Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories (2013)

Good morning!

Just in time for Halloween, Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is one of my best internet discoveries of late! Like well-crafted horror, a vintage aesthetic, and/or Japanese culture? You are in luck, my friend.

The day after the wedding but the day before the honeymoon, we were both in a daze and spent most of that Sunday curled up in the green room watching these Asian horror snippets that, in spite of looking like a friendly little animated series, are completely terrifying. Each episode is available to watch for free on the anime site Crunchyroll, and don't think I haven't done exactly that. 

The title of the series is a play on the word "kamishibai". A storytelling technique that originated in 12th century Japan, kamishibai enjoyed a resurgence in the first half of the twentieth century. The performance art utilizes paper scrolls to illustrate morality stories, and was popular in twenties' through the fifties' in the format you see above-- the storyteller would arrive on a bicycle outfitted with a wooden "theater" to display a series of still pictures. Yamishibai uses the framework of that as the introduction to each episode-- as a portly Hitchcock or a bushy eyebrowed Serling would introduce each of their spooky tales, so does the kamishibai storyteller (did they wear creepy masks like this? Or is that some to-make-it-scarier touch?) introduce each little snippet of horror.

I can't not look!
A lot of what appeals in this and other terror imports from Japan is the economy with which each story is told. I'm reminded immediately of Hontoni Kowai Hanashi (Scary True Stories, which I posted about last year)...I spent like two days straight watching six minute segment after six minute segment of that show on Youtube, because the thrills and chills just kept coming! With less than 10 minutes to get your scare across, you don't have time to set up jerry-rigged character motivations and interlace multiple flimsy plotlines-- in other words, there's no room for the "fat" of a lot of exercises in horror, just the lean, straight terror. Lots of old time radio shows were that way-- with thirty minutes, you don't have the luxury of spending fifteen of them explaining why you're going up to a haunted cabin in the woods; the show had better open with you there, about to find something terrible crawling on the roof! One of the best of this genre was "Inside Out", by Lights Out, Everybody genius Arch Oboler (it appears under the title "The Dark" on a sixties' record Mr. O put out, also here on Youtube). In eight minutes, there's a full opera of horrible things happening in the sub-basement of an abandoned building, and it's only after you're scared out of your skin that you might even pause to think why x happened at z moment. Who cares! It's just scary! 

You would noooot like what this cute girl is seeing with that flashlight.
Yamishibai is like that. The off-kilter, paper-theater way the animation is presented only makes it more effective. Nothing is still in the frames, but ever-so-slightly moving. One of my favorites (they're all my favorites) of the baker's dozen of entries up on Crunchy Roll is "Contradiction", which opens with a ringing telephone in the middle of the night and a desperate call from a friend who thought it would be fun to break into an abandoned hospital with her boyfriend (you know, like you do). Spoiler alert: bad things happened at the hospital. I love how the emphasis in these little cutlets is not on working out, in a cerebral, mystery murder kind of way, why things are happening. The spare fact, just that things are happening, that is deeply unsettling. You know how, in a dream, there's no logic to what is terrifying about "that door", but you just know, somewhere in your primal little guts, that whatever's behind it is wrong, or bad? There's the exact nerve this and the other Japanese series hits. I wish someone in America would adopt this kind of gut-level horror! I'm so tired of all these wan Saw remakes-- pictures where people who don't understand what is scary try to make a whole movie about it. What we need is real, old-fashioned, curl your hair scares!

Turns out yes, they did. SO. FREAKIN. SCARY. (episode here)
It's neat, too, that the chapters are presented in their original Japanese with subtitles. Nothing in this world is worse for a foreign film o phile than sitting through something serious that has been dubbed. NOTHING. EUUGH. I can't bear it. Also, watching a ton of them back to back, my little parrot brain loves picking up a word or two in another language. Things I learned, which are things you need to know in a Japanese horror setting: chotto matte (wait a minute), Taihen-da! (something terrible, or an emergency), dou shita no (what's wrong?), oka-aah-san (mom!). Matthew, from his scholarly obsession with j-rock, old school anime, and Japanese video games, can speak actually quite a lot of Japanese (he took classes at TFLI, too, which couldn't have hurt his fluency), so I can be like "WHAT DO THEY KEEP SAYING?" and he can actually explain to me the vocabulary being used. Nerd alert. 

Have you watched anything deeply unsettling lately? Got a yen for horror that just isn't sated by your run of the mill teen scream movie? What do you like to watch on Halloween to get you in the proper spooky spirit? Let's talk!

If you end up watching an episode or two (or...again, all of them at once), let me know what you think!! Show link here.

That's all for today-- if I recover from the series of tiny cardiac episodes the ends of each of these clips has created in my terror-weakened body, I will be back tomorrow with more Halloween postings! Til then. :)


  1. I agree: there is no such thing as "real" horror" any more; it's all guts and gore, which is not the same thing indeed! I remember being absolutely TERRIFIED by "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari", and the "Dr. Phibes" series., and the original "The Haunting" was MUCH scarier that the hyped-up, effects-laden remake. I recall a scene that consisted of hardly more than someone sitting up in bed and a tight close-up of the doorknob turning slowly... accompanied by scary music... it was TERRIFYING! No 'special effects' necessary, yet, nothing actually happened; it was just the IDEA! Nowadays, most movies plots are completely INANE, or they are nothing more than a heap of special effects connected by the thinnest thread of plotline. No thanks. I hate the noisy garish movie theatres, too, and the half hour of over-the-top LOUD "previews" and ads!

    1. AMEN! I'm glad you agree! Sometimes people grouse at me for being "too picky" about horror movies, but I'll take the low art and the high art, as long as there's "art" to it! You can put a terrifying story across with no CGI, no budget...with old time radio, they didn't even have a camera and film, just GREAT. IDEAS. I like to be scared SO MUCH that it bugs me when things are presented as "scary" and aren't.

  2. Oh and have you looked at the Japanese wedding on Wacky Tacky? I think the bride bears a startling resemblance to YOU.

    1. Haha, I'm gonna go check it out, I love Mr. Tiny!!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...