Tag Archives: horror

Saturday Shorts: Country Roads

Country Roads

Even with the heater going full blast, Susan could barely feel her fingers for the cold. Her thick mittens did little to take the bone deep chill of the truck cabin away. The snow fell thickly outside, reflecting the headlights of the truck in odd ways, making the road more treacherous than it already was, the wipers working furiously. The snow danced like ghosts across the stretch of abandoned back road.

Susan hated early mornings, when the sun was still hours away from rising, and absolutely loathed the cold. Despite these certainties, she loved the snow, as it was beautiful in its own way. It was part of the reason she had stayed in North Dakota, despite her hatred of winter. The other reason she had stayed for so many years was why she was up at such an ungodly hour in the first place, driving when it was likely that every weather and news station in the county was advising against even going out your front door.

The trailer she was towing behind the truck pulled along, following in the ruts created by the full ton trucks winter tires. For all Susan knew, she wasn’t even driving on the actual road, since the only markers that made the stretch a road in this weather was her ingrained memory from having come this way countless times before. Hell, she almost missed the turn off indicator as she came up to it, though in reality it was not an official demarcation of destination, just an old oak tree, branches now heavy with snow, the indicated she had reached her turn. With a hard jerk on the wheel, she managed to make the cut, the chains on her tires gripping the snow and the gravel below it to keep her from sliding; the trailer bounces along behind. In this storm, the tree was her only indication that she was at the pasture. The snow was so uniformly white and even that it was all muscle memory and reflex at this point, keeping her calm and steady behind the wheel.

Another five minutes of steady travel into the pasture, and she was actually beginning to be able to feel her fingers, though it could just as easily been the beginnings of frostbite, as she had had a brush or two with that in the past. It would have been glorious to be able to sit in the cabin of the truck, as the warmth began to slowly leach away the battering cold, but she was at her destination and there was no time to dawdle. She was not the only thing that was likely feeling cold, as it was  ‘ not fit for man nor beast out there’, as her dad had been want to say when he was alive.

With a deft twist, Susan cut the lights on the truck, and shifted to neutral, letting the truck and trailer roll forward to a slow and steady stop. Reaching up, she made sure her knit cap was pulled down tight over her ears, meeting the edge of the heavy scarf she had wound round and round her neck. Quickly, as if she were removing a band-aid, she threw the truck door open and jumped down, trudging through the near knee-high snow towards the back of the trailer. From inside, these was the distinctive sound of hooves on metal, and puffs of steam rose from the small ventilation windows. The bleating of a handful or tired and upset sheep echoed off the bare trailer walls, as the flock made its protest known. The smell of wet wool and lanolin was just strong enough to cut over the cold and crisp air of the storm, which numbed the nose almost to the point of being useless.

Susan could hardly blame the sheep for being disagreeable, their foul mood was something she could relate to, given the circumstances. Being pulled from warm stocks at herded into a semi warm trailer at 3;00 AM would have that effect on anyone, though some would be able to protest in much more horrendous fashions. Susan lowered her scarf ever so slightly and let loose two short, shrill whistles that cut over the wind, and the sheep settled somewhat in the trailer, letting out a few soft baa’s as back talk.

Despite the thickness of her gloves, the little bit of warmth she had begun to feel was already bleeding away, so Susan made quick work of removing the dual lock and pins that held the back ramp in place. The ramp sank down into the snow, not resting fully level, but angling enough that it would be a short transition of trailer to ground for her charges. The latch that held the rolling door secure was a little bit more tricky, especially as the snow continued to fall and quickly cover every surface it could, but years of repetition made quick work of the obstacle. As the door rolled up the sheep, who had been huddled together near the back of the trailer, began moving forward toward the ramp, more out of habit than from any command, given that this was not their first time being transported. Susan moved away from the back of the trailer, the sheep descending the ramp into the snow one after the other in some bizarre game of follow the leader. Once the last of the flock, seven in total, had founds its way down the ramp and did not look like it would be retreating back into the trailer, Susan made quick work of closing the rolling door and locking the ramp back up, before she slowly worked her way back to the open door of the cabin, making sure none of the sheep tried to follow her. They stayed where the were, huddling together in the snow-covered field, their wool blending in with the snow while their black faces stood in stark contrast, even in the relative darkness.

Putting one foot back into the cabin and hoisting herself up with the door, Susan let loose another shrill series of whistles, which set the sheep into a nervous stomping. Taking a deep breath, the cold cutting her lungs like knives, she raised her voice over the storm, shouting into the darkness;

“Come out and get them, they’re all yours!”

With a quick pull and a dive across the seats, her  head down with her arms over it, Susan slammed the door behind her, just as the whoosh of something larger and heavier than a jet engine overtook the pasture, hidden by the snow. Susan did not dare look up, did not dare even breath, until there was nothing left but silence.

-Megan

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Saturday Shorts: The Doctor Is In

The Doctor Is In

With surgical precision, she peeled the skin back from the muscle. With practices and slow motions, she positioned the flaps of skin down on the mounting blocks, and pinned it in place, the latex of her gloves offering a sure grip, despite the blood which covered the fingers.

