I do love a ghostly tale. Especially one of vengeance. What’s not to like? The idea of death being an actual equaliser, where the weak can come back bad ass as hell is a lovely thought. I have used it myself in the story in writing Lenore’s Song (which incidentally has hit 100 000+ views thanks to everyone)
Then of course, being a ghost and supposedly unbound by boring laws of physics ( or biology for the matter) oh wow, the potential, it really means that there are countless ways to cause mayhem and destruction, which are exciting possibilities for the ghost or the storyteller for the matter. Fertile fertile grounds for creativity….
You would think.
I have recently been given access to a whole lot of horror movies made in the last 10 years, and I have pretty much discovered that despite all the room for possibilities, our female vengeance characters have mostly been limited to
2) The classic Sadako Crawl
3) Classic Sadako Crawl coming out of portals – not limited to TVs and Toilet bowls.
To make me point. Here’s a few examples.
WARNING: Scary scenes.
If afraid, watch this.Not sure if it’s less scary since it reminds me of telemarketers and gym memberships. 😛 “Wanna be a member? wannabeamember?”
For the rest of you, let’s play a game of spot the difference.
———Scary scenes START here———
Sadako crawl = Macarena Dance for vengeful ghouls
— Patient Zero —
Here is Sadako’s famous crawling-out-of-TV scene in “Ringu”
–The Rest —
The Ring – Sadako’s American counterpart Samara. Here’s her crawling out of a slightly bigger TV, and an upgraded apartment in “The Ring”
This is Kayako coming out of a uterus l from “Ju-on” aka the grudge
Going down the stairs…
This is Natre crawling out of the bed from “Shutter” (Thailand movie – gd plot but must Sadako do a cameo there too?) , Shutter has since spawned American and Tamil remakes.
More crawls/ frozen slug walks and eecky menstrual leakage from “Tale of 2 sisters” (Korean) which spawned the American remake of “The Uninvited”
Too many more, to my count Sadako has left her hometown of Japan and was last seen in all too many Hong Kong movies as well. This one involves a Sadako ripoff sliming her way out of a toilet bowl ( Images from “A wicked ghost”)
———Scary scenes END here, You can come back now.———
For the benefit of those who haven’t seen Ringu or the Ring, Sadako is the main ghoul character that hails from the japanese movie “Ringu”. Mostly known for making killer viral videos and crawling out of the TV. She’s also known for her crazy hair and deformed eye which seems to be the last thing victims see before they cark it from fear, frozen badger style. Her summary as follows.:
Name: Sadako Yamamura (
Movie: Ringu (The Ring – american remake)
Species: Onryo – Vengeful ghost (see below)
Source of power: Has a grudge – Had some step father issues and mother issues. Father brained her, mother abandoned her etc.
Special attack move:
1) Shows victims her malformed eye, whereupon they die of fright
2)makes deadly viral videos which when seen causes death in 7 days.
3) Moves like a freshly defrosted slug resulting in brown underpants and Sudden Adult death Syndrome (SADS)
1) Is a hairball, sheds more than your cat
2) Broken/ non existing fingernails
3) When walking, manages to move like a non vertebre animal.
Of onryos and it’s origins
Onryos – otherwise known as vengeful spirits in japanese is not unique in it’s concept. Many cultures have their own variety, where a spirit, bearing great rage and hurt, are able to bridge the gap between the spiritual and physical world and wreck payback, Arnie style. These beings tend to be women. I’d imagine that in the days of lore, this would make sense — what with the uterus ripping early childbirth from child marriages, genitalia mutilation (link NSFW), honour killings and whatever other torture devices made for womenhood living in pre-feminist movement societies. Of course, the added tragedy of this is that some are instigated by womenfolk and their family, hence the which makes the setting ripe for that great rage and betrayal. Old Japan, the setting of most onryo tales, had it’s repressed women, which probably explained why female Onryos far outnumber male ones.
Typically onryos look as follows (but I must stress, are NOT limited to:
1) white/black face makeup
2) White Burial gown
3) Long unkempt hair
Really, there’s a lot of freedom with the look since we’re not talking Kabuki theatre stylings….anyways moving along.
Origin of Ringu
Sadako (Antagonist of “Ringu” herself is a type of Onryo. Raped( if you read the novel )and thrown into a well by her researcher (novel) or stepfather (if you saw the film), she eventually dies after a long time in the bottom of the well. The rest, as they say, is pop culture.
