and banished to a faraway place (Dazaifu in Kyushu). After he died there, the emperor and many of his former political rivals died, and many disasters such as fires and earthquakes happened in Kyoto, where the government offices were located. It was said that Sugawara was taking revenge against his former enemies. The government tried to appease him by worshipping him as a god, and even today there are many shrines all over Japan called Tenmangu, in which Sugawara is worshipped as the god of scholarship.
In another case, the seventy fifth emperor, Sutoku, (A.D.1119~1164), was taken to a remote province( Sanuki in Shikoku) and confined there after rivals plotted against him. He held such a strong grudge against them that it is said he sold his soul to the devil upon his death. His avenging spirit then caused big fires and rebellions in Kyoto. The government was finally able to escape his wrath by building a temple and worshipping him as a god. There are many similar stories. We feel the evil spirits in these stories are a little bit different to ghosts, but still categorize them as monsters.
The fact that almost all ghosts are female is explained as follows:
In the feudal Edo era (1603~1868), when the concept of the ghost was established, people lived in a society with a rigid hierarchy – samurai – farmer – craftsman – merchant. The commoners, people other than samurai, had no choice but to accept their position and suppress the frustration they felt at the inequality. Buddhism, as well as Confucianism, promulgated the feudal system and the predominance of men over women. Consequently, commoner women were in the weakest position in society, and lived under the tyranny of men. Thus, if a woman from the lowest class were able to take revenge against a samurai, it would entail overcoming a huge difference in their positions. To do this, she had to die and become a ghost. This kind of revenge drama, using the dramatic effect of the ghost, seized the hearts of people of all classes and became one of the most popular genres of theater. You might now feel that it is possible to roughly guess the story of ghost stories, but do you have a definite image of a ghost yet?
The following accounts might help.
I would like to introduce three of the most famous ghosts – ‘Iwa’, ‘Kasane’ and ‘Kiku’.
‘Iwa’ is the name of the heroine, that is, the ghost in the horror drama ‘ Yotsuya Kaidan’. Iwa’s husband fell in love with another woman and killed ‘Iwa’. Several months later, Iwa appeared in front of her husband and his new wife as a ghost, and then killed them both with a terrible curse.
‘Kiku’ is the heroine of ‘Banchosarayasiki’. This horror drama was written based on the rumor that Kiku, the female servant of a government official, Shuzen Aoyama, was killed by him after he suspected her of breaking a dish from a set that was a family treasure. There are many versions about the reason why Aoyama blamed Kiku for the breakage. One was that Aoyama had ordered Kiku to become his concubine, but she refused. He then hid one dish and claimed she had broken it. This kind of story, in which an innocent person is blamed for something, is quite common. In another case, the mistress of the house hid a dish to get at Kiku. In another, she is a female Ninja (spy), who is eventually exposed by Aoyama and killed by him. In every version, she is slashed with a sword and falls into a well and dies. Several days later, she appears in front of her master as a ghost and starts counting dishes in a chilling voice, “ One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Ah, there should be one more! But one is missing! What shall I do?” Aoyama is tormented by the image and eventually becomes fatally sick.
There is a comic version of this drama as well. Kiku’s ghost comes out from the well on the second of January every year (the day the original story was supposed to have taken place) and starts counting dishes. People watching her will die if they don’t run away before she gets to the part where she says, ‘I am one dish short!’
The third story, ‘Kasane’, is similar to ‘Iwa’, so I won’t describe it here.
In the Edo era, various versions of the ghost dramas were taken up in picture books for adults and appeared in the popular performance art of Kabuki. The ghosts persecute the objects of their grudges using the psychological effect of voicing their reproaches, or by a combination of psychological and physical actions. Very often they are helped by animal spirits such as cats. In many cases, the ghosts’ victims were samurai, who occupied the highest rank in society. They were supposed to practice martial arts every day, so shouldn’t have had any problems dealing with a ghost’s attack. However, since the ghost is already dead, physical attacks with weapons are always ineffective. Even though the samurai had gone through hard training to strengthen his willpower, the ghost’s relentless psychological attacks eventually wear him down until he finally dies. The struggle between them is one of the attractions of ghost movies. At the moment when the ghost’s objective is fulfilled, the camera zooms in and she is seen to give a slight grin – the most frightening part of the movie for the audience. In the movies I watched, the story focused on the changes in the mind of the victim after the ghost’s purely psychological onslaught. Employing physical means was thought to be inelegant.