Now that the skin was taken care of, moved and held away from the forearm, she could begin her work. It had been hard going, but this was not her first try. It had helped immensely that the chosen patient was in optimal condition, with no other health complications or previous work to put her into more difficult territory.

Now, her gloves were slick with blood, having taken the time to carefully deal with the subject, she knew it could not have been avoided, only made minimal so as not to become a larger concern. The inside of the gloves were even more uncomfortable, coated now with sweat that caused the material to lose a bit of its purchase. She would have rather not had to use the clingy latex gloves, but they were a necessary precaution, and the only thing that had been in stock. That shortage was something she was going to have to see about in the future.

Setting her scalpel down, she picked up her small scissors and got down to the truly challenging work. With the forearm muscles exposed, Flexor Carpi Radialis and  Brachioradialis she reminded herself,  and in such fine condition, it made it very easy to determine where the tendons lay. There was o excess fat to get in the way. Very carefully, with great concentration to keep her hands from shaking even the most imperceptible micron, she snipped the tendons cleaning, watching the tension leave it like a snapped bowstring. Setting aside the scissors, and wiping her bloody hands on her scrub pants, she smile. Carefully, as if touching china, she reached in and took hold of the  tendons, using both hands to take two between her fingers on each hand.

With a triumphant exhalation, she manipulated the tendon as if she was dealing with a human puppet, carefully pulling back on and releasing the tension slowly in order to watch the fingers on the hand open and close. The fingers responded, less smoothly at first, but soon fluidly as she learned the correct amount of force to use, Eventually the fingers waved back in a macabre semblance jazz fingers.

“See,” the girl grinned broadly, glancing up the table at the man, gagged and restrained firmly to the table, eyes wide in fear and pain not fully dulled by the sleeping pill she had slipped him earlier in the evening when she had suggested their next activity, ” I told you it would be fun if we played doctor.”

-Megan

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Saturday Short: Just Like Granny Annie

Granny Annie’s apple pies!

Nothing like a heaping helping of delicious apple pie to chase away a busy day.

Try Granny Annie’s and you’ll be surprised at how the worries just melt away.

You haven’t had a pie until you’ve tried Granny Annie’s Granny Apple Pie!

The radio switched back to the afternoon’s smooth jazz, its sounds filling the small kitchen as Alice worked. Alice had always prided herself on her pie making ability, and her crusts were simply the flakiest in the neighbourhood. She  made apple pies that made judges cry, and she had the county and state faire ribbons to prove it. She had even been in the Great Northwest Exposition Finals, beaten only by the creations of Granny Annie herself. That was nothing to bat an eye at, since Granny Annie had been winning first place ribbons for her pie since before Alice had even been born.

Of course, now that Granny Annie had gone to meet the Almighty Pie Man in the sky, Alice saw nothing between her and complete victory in the upcoming Country and State Fair competition. She would even be so bold as to go beyond and say that there was no one left in the whole Midwest region who could come close to her skill with a crust. of course, she would only ever think that in the privacy of her own home kitchen; best to be humble and gracious in the public eye, don’t you know.

Alice had been practicing all winter, adding new twists to her crust, and tweaking the flavours just so. She had redoubled her efforts since the news had announced the passing of Annie, knowing that there would be housewives and gastronomy aficionados coming out of the woodwork to try to snatch up the accolades and sponsorships that had once belonged to the old women. A gap had been created at the very to of the massive pyramid of pie backers, and there would be stiff competition ahead. But Alice had something that none of the others had, something that she had ventured far afield to get, and secret back to her home.

Now, Alice had that ace of her proverbial dress sleeve, and a sprinkle of new magic on her apron. Delicately, she cut herself a piece from the pie she had just removed from the oven, letting the savoury scent cascade through the small room, curling her toes at the warmth of it. She hoped that it would taste as good as it smelled, this was her first savoury pie, and she could not afford to have it not be delicious down to the last bite. Alice smiled as she carefully pressed her fork through the golden crust, the gravy leaking out across the plate. With measured steps, she brought the fork up, being sure that no drops fell on her apron. Raising it in salute to the other side of her kitchen counter, she took a bite, closing her eyes to enjoy as the flavour slipped over her palate. She found it delicate, the texture not that much unlike chopped roast beef, but the flavour more mellow, like a slow roasted pork loin. She ate the bite and exhaled slowly before smiling, all in all, it could use more spice, but it was edible, and that was what Alice needed most

” Oh, Granny Annie, for all your prizes, your pies lack a little in the kick department. Still, you certainly make a very nice pie.”

Alice smiled again and winked at the skull set at the other end of the counter, over seeing the oven. It provided no comeback, no quip. Granny Annie had always been humble and very soft spoken.

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Wanted: Avid Listener

 

He could hear her voice, even with his ears full of screams. Despite his efforts, the voice was no louder or clearer than what he had first begun to hear it speak. Some words echoed, and if he listened hard enough he was able to decipher some of the words, to begin to make sense what t was she was asking of him. However, most of her words were still too faint, still beyond his ability to comprehend. Sometimes he wanted to cry, to scream so long and so loud that it hurt. Until his throat was raw and bloody. All in the hopes the somehow, his own suffering would make the words come more clearly.