Post death, Sadako is so inspired by her rage that she becomes a well known film maker. Except that her arthouse movies kill in 7 days, and those who watch it don’t survive long enough to nominate her for any film awards. (Which probably pissed her off further)
For those who really haven’t seen Sadako’s cursed video, it looks like she’s graduated beyond video and is now on youtube as well. Warning: may have side effects on mortality blah blah blah…
Interesting to note that, Sadako’s mother, who also has the same psychic gifts of clairvoyance and thoughtography as Sadako, might also have been based on an actual person ” Sadako Takahashi”. Real life Sadako Takahashi was said to be an expert on Thoughtography and Clairvoyance.
** Thoughtography is the ability to imprint images on film with by sheer will of thought. **
Yotsuya Kaidan — the Kabuki
Also maybe less known is that , “Ringu” itself is mainly a tribute to an old kabuki tale called “Yotsuya kaidan” — loosely translated to “The ghost story of Yotsuya” by Tsuruya Nanboku.
Kabuki that was first performed in 1825 (says wiki) – This story was supposedly inspired by 2 real life murders.
Murder 1: 2 servants who murdered their masters.
Murder 2: A samurai who discovered that his concubine was sleeping with his servant. Apparently it was the custom at the time (perfectly legal) to nail adulterers to a wooden board, and throw them into the river, which the samurai did to the letter.
So our storyteller Nanboku mixes fact with fiction, as you do, and proceeds to pen one of the most adapted stories in Japanese entertainment — Yotsuya Kaidan.
It’s a multi part act, quite a long story but here’s a summary of the better known story arc…
Synopsis…yes with some embelishments and personal opinion thrown in….
Unemployed samurai, Tamiya Iemon (pronounced iee ye mon) double deals wife ( Oiwa) who is ailing after childbirth. It all starts when he saves random rich girl from being robbed on the streets. Random rich girl (Oume) discovers she’s in love with her saviour and insists she’s to marry Iemon and her father is to arrange this. Iemon is invited over to Oume’s residence, where upon he says he would like to but he’s married.
Family matchmaker says, “All good..here, have some poison for your wifey, it’ll disfigure her and she’ll die shortly after.”
Iemon is all keen on this proposal, because Oume is from a rich family, and marrying into her family is good for his purse-strings and career. So,Iemon gets wife to take poison. To end the marriage more legitimately, Iemon decides to further set up wifey (Oiwa). He tells his regularly visiting masseuse that it would be a great personal favour if the masseuse would have his way with Oiwa. I think there were rewards promised to the masseuse. (Also, Iemon knew that the masseuse had a crush on Oiwa)
So Oiwa is tricked into taking poison, and is in horrible pain shortly after, to top it all off there’s a bribed masseuse trying to rape her. Oiwa puts up a huge fight and takes her husband’s samurai sword and threatens to pin-cushion the masseuse. She misses and rams the sword into the wall instead. In the midst of this mayhem, the masseuse grows a conscience, stops the nonsense and shows Oiwa a mirror instead and tells her that her husband is no good…blah blah blah, is marrying someone else and look what he’s done to you etc etc.
Oiwa then wants to go reason with Iemon. Says that her post-scuffle hairstyle is not presentable and, she needs to neaten up for her husband, because that’s what good women do **face palm**. So she, puts on a nice kimono, and starts combing her hair, hair comes out in clumps due to the poison. Falling hair reveals the extent of poison on face. Now she has a really bad skin condition on one side of her face, a funny eyeball and a few bald patches. Seeing the extensive facial damage, Oiwa finally flips and, in her hysteria, impales/slashes herself on her husband’s sword. As she dies she curses Iemon’s name and declares Iemon a lemon of a husband.
Iemon returns to his home and at seeing Oiwa’s death, feigns oscar winning theatrics of surprise and betrayal. He accuses the masseuse of having an affair with his wife, and kills the poor masseuse. He nails both corpses to a door (one on each door face) and sends them to the bottom of the river. He then attends a wedding, where he is the groom, all the end of a very long day.
Not long after Oiwa returns as a very powerful hallucinogen to Iemon – whereupon he sees her everywhere he looks, funny eye, skin condition and all. As a result, Iemon
- thought his new father in law looked like Oiwa…and killed him
thought his new wifey looked like Oiwa…killed her on the wedding night.