However, being a child, I was more frightened by the cat monster than the ghost.
Ghost dramas have been performed mainly in summer from long ago. During the Edo era (17th – 19th century), somebody realized that feeling chills of fear listening to ghost stories was a good way to momentarily escape the oppressive summer heat. (In Japan, the maximum temperature in summer is not so high but it’s very humid, so it always feels much hotter than it actually is.)
Thomas Edison invented a motion picture camera in 1981, and movies were first screened in Japan in 1896. The first ghost movie was produced in 1898, only two years later, so you can see the Japanese were very fond of ghost dramas. Since then, many ghost movies have been produced using both stories from picture books and Kabuki scripts. Since most of them had similar stories (as described on Youtube), movie directors tried to use different gimmicks to grab the attention of audiences. These ploys included things like casting a beautiful actress for the ghost and using various sets and dramatic affects, but the possibilities were soon exhausted. When TVs came into wide use, ghost stories were immediately adopted, but the smaller screen size limited their dramatic effect. It has been calculated that the screen image has to occupy more than 30% of the audience’s field of view in order to create an effective impression. However, an ordinary TV screen only takes up about 10%, so it’s more difficult for TV dramas to make a similar impact. (This is the concept behind the development of 4K-TV). Then the makers of TV ghost dramas tried to garner interest by making variations to the stories and increasing the horror scenes. However, the ideas soon dried up and TV companies looked abroad for inspiration, finally seizing upon American horror stories.
As described earlier, the ghosts in Japanese horror stories originally attacked their victims psychologically rather than physically, and audiences enjoyed the steady escalation of horror. American horror movies, on the other hand, often don’t make sense to Japanese audiences and leave us feeling unimpressed. However, after both TV shows and movies used American style horror continuously, people, particularly the young, became accustomed to them. As a result, they were initially able to maintain steady viewing figures, but the possibilities of this new source were also quickly used up. Even though filmmakers strived to make new types of horror movies, such as hybrids based on both countries’ concepts, they struggled to satisfy audiences. Finally, the custom of watching ghost movies as a natural feature of the Japanese summer seems to have disappeared.
Recently, TV stations have devised a new type of ghost character and have been broadcasting documentary style programs consisting of omnibus stories, airing them in the summer. This new type is based on the idea that (As mentioned in chapter 4) when somebody dies in unhappy circumstances, they cannot go to the afterworld and remain on earth, sometimes appearing to people. This new kind of evil spirit stays without human form in a specific place that had significance for them during life. When somebody enters this area, the spirit causes various phenomena to occur.
In this TV program, a group of celebrities is sent to some place that is rumored to be haunted – very often a derelict hospital or school, or the site of a fatal accident. If an evil spirit is there and confronts them, they get TV images that are supposed to be evidence of its existence – often something that looks like a white cotton ball (about one or two inches in diameter) floating in mid air. And they make much of every insignificant thing that happens, for example, water suddenly dripping on one of the celebrities, or the TV camera developing some kind of mechanical trouble. Very often, one of the celebrities will lose control of his or her body, and somebody shouts in an exaggeratedly frightened voice, ‘ They’ve been possessed.’ Sometimes a ‘spiritualist’ is invited along and exorcises the evil spirit. Of course, for people who are familiar with traditional ghost movies, the new documentary types have no real stories, and lack any depth, taste, or beauty. On the other hand, young people seem to enjoy them and the programs get reasonable ratings.
‘Monsters’ have also transformed into animals like Gozzila, aliens in SF movies, and characters like Doraemon in Japanese Manga. Additionally, almost all local governments in Japan nowadays have their own mascot dolls, which could also be seen as having evolved from monsters.