Shakily, he ran his hands down his unkempt face, over coarse whiskers and craggy skin, leaving trails of filth in the wake of his fingers. He repeated the actions over and over, until his face was just as dirty as his hands, just as imperfect and flawed. He did it without seeming to take notice, sweat from his brown joining in to the mess.

The room where he lived and did most of his work was barely lit, the merger light emanating from the crude braziers and a single lantern which hung from the lower timber rafters cast more shadows than illumination. Despite the small space, it was by no means a hovel. He strived to keep it clean especially when he had guests. They were the ones who ended up making a mess of the place, who abused his generous hospitality. It wasn’t as if he asked for much from his guests in exchange for all that he did for from. He was a humble man, and his requests were no sort of imposition. He didn’t ask them for money, or favours exchange for his generosity. He would give anything that was asked of him, his possessions were of little consequence to him, and he would offer every last piece of himself and all that was his to anyone who asked, provided they did not seek it out of personal greed.

Truthfully speaking, he felt that was he asked from his guests, his only request in return for all that he could possibly give, was small and of little consequence. What he asked was so small intact, that he found it absolutely astounding the amount of times his request was refused. All his guests had to do to fully benefit from all he had to offer, was to sit quietly for a time and listen to his stories. He did admit that some of his stories could be considered boring and sad, as some were tales of miseries and sadness long passed.

But those stories were just the beginning. Everything had changed for him, and for his stories, when she had started to speak to him. She was his fire, his muse, his very reason to continue living, and if only they would listen to his stories of her, they would see how inspiring and awe-inspiring she truly was. He just needed his guests to under what she meant to him.

All of his guests so far seemed to get excited, elated, and hopeful when he told them about how sh had some to save him. For a brief, shining moment, they would forget about themselves, empathize with him, and he was certain that there was nothing better in the whole world than seeing how she inspired that wide-eyed glee in others, just as she had in him.

He loved to watch those eyes light up, and fill with tears of pure joy when he told them, no, when he asked them to help him understand what it was she whispered into his ear now, in the dark of night when no one else was around. Her voice had long begun to fade beyond his hearing. whether this was due to age, or some other ailment, he did not know, but it burned at his very soul, and sent waves of sadness over him when he thought that one day soon, he would no longer even be able to hear her whispers.

He rejoiced, danced as much as his cold bones would allow him, when his guests, like him, cried out for her to come and save them, just as she had saved him. They begged her to save them from their own suffering. It was a new miracle, each and every time, and he felt as if hope returned to him when they agreed to help him, when they dropped to their knees and begged for him to let them help.

But, as with so many times in his life, hope and joy were short-lived. without fail, it seemed, each of his guests would prove to be incapable of keeping their word. Liars and thieves were prolific, and they sought to take even what little he had left in the world. So far, every one of his guests had proven incapable, unable to hear the full glory of her voice, unable to hear what she was saying with any clarity, some even proving more hard of hearing than him was. Some guests had even thrown his hospitality in his face, trying their backs on their promises and their pleas. They would lie to him about her words; he was never certain why. Some, he thought, simply were going deaf, while others like hard her voice and wanted to keep the joy and comfort all to themselves.

It was always the liars, he had come to discover, that could hearth voice of his saviour clearly. Liars were never to be tolerated, they spat in both his face and her face, trying to take everything the were offered without fulfilling their promises and his request in any meaningful way. She knew who the liars were as well, and it was when they were present that he voice surged most clearly to him these days, like a bell in the fog off the sea. She advised him not to trust the liars, they were going to destroy him and steal all that he had fought so long and so hard for. They would steal her away as well, if he gave them the chance.

Eventually, when the lairs and the deaf knew that he could tell they were not being truthful, they would turn violently against him, breaking hospitality. They would try to weasel out of their agreements, out of their promises. They would try to sway him with offerings, bribing him with things that he did not want, that he had no need of. Those guests always left before the sun rose the morning after they came to visit. They would go, and leave him with their mess.

The screams that evening were almost completely silenced when he finally felt her presence, her voice at his ear as her words ghosted past his conscious mind. It was elusive and ephemeral, and her touch as she spoke in his ear was quickly fading, words cutting in and out, half -formed. They told him that he had been right, these guests had been unable to hear her as well, unable to take her words and bring them to the light where he wold be able to fully understand them once again. They had left a speculator mess behind as well, strewn and splashed across the floor with no regard for that fact that it would take him hours to clean.

Picking up the broken ladle he had used to serve that nights fare, he returned to his task, guided ever neared to the realization that her voice might now be forever beyond his grasp. Perhaps, once he had really tidied up, tomorrow’s guest would be different, would prove to finally be able to help him discover her words, to find out what it was she was asking off him now. How best to serve his lady. Perhaps, they would finally be able to hear her as well, if he opened their ears a little further.  As he began the task piling the broken bits of meat together, he ran his hand over his face, trying to clear some of the thick blood from his whiskers. The liars were always the ones who left him with the biggest mess, and even less of his hard-won sanity.