Thought the rest of new wifey’s family looked like Oiwa…killed them all, and goes off running weeeee……!.
Instead of checking himself into a mental health facility for what might be a self induced post traumatic stress disorder, Iemon checks himself into a temple and books himself an exorcist.
Exorcism is Epic fail…. and he sees OIwa everywhere, even in lanterns.
At long last one of Oiwa’s close associates who learns of Oiwa’s death and comes to settle the score and makes beef tataki out of the visually distracted Iemon quite easily.
There’s a whole other back story (it’s a multi-part act of a long and complex plot) if you’d like to look at the details on good old wiki. I’ve only highlighted and simplified the main arc of the story, so this doesn’t become a history lesson.
Parallels of The Ring vs Yotsuya Kaidan:
The eye: Sadako shows her victims her eye before they die of SADS (Sudden Adult death Syndrome). Oiwa has scary eye issues too.
The combing and the mirror: Sadako’s viral killer movie shows combing of hair in mirror. Long kabuki scene of Oiwa combing her hair is documented. ( in the kabuki play, someone’s actually under the stage pushing corpious amounts of hair out through the stage boards as Oiwa combs her hair – creepy awesome)
The well vs the river…ooh the fishes: both are water burials, they had a lot of time to lie at the bottom of alot of H2O thinking about life….and getting very angry in the process. Of course, this is where I suspect that maybe “The Ring” is a little influenced by a japanese folktale – Okiku, where the protagonist drowns in a well and comes back for revenge. i that’s really where the similarity ends since Sadako from the ring is a whole lot more vengeful and Okiku is alot more gentle in her vengeance. Okiku only goes after her killer, Sadako goes on a rampage.
The assault – betrayal of key male figures in their lives: with Oiwa, it’s the attack or almost attack from the Masseuse and the betrayal of her husband. Sadako was, depending in the book or the film, was sexually assaulted by the doctor she trusted (book) or brained by her stepfather (film) before being thrown into the well. Hence the being pissed off bit, but this is Onryo requisite so maybe it doesn’t count.
Style of destruction: Post life Oiwa kills all characters involved in her tale, does not actually kill her husband, who is the main perpetuator. (Her sibling does) Sadako shows the same lack of focus, kills everyone but the actual perpetuator – Actually, correct me if I’m wrong, but I never really caught what happens to her stepfather.
Facial distortion of victims: To Iemon, Oiwa was able to make everyone look like her and they get killed by a crazed Iemon. In “Ringu” everyone that has watched the cursed video tape appears normal but their images on photographs, however, appear distorted — one eye bigger than another etc. The distortion appears like a mark of doom and they die in 7 days.
The deadly viral aspect: With Sadako it was her videotape that killed when you watched it. With Oiwa, the similarity comes, not from the story itself but the urban legend that whoever adapts the kabuki play, puts themselves at risk of freak accidents. Which is why you need to pray at the temple of Oiwa if you were to adapt this play.
White garment/ White-ish make up – All very common for a yurei (japanese ghost)
Like it’s Kabuki counterpart, Ringu did very well in the box office takings and spawned a host of adaptations, sequels, rip offs etc.. Don’t get me wrong, when “Ringu” came out a decade ago I was rather smitten by the tale. Good story, a nice scare, interesting characters.
No problems there, until, as mentioned, we realise that the classic Sadako crawl and look has affected b-grade horror worse than the macarena dance. Between the countless visual rip offs, the creepy crawly, non-vertebre hairball ghoul no longer inspires brown trouser fear but a certain wish to crawl back into the TV to attack whoever is directing the movie….even when the story is very good.
And of course,bad horror rip-offs are my problem since my muses feed on quite a bit of horror as well. The absence of sufficient good horror makes the muses dangerously cranky.
So post next week, about vengeful/ non vengeful supernatural beings etc, from the region of South East Asia, mostly Singapore — a place where I’ve pretty much spent my childhood. Most of it is oral history anyways…so it’s probably good it gets written down somewhere, for my records. Better yet if it inspires the urge to make female ghouls that don’t involve the Sadako crawl or all too similar tales.
**This post is brought to you by Your Royal Madness, who thinks that the post could be 10 years too late,but she did just catch up with a whole lot of horror movies….**