By the way, Readers might have a question for me. – ‘Do you believe in the existence of ghosts? – I am a scientist, without any psychic power, unfortunately, so I deny their existence. However, believing that seeing a ghost can be attributed to an overwhelming feeling of loss and desire to see the deceased again, I sometimes wish my deceased wife would come back to see me, even as a ghost. And my sister-in-law is always trying to persuade me to go to Osorezan (a famous sacred mountain that is thought to have mystical power.) to try and contact my wife through a medium. Not being able to completely laugh off her suggestion, I recognize the inconsistencies of my mind.
Chapter 8 GHOST MOVIES （1955）
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan)
“Let’s go. Mom, let’s go together.” “Let’s go. Chokochan(the nickname of the boy’s elder sister), let’s go together.” Since dinner, the boy had been asking them over and over to go together to see the movie that was going to be shown at the hall of the primary school.
At that time (1960’s), there were no amusement facilities like a movie theatre in the village they lived (indeed, there aren’t even now), and the villager scarcely had any entertainment. Every summer, the young farmers association used to borrow old movies from the movie theatre in the neighboring town, and they were greatly enjoyed by the villagers. At night, the village was pitch-dark because there were no street lamps, so it was unnecessary to hang blackout screens on the windows of the hall.
They put on mainly historical dramas (Samurai dramas), love stories and comedies, but also educational ones like documentary films about the nuclear bomb, earthquakes, tsunamis etc. Today’s program was a ghost movie.
His sister, a third grade student in junior high school, did not intend to go along with his proposal because she wanted to study in order to improve her already superior grades and, of course, she disliked horror films anyway. Their mother had not been able to decide after dinner whether to go or not. As a teacher in a junior high school, she always brought home work she hadn’t been able to finish at school such as marking and making of tests and preparing the next day’s lessons. This was the reality for almost all teachers at that time, and maybe today, too. Furthermore, for a teacher who had studied science, at least superficially, it didn’t seem becoming for her to be seen watching a movie about the occult, and so she really didn’t want to go. On the other hand, she felt guilty about always leaving the boy by himself, so it was hard to say no.’ He continued to plead with her, “Let’s go – please, let’s go.” But she still could not make up her mind.
Arriving there, someone showed them through the door and said, “Good evening.” The mother instantly replied in the dialect of the western part of Japan. “Ah, good evening. Mr. Sato.” She was always careful to use the dialect of this area (the northern part of Japan) when speaking, but when she was caught unawares or if something was bothering her, she made a mess of it, which always irritated the villagers.
“Mrs. teacher, there is something I would like to ask you.” said Mr. Sato. (In Japan, people usually address their superiors by the name of their position, such as Mr. president, Mr. manager etc. instead of their name.) He, a young farmer, had been influenced by the democratization brought by the US army after war, and had taken her class for adults on sociology.
“Yes, come over here. What is your question?” The boy saw through her strategy immediately, watching her response with a look of resignation and wiping away a tear.
“ My boy, I am very sorry, I have to speak with Sato san. We’ll go together the next time.”
It only took ten minutes for the child to walk on the road along a brook from the house to the school. Bamboo and big trees hung over the road so thick that the moonlight did not penetrate, but it was possible to get there without falling into the brook by carefully aiming at the school lights through the foliage.
Perhaps not everybody but most people have very active imaginations – the boy certainly did, and today’s program had become much more than just a horror movie. He had been stoking the horror by recalling images of horror scenes from previous movies. Although he often walked through the bamboo forest, even on dark nights, he had managed to thoroughly terrify himself, so he dropped his shoulders and ran along the dark road as fast as he could. The bamboo leaves rustled loudly in the strong wind blowing over his head, and convinced him monsters were at his heels. When he passed by a big tree, birds sleeping there took off all at once flapping their wings loudly, enhancing his fear even more, He felt as if the monsters were just about to pounce, and this spurred him along the puddle-covered road.
When he arrived at the gymnasium of the primary school, villagers had already filled more than half of it. They were sitting on the floor making loosely dispersed groups of relatives or good friends. The audience reached back two thirds of the length of the hall. At the front, in order to view the film comfortably, they left a gap in front of the screen hanging on the wall. That night, the gap was a little bigger than usual. Ghost movies use the sudden appearance of ghosts to shock audiences. This was well known, of course, so they kept a little distance between themselves and the screen.