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Last Thursday Review: Locke & Key Small World

SPOILER WARNING: Be mindful, there may be spoilers here. Turn back if you are as eager to read this graphic novel without and poor knowledge of the content,

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Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

When I first stumbled on Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key in my local comic store, I wasn’t sure what to think, aside from the fact that the first couple of pages were interesting enough to warrant that I would spend my hard-earned money on it. At the time, going to school full-time for an undergraduate degree and working in a video store, I was rather tight about how I spent my little bit of cash.

But that day, I went home with a winner that would quite literally become one of the few collections that I was hooked on enough, at the time, to go out and buy immediately, no matter what was in my bank account or where I was working.

Now, in 2017, Hill and Rodriquez have tempted those who fell in love with the twisted history of Key House and Lovecraft, with another shiny hardcover, Locke and Key: Small World. As far as size goes, this column does feel quite short, clocking in at under 25 pages of comic. So, rather than a full size story, the reader is greater with what feels like a single issue of a comic, sweetened with a few extras (art, original script, adaptation views, and interviews). All in all, it barely sates the appetite for new content that fans of the series (such as myself) have been craving since the end of the original series. However, in the contained interview, Hill and Rodriguez promise that there are more stories to come entering around these characters, Key House, and Lovecraft. So far, this seems limited to some short stories and collections, with the speculation of another six arc story (no commitment to that as of yet, it seems to just be an idea.) They also promise that the long-awaited television series with IDW Entertainment is still on the table.

The story itself is currently self-contained, taking you through a single experience by some of the Locke ancestors. The art, as always, is beautifully rendered, the detail excellent and the colour vivid.

Despite this, I found that the story itself was somewhat lacking. As a current ‘stand alone’ tale, Small World is just that, small. Where previously readers were drawn in to Bode, Tyler, and Kinsey, and thrown right into the darkness within the first 5 pages of Welcome to LovecraftSmall World does not seem to lend itself to the same connection of character to reader. The Locke children seem quite cookie cutter. It seems as if a bit of connection was sacrificed in order to keep the story short and sweet. They are mapped on the page with care, but there seems to be pieces missing where the reader is supposed to feel for them. Each is most definitely individual, but aside from the stereotypical archetypes (the little lady, the trouble maker, the sage, and the fighter), there wasn’t much that seemed to make them a part of Locke and Key save for the fact that they are cast as part of the long line of Lockes to live in Keyhouse. At times, aside from the name and a double page decimated to introducing the readers to the new (or older) Locke family, it seems as if it could have been anyone waltzing across the page in the rolls.

The story, as said earlier, is linear. There are no flash backs, no flash forwards, and the whole tale seems to take place over perhaps the entirety of 3 hours, with very little fanfare, and even less exploitation of the previous dark atmosphere created by Hill and Rodriguez. The threat is quite mundane, only made a threat by the mishandling of a key. There is very little anxiety created by the monster that shows up, and the end is abrupt (though personally, I definitely grinned just a bit, because it was totally something that felt in tune with the level of threat created). Maybe this is because the family is not dealing , or has not yet dealt, with the true nature and breadth of what lies buried under Keyhouse, and as such the level of threat cannot reasonably be presented on the same scale.

There is one bit of the story that did have me perplexed, and that had to do with the previously established idea that one someone grows up in Keyhouse, they forget the magic of the keys, because the adult mind simply can’t handle what those keys mean. In this volume, three adults, all Locke’s, actively and knowingly engage in episodes with they key items. We know that Randell Locke, and even Ellie Whedon, forgot about the keys once they became adults (Ellie being a bit of an exception later on, as we learn that she has been manipulated). However, in this short story, not only do the adults know about the keys, but one actively created a new key as a ‘birthday present’ to teach his daughter how to manage a house, but another actively utilizes the Shadow Crown to tell stories. Now, there could be a reason for that, but I felt that the establishment that only the young could understand, use, and see the power of the keys was an integral part of those whole story, and that going back on it seems a little heavy-handed for such a finely crafted story.

All in all, Locke and Key Small World was a decent return to the world that Hill and Rodriguez built, and it could be a promising connection to another series in that same world. However, it does have its pitfalls. Value wise, it seemed a bit much to through such a small story into hardcover. I know it has been done before, but it seems like they are leaving the world and the story out there to float on its own, without any truly secure mooring. The beauty of the art fills in where the story falls flat, but there are holes that were overlooked. I hope that when Hill and Rodriguez return again to this generation of Locke’s, they will be able to bring back more of the thrill and imagination that existed in the original series.

3.5/5 for me, all things considered. Still feels right to have in on the shelf next to the other hardcover editions of the series. but, for something that was announced with a fair bit of hype in June 2016, it seems fairly scanty on the delivery.

Order Locke & Key Small World

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Publication news!

So, it has been a considerable amount of time since my last post. Life has been a little busy, and I have let a few things fall by the wayside. However, there is exciting news. Quite some time ago I answered a call for entries for a new encyclopedia, focused wholly on amassing information and entries pertaining to Japanese horror cinema. The process was both educational and quite fun, considering it was absolutely right up my alley.

The initial research was a bit painstaking, as it took some time to find the various films and individuals who I chose for my entries (of course, these all came from a pre-established list set forth by the volume editor). With the media in hand, I set out to do my research, watching the films and doing my best to capture the themes, plot, and vital information that would be important to crafting my entries.

