“YUREI: THE JAPANESE GHOST” (Book Review)Book and Comic Reviews,Books/Art/Culture,News Svetlana Fedotov No Comment
The first image that usually comes to mind when someone mentions “Japanese ghost” is the long-haired, white-draped, female spirit a la Sadako from THE RING or Kayako from THE GRUDGE. With their deathly pale faces and blood thirsty drive to kill all who cross their paths, they have become the standard from which many J-Horror spirits have been built from. But, did you know that they are merely the newest interpretation of what is actually a centuries old folk tale? Or that the modern appearance of these ghosts, or better known as yurei, was born out of necessity due to the poor lighting at early kabuki theaters? YUREI: THE JAPANESE GHOST explores the darker side of Japanese folklore, creating one of the first, modern English texts to thoroughly explore the intricacies of Japans’ beliefs on death, dying, and the afterlife.
The work, written by author Zack Davisson, focuses on exactly what it states: the ins-and-outs of Japanese ghosts. Beginning with The Ghost of Oyuki, a painting by renowned artist Maruyama Okyo, the book starts with exploring how this seminal painting of the artists’ dead lover led to the kwaidan (strange tale) boom of the Edo period where a majority of modern ghostly beliefs originated from. Following a thorough coverage of afterlife beliefs, Davisson continues by showing how heavy the shadows of dead ancestors hang over Japanese society and how important it is to satisfy their whims, lest they destroy your crops and cripple your children (with plenty of ghostly examples to chill your bones).
Among the various topics Davisson writes about are the origins of the Obon festival, a/k/a Festival of the Dead, Buddhist stories of caution, the ever-present influence of Lafcadio