Being short, he wouldn’t have been able to see the screen if he’d sat at the back. And owing to the strong body odors of the farmers after a hard day’s work, he wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on the movie if he’d sat in the middle of them. So he sat down at the front in a small gap between groups.
“OK – we’re rolling!” the organizer said, and the chatting adults and playing children settled down. From the back of the gym, the ‘kara,kara,kara’ sound of the film running on the projector could be heard. That night’s ghost movie was a ‘Magemono’. This is a historical drama set in the Edo era (1615~1867), when samurai were the governing class. The samurai’s typical hairstyle was called ‘Chonmage’, which was shortened to ‘Mage’, so we call historical dramas of that era ‘Magemono’ (‘mono’ means ‘concerned with’).
The basic story of the movie was that a samurai from the provinces had an affair, and his wife took her vengeance on her husband after becoming a ghost. At that time, Japan was divided into many provinces, from which their lords had to spend alternate years in Edo (the seat of the central government; present day Tokyo) and their own provinces. Thus, it was necessary for them to have a residence and office in both cities, and their retainers also had to move between both cities to conduct business.
The main character of that movie had a lover in Edo, and had left his family in his homeland. No matter how much his wife asked him to go back, he always refused on the pretext of having to attend to his business. While he was away, she was murdered, but couldn’t leave this world owing to her love for her husband and hatred for his lover, and so became a ghost. One night, she appeared in the room in Edo where her husband was sleeping with his lover. Looking as she had at the moment of her death, her hair disheveled and head bleeding, she was a pathetic figure. She didn’t try to harm them physically but just stood there repeating, ‘My husband, I miss you so much,’ and to his lover, ‘I curse you’. That unwelcome visit affected them deeply, and subsequent visits increased their torment, gradually pushing them to self-destruction. This is a very well worn story – almost all horror movies involving ghosts are based on it or variations of it. People engaged in movie production, especially directors and script writers, tend to try to show their originality by describing as gruesomely as possible the progression of the self-destruction. On the other hand, audiences are solely interested in forgetting the summer heat, with the terror they feel at the sudden appearance of the ghost. This is, of course, fully understood by the movie companies, which force their staff to concentrate on enhancing terror at the expense of the quality of the story. This is one of the reasons why there are no superior ghost films such as ‘Hamlet’.
After several scenes; Inside a dark hall, the eerie high- pitched sound of a flute could be heard, ‘HYUUU, HYUUU,’ and a drum was beating, ‘DORO, DORO, DORO.’ It gradually grew louder until it felt as if the whole building was shaking. The boy thought the ghost would come out at any minute and he braced himself for its appearance. Every member of the audience kept absolutely quiet in anticipation of that thrilling moment.
Usually, the ghost would be some woman with blood all over her white face. However, that night it was a little different. As the drumbeat slowly decreased, the sound of a wooden hammer beating against something could be heard, ‘KON, KON, KON.’
On the screen, the samurai was sleeping with his lover. She could hear the sound and shook him awake entreating him with a husky voice, ‘ My darling, there’s a strange sound coming from the next room. Please go and see what it is.’ ‘What? A strange sound?’ said the man sleepily. He got up and opened the Fusuma(paper sliding door) a little to see into the next room. It was usually dark in there but there was a lighted candle in the family Buddhist altar and he could make out the silhouette of somebody sitting there. He was about to say, ‘ What’s going on?’ but he just froze there with his mouth open and stared at the figure.
The figure was murmuring something while steadily beating an object on the table with a small wooden hammer. His attention was focused on the thing being beaten, which close-up camera work reveals to be a wooden doll. The voice could be heard more clearly now, ‘I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san. I miss you, Sukezaemon.’ Sukezaemon and Okiyo are the names of the samurai and his lover.
‘Who on earth are you!’ Sukezaemon said hoarsely. The figure turned towards him and replied mournfully, ‘My dear husband, you haven’t forgotten my voice already, have you?’