As with these things, there was a lot of down time between submission and review, but as of August 15th, 2016 (tomorrow, very exciting), this collection will be released.

In others words, I have been published alongside some of the more known names in the area of  Japanese popular culture and film studies (Like Jay McRoy, Jim Harper, Jeffrey Bullins, Joanne Bernardi, etc.)

It is really a remarkable collection of information. My particular entries focused on Actor, director, and icon Izumiya Shigeru, The Guinea Pig CollectionNoroi (2005), and Death Powder (1986).

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The Encyclopedia of Japanese Horror Films

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The Tragic Tale of Lady Oiwa and Adapting the Onryō for a Contemporary audience

UPDATE: It has recently come to my attention that this article has been added to a recommended reading list by  a couple of education programs, in relation to Drama and performance. If you are coming here from those sites and you have any questions, or if you are the library resources staff updating the links, please feel free to contact me at negrych @ gmail dot com. I always love talking with students and educators.

As a student, and as a Japanese historian, I have always been intrigued by the role that folklore and storytelling has played in Japanese culture. This is especially true when it comes to the Japanese traditional ghost story and contemporary Japanese horror; something about them always seems more rich, somehow, than our own North American tradition. Japan has always had a rich literary, theatrical, and cinematic relationship with its ghosts and its tales of horror; from Noh and Kabuki to the popular film and literature traditions of today, many of Japan’s traditional ghosts and spirits have been re-invented within the confines of our contemporary cultural understandings to reflect the shift in cultural and social perceptions of horror, tragedy, and the macabre. Fears of being set back on the karmic cycle have been largely replaced by fears of rampant technological advances (something which I investigated in-depth, and continue to be fascinated with), and key literary figures have been reshaped; where once the kuchi-sake-onna, or slit-mouthed woman, used to hold a fan to her face when meeting strangers, now she is depicted as wearing a medical face mask. However, one figure which remains a cultural constant is that of the onyrō, or vengeful spirit, a woman who was so wronged in life that she returned to torment those who caused her suffering. But how have the rampant and face-paced cultural and social changes reflected on the manifestation of these figures in popular culture? That is what I seek to explore in the following essay, which focuses on two popular manifestations of the Japanese onyrō.

The Tragic Tale of Lady Oiwa

One of my favourite stories is that of Lady Oiwa; I was introduced a few years ago to this particular folktale/kabuki play by a religious studies professor. Here was a folktale, a creation of history and popular culture so popular that it has inspired multiple recreations. Within it, a figure so tragic and so powerful that any who participate in a staging of her story, and especially those cast as lady Oiwa, would seek the place of her burial (which may or may not actually exist) to ask for her blessing to retell the story, or suffer their own tragedy (there is a series of accounts that tell of the misfortune that befell those who tried to stage the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan play without first asking her permission and blessing, and were met with a string of ‘Macbeth’ like bad luck). It is a tale of tragedy, betrayal, vengeance, and the problems that dishonourable behaviour can cause.

The ghost of oiwa

For those of you who have never encountered the tragic tale of Lady Oiwa and the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, the story goes a little something like this: There was a masterless samurai (Iemon)who had fallen on hard times, forced to make his living as an umbrella maker (historically true during the Edo period, when many samurai lost their livelihood due to the widespread peace created by unifying the country under Tokugawa Ieyasu.)  Oiwa was frail and weak after giving birth to her son, and was unable to help Iemon with the household; nevertheless, she did what any proper wife could do, she looked after their son and made sure that she was beautiful whenever Iemon came home, brushing her long silken black hair and being as dutiful a wife as she could be under the circumstances. However, because of Iemon’s failure, Oiwa’s father approaches him, and suggests that he dissolve the marriage bonds and allow Oiwa to return to her own family. Enraged, Iemon murders Oiwa’s father. There is more to this, a second story, wherein another man, Takuetsu,  accidentally murders his former master (in a tragic case of mistaken identity), and he and Iemon conspire to make it look like the second murdered man was the one who killed Oiwa’s father, and thus Iemon has succeeded in avenging that death and can continue to live as an honourable man, instead of the failure he has become.

Now, Iemon was a handsome fellow, and in his journeys he had caught the eye of a local lady of means, Oume, the grand-daughter of a prominent and successful man. In a scheme to separate Iemon from the more beautiful Oiwa, this woman and her family conspire to destroy Oiwa’s beauty; they do so by sending her poison disguised a facial cream, which immediately scars Oiwa’s beautiful face and causes her beautiful hair to come out in bloddy clumps. As a result Iemon, seeing his wife’s disfigurement, conspires to invalidate the marriage by having  Takuetsu rape Oiwa. In a strange break from his previously dishonourable behaviour, Takuetsu cannot bring himself to commit the act; instead, he forces Oiwa to look at her own reflection. Seeing what she has become, she grabs Iemon’s rusty and disused katana and tries to leave the home in order to avenge the wrong that has been committed against her, only to accidentally slit her own throat in the struggle. As a result, she dies cursing Iemon and those who conspired against her with her last breath. Coming home, Iemon wants to cover the death of his wife and hide the crimes committed against her, tries to hide it. Some versions of the story go on to say that the baby is also killed, and to cover his ‘new wife’, Iemon nails Oiwa and a servant to a door and tosses them in a river, declaiming them for having an affair.

With Oiwa out of the way, Iemon and Oume get hitched and plan to live happily ever after, or as happily as two despicable murdering individuals can plan to live. What all stories agree upon is that, after her death, Oiwa’s ghost returns to haunt Iemon, causing him to have horrible visions and resulting in him murdering Ouma and her grandfather. Did I mention that Iemon’s happy new union did not even manage to survive its first night? No matter how Iemon tries to escape, Oiwa always finds him, emerging from lanterns, long black hair matted, one side of her face horribly disfigured, and carrying their dead child. Eventually Iemon winds up at a monastery in an attempt to escape her vengeance, but even there Oiwa cannot be stopped, and eventually drives Iemon to madness and his death.

Adapting the Onryō:

The Evolution of the Edo Period Tale Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan in Hideo Nakata’s Adaptation of Ringu

When it comes to popular and enduring icons of onryō in Japanese kaidan, there is no idiom more accurate than the popular ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ From the early 19th century’s Lady Oiwa from the kabuki play Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (東海道四谷怪談, 1825)1 to present day Sadako from Ringu (リング, 1998),2 no figure evokes more trepidation, fear, and anxiety than that of the vengeful female ghost, known in Japan as the onryō. However, over time there have been changes made to the nature of the behaviour and depiction of the onryō and the way in which vengeance is administered. At the same time, many aspects remain unchanged, and these are indicative of the deeper cultural concern with the kaidan. These differences and similarities are seen when examining Lady Oiwa, and Sadako Yamamura in Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, a film adapted from the first novel of Koji Suzuki’s Ring Cycle series. Both of these tales gained widespread fame and attention, and thus ignited interest in the Japanese tale of the vengeful ghost across generations.3 These meeting and divergence points make it possible for the onryō to have as much of an impact in contemporary settings and for a contemporary audience as in earlier incarnations.

 

Lady OiwaGregory Barrett notes that in Japanese tales of revenge, the one seeking vengeance is typically a woman who has been wronged in some way.4 Despite the time between the original Kabuki play and Ringu, there is very little alteration in the nature of onryō‘s appearance and gender, save for a shift in age from adult to child. Furthermore, Lady Oiwa and Sadako are similarly dressed in flowing white garments, a colour understood to represent death in many Asian cultures; both women also have long black hair, and possess a physical beauty at odds with their manifestations as onryō. It is interesting that Sadako and Oiwa share in the loss of their hair, and the disfigurement of their faces.5 In most incarnations of Yotsuya Kaidan, the journey to vengeance begins which Lady Oiwa losing her hair; because she has been poisoned, when Oiwa attempts to prepare herself to act dutifully as Iemon’s wife “handfuls of raven black hair fell from her head.”6 Likewise, when Sadako’s body is found in the well beneath the cabin, her hair is still intact after a 40 years. However, as Reiko handles Sadako’s corpse Sadako’s hair peels away from the skull, leaving only putrefied flesh and bone. Yet, when Sadako’s spirit appears to exact her vengeance, her hair is still there, obscuring everything except a single protruding eye. This serves to make Sadako an unsettling figure of the unknown.

The second most notable similarity lays in the form of their betrayal. In both cases, there is a heavy association with water; after Oiwa’s body is found Iemon discards it, in order to escape his guilt. To so this “a wooden door was found and [Iemon] nailed a corpse on either side . . . cold-bloodedly, [Iemon] heaved the wooden door into the river.”7 Like Oiwa, Sadako is committed to a watery grave, trapped there and deprived on spiritual pacification which is due to the dead. Furthermore, both women were betrayed by those who were supposed to support and protect them; Iemon is a neglectful husband to Oiwa. He fails to take his responsibilities as husband seriously, instead choosing wealth and beauty over honour. This is furthered by the fact that Iemon is responsible for the murder of Oiwa’s father, which he committed in order to keep Oiwa as his wife.8

In Ringu, Sadako’s mother, Shizuko, commits suicide after being humiliated by reporters during a public display of her clairvoyant powers, jumping into the crater of Mt. Mihara; it was Shizuko’s ability to accurately predict the eruptions of Mt. Mihara that brought her to the attention of Dr. Ikuma, whose desire to display her psychic powers ultimately led Shizuko to take her own life. This same event also brought out Sadako’s powers, causing her to kill one of the reporters who claimed her mother’s powers to be fraudulent. After this, Dr. Ikuma becomes Sadako’s guardian; due to his fear of her, born from her own destructive supernatural powers, Ikuma throws her into a well, hoping that she will disappear forever, and becomes the catalyst for the creation of Sadako’s onryō.9 The film does not do much to establish Ikuma’s role in Sadako’s life, only that he abandoned his responsibility and was one of the catalysts for Sadako’s change into an onryō after her slow and gruesome death.