‘AAAAARGH! Here it is!’ In the dark, screams could be heard from all over the hall. The figure wore a white kimono, her untidy black hair partially hiding her blood – covered face. Her eyes were glued on the doll as she beat it with the hammer.
The screams continued, ‘AAAARGH! I can’t look! It’s awful!’ As the camera moved in, it revealed that the doll was modeled on Okiyo, and that the ghost was actually hitting a big nail placed against its throat.
‘I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san,’ repeated the ghost.
By now the audience was on the verge of hysteria.
The following night, Sukezaemon and Okiyo were sleeping in their room again. A clashing sound of wooden blocks could be heard from afar, ‘KARAN-KORON, KARAN-KORON.’ The sound gradually increased and the same pitiful figure appears, walking in ‘geta’ (wooden shoes) along the corridor towards their room. At the bottom of her white kimono, her feet were so indistinct that she seemed to floating above the floor, her arms extended in front of her with her hands hanging down limply at the wrists.
“KARAN – KORON, KARAN – KORON,”came the sound of the ghost’s geta on the floor. Nobody in the audience seemed to notice the discrepancy of the invisible feet making such a sound.
As on the previous night, Okiyo heard the sound and shook Sukezaemon, ‘My darling, wake up. There is a sound coming from the corridor. Go and see what it is’
‘Again? Is it a dream?’ said Sukezaemon.
“KARAN – KORON, KARAN – KORON.” The sound grew gradually louder and the shadow of the ghost appeared on the thin paper sliding door separating the corridor from their room.
Shouting loudly,‘You must be mad!’ he drew his sword and tried to stab the ghost through the door. Everything went quiet, but then a sound could be heard coming from one of the corners inside the room, “KON, KON, KON.” They turned to see the ghost sitting there on its heels, beating the doll steadily.
‘I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Sukezaemon.’
Her low, weak voice echoed in the room.
‘ AAARGHHHH!’ The audience was thrown into hysteria again.
The next night, they were lying awake on their bed in the candlelit room. Sukezaemon said to Okiyo, ‘ Today, I sent a letter home. My wife must be there, but we saw her ghost two nights running. I cannot understand it. It’s not possible for somebody to be a ghost while they are still alive.’ (Although stories in recent ghost movies do sometimes have people becoming ghosts while they are still living, it was not thought possible at that time.)
Okiyo clung to him and asked, ‘So why is she appearing to us?’
‘Someone must be playing a trick on us. Tonight I am going to unmask the ghost in the light of this room,’ he answered Okiyo, showing his samurai courage.
“KON, KON, KON.” The sound was heard again.
‘I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Sukezaemon.’ a faint voice could be heard.
Suddenly, all the candles were blown out by the wind. They were bewildered by the unexpected darkness and feverishly turned their heads backwards and forwards trying to see around them. Then a close up shot revealed the ghost touching Sukezaemon’s neck with its white fingers. ‘I miss you, Sukezaemon. I miss you, Sukezaemon.’ Some liquid dropped on Sukazaemon’s neck. Unfortunately, there were only black and white films at that time, but the audience understood instantly that it was blood. Everybody shuddered, feeling that cold blood dripping on their necks. A shiver went down the boy’s spine and then, feeling a cold wind on his neck, he looked behind him. ‘What! Where did everybody go?’ he exclaimed. There ought to have been many people behind him, but he found that somehow he was now right at the back. In that night’s film, the ghost had repeatedly appeared behind Sukezaemon and his lady, and then leaned on their backs. Everyone was imagining the ghost appearing behind them and had moved forward little by little, pushing the boy to the rear. He felt the ghost breathing down his neck, ’Help!’
The movie that night was of a very low artistic standard, full of continuing horror scenes. The director had complied completely with the requirements of the company’s business strategy, and consequently it was a huge hit with audiences. Unfortunately for the boy, he somehow had to stave off the attacks of ghosts and get home through the fearful bamboo forest.
Topics concerning this article – Japanese monsters, bogey-men, ghosts and their movies are described in http://www.fumi-otsuki.com