There are many differences between the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan and the adaptation of Ringu, reflecting the changes that have occurred in order to keep tales of vengeance and onryō appealing and unsettling. The most important of these changes occurs in the nature of the targets of the onryō‘s vengeance. While Lady Oiwa is a vengeful spirit who “would only torment the guilty and leave the innocent alone,”10 In contrast, Sadako is indiscriminate and takes after all those who come contact with the site of her betrayal, as she felt she had been betrayed by everyone with whom she had ever had contact with. This is a return to earlier Noh conventions, where ghosts bare vague grudges,11 and take their anger out on any bystander.12 In opposition, Lady Oiwa is focused on bringing pain and death only to those who were involved in her downfall and betrayal. Sadako’s unlimited anger is for the benefit of the audience, allowing them to experience fear and anxiety similar to older kaidan audiences. This also stops the audience from seeing Sadako as an avenging hero, and instead makes her a true threat in the minds of the audience.

Sadako from 1999's manga adaptation. Art by Misao Inagaki

Sadako from 1999’s
manga adaptation. Art by Misao Inagaki

The second difference between Oiwa and Sadako exists in the very nature of their character; while Oiwa has a voice, and is given means to express her feelings, Sadako is a silent haunter, with no voice or opinion. Not once is Sadako’s voice heard, and never is anything more than a ring of light seen from her point-of-view; in essence, she is the unknown. While flashbacks inform the audience of her history, all Sadako is given is a pattern of actions propelled by her unyielding thirst for retribution. This pattern serves to set her further apart from Lady Oiwa; Sadako is guilty of sinful actions, while Oiwa is sinless.13 The movie implies that Sadako is the product of a fantastical birth; there is speculation made throughout the film that Shizuko was lured down to the ocean by some unknown creature and the result of that relationship was Sadako who, as a result of this union, possessed psychic powers beyond that of her mother.14 The only blood on Lady Oiwa’s hands is her own,15 and suicide was glorified as an act of redemption.16 Sadako, on the other hand, has taken life other than her own; during a flashback, it is insinuated that she was responsible for the death of a reporter, and it is from this point that others truly begin to fear her abilities. Once again, this difference instills unease and fear in the audience, on a level reminiscent of the way Lady Oiwa’s onryō would have made the kabuki audience feel.

Sadako is almost a complete unknown in the film adaptation of Ringu, while Lady Oiwa is the polar opposite in almost all incarnations of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan. The similarities that remain between them are the sake of convention, a reminder that at one time it was believed that such an avenger was given power for the sole sake of exacting vengeance for wrongs committed against them. The differences are created in order to evoke a similar feeling for the audience, one which leaves them uneasy and frightened. With modern society quickly becoming desensitized to violence and horror, the psychological Japanese film must adapt in order to instill the same anxiety as such onryō and kaidan instilled in the past. Ringu must also be evaluated as an adaptation in order to truly understand the evolution of kaidan; the film adaptation of Ringu and its depiction of Sadako is a completely different beast from what Koji Suzuki created in his novel. It is no secret that author Koji Suzuki’s novel is a much more in-depth study of modern adaptation of the Kaidan conventions, the evolution of the onryō as a vengeful spirit, and as a product of widespread cultural change.


 Footnotes:

1 This is the date for the first public performance of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan; however, the play itself is based on events which occurred in the 17th Century.
2 The original tale, Ring, was a novel written by Koji Suzuki in 1991. Subsequently it was adapted into a television film in 1995 (Ring: Kanzenban), a feature horror film in 1998 (Ringu) directed by Hideo Nakata, and finally into English (The Ring) in 2002. Additionally, it has spawned a series of sequels in the franchise.
3 Ringu‘s success is apparent in the fact that it has been adapted multiple times, in a variety of forms, and over a variety of cultures (American and South Korean). Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan‘s popularity is apparent due to the many adaptations and re-tellings it has been subjected to over the years since its initial debut as a Kabuki play; this includes customary visits to Lady Oiwa’s grave marker prior to any new adaptations being staged, multiple film and anime versions, and her popularity among figures of ghosts and women in ukiyo-e prints.
4 Gregory Barrett, “Vengeful Spirit” in Archetypes in Japanese Film: The Sociopolitical and Religious Significance of the Principal Heroes and Heroines (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1989), 7.
5 In the case of Sadako, one never sees more of her face than a single, bloodshot eye, while Lady Oiwa is characterized by heavy scarring and disfigurement, a result of the poison she unknowingly ingested.
6 Arendie Herwig, “A Ghost at Yotsuya on the Tokaido” in Heroes of the Kabuki Stage: An Introduction to Kabuki with Retellings of Famous Plays Illustrated by Woodblock Prints (Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2004), 298.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid., 297.
9 Here is where the film adaptations really differs from the novel; in the novel Dr. Ikuma becomes quite ill and is committed to a sanatorium, where he convinces a young doctor that his daughter, Sadako, must be killed because of her power. This leads the young doctor to pursue Sadako and, when subjected to her powers, to strangle her and throw her down a near-by well. However, when she was thrown down the well she was still alive, and her death came slowly as she tried to claw her way out. This death is what gave birth to the onryō, who had been wronged or abandoned by every individual with whom she had come in contact.
10 Barrett, 97.
11 Ibid., 99.
12 Ibid., 97.
13 Ibid., 101.
14 Again, this varies greatly from the novel; originally Sadako was the daughter of Shizuko and Dr. Ikuma, conceived during an illicit extra-martial affair.
15 Herwig, 298.
16 Edmond Rochedieu, Le Shintoïsme ( Paris: Cercle du Bibliophile, 1968), 184.

Works Cited

Barrett, Gregory. “Vengeful Spirit.” Archetypes in Japanese Film: The Sociopolitical and Religious Significance of the Principal Heroes and Heroines. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1989. pp. 97–117.

Herwig, Arendie. “A Ghost Story at Yotsuya on the Tōkaidō.” Heroes of the Kabuki Stage: An Introduction to Kabuki with Retellings of Famous Plays Illustrated by Woodblock Prints. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2004. pp. 297–299

Rochedieu, Edmond. Le Shintoisme. Paris: Cercle du Bibliophile, 1968.

 

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On the serious side (well, maybe)

I realize that aside from my conference reflection more than a year ago and my piece of Mononoke-hime, I have done very little to give anyone a sense of my academic background. Certainly, I am a ‘historian-in-training’, an academic at heart, and a creative mess. However, that really doesn’t open the floor up for discussion, as it leave too much to the wind. What have I worked on and researched in the past? How have I engaged with cultural history on a level of serious academic contemplation? What topics draw my interest. Well, as a start to this new week, I thought I world provide a list of titles of papers I have completed. Some, which are sort, I have thought of posting to my blog at one point (as I did the Mononoke piece); others I have presented at conferences, or thought of submitting them for possible publication.

Below I have divided them by area (History, Religious Studies, English Literature, Theatre, and then Misc.), but they are in no chronological order. While I will likely not share the entirety of the work, I am more than willing to talk about the process of research and writing, and of course discussion centring around the topics themselves.

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History and Cultural Studies

  • The Postwar Apocalypse in Japan: The Unique Anxieties Reflected by Akira and Gojira
  • Shame and Destruction: How the Japanese Military Leaders Delayed Admitting the Truth of the Ianjo of World War II
  • The Survival of a Fragile World: The Geisha Through Modernization
  • The Importance of the Cultural Gift: Mishima and Japanese Modernization
  • Stonehenge: A multifunctional neolithic Megalith
  • The Sixties Sexual Revolution on Broadway: Androgyny and Female Sexuality in Hair and Cabaret
  • The Questionable Universality of Balibar’s The Nation Form
  • The Byzantine Empire During the Early 10th-11th Century: The Bulgarians and Internal Strife
  • The Fatalistic Pilgrimage in Japan: Aokigahara-jukai and the Translocation of Mount Fuji’s Sacred Identity
  • In the Midst of Horror: Japanese pre-modern Ghost stories and the Modern J-Horror- A Research Proposal
  • Medical Observations and Methods of Treatment in Hippocratian Greece
  • Xenophobia and the ‘Enemy Alien’: The Injustice of the Canadian Internment Camps of World War I
  • Jonathan Spence: The Voice of Modern Chinese History in the West
  • The Nation of the Family in Eat, Drink, Man, Woman by Ang Lee
  • Folktales and Superstition During the Late Heian and Kamakura Periods: Reflection of Moral and Cultural Behaviour
  • Prostitution in Roman Society: Female Prostitution as Social Support
  • The Stigma of Shell-shock and the Disabled Soldier: European Soldiers and the Perception of Psychological Disability

Religious Studies

  • Buddhism and the Modern Ghost in Eiji Otsuka’s Manga The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
  • The Visuals of Religious Subjectivity in Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter . . . and Spring
  • The Dichotomy of Order and Chaos in Ugetsu and Double Suicide
  • Moro and the Shishigami in Miyazaki’s Temporal War Epic Mononoke-hime
  • Children, Nature, and Spiritual Play in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away
  • Elements of Buddhist Teaching and Though in Takahashi Rumiko’s Character Miroku
  • The Fictional Journeys of Rama and Monkey: A Mirror of the Internal Spiritual Journey
  • Myth, Folklore, and the Folk Tale: Their Relevance in the Practice of Shinto

Theatre Arts/Studies/Dramaturgy and Art History

  • The Inorganic Puppet: A Symbol of Life and Death
  • The Puppet in History and the Theories of Craig
  • The Sexual Politics Behind the Shrew: Marowitz’s The Shrew and Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You
  • The Intermingling of Ritual and Carnival: The Castle of Perseverance and the Medieval Tournament
  • Zeus and Bacchus: The Gods in Statue

English Literature and Classical Studies

  • “I Am No Lady”: George R.R. Martin’s Brienne of Tarth as a Unique Female Warrior
  • The Mad Wives of  Bronte and Stetson
  • The Desired Influence: The Women of Epic and Their Social Significance
  • The Importance of Nestor in The Iliad
  • Mirror, Mirror: The Mirroring of Frankenstein and the Creature
  • Women and War: Sparta, Athens, and Rome
  • The Ghost Story as told by Gaskell and Wharton
  • Artistotle’s Doctrine of the Mean: The Understandable and Achievable Goal
  • The Rebirth and Adaptation of Greek Myth in Xena Warrior Princess

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Breaking Character (Original Short Story)

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~Sometimes the perks of a Summer job are not in the contract~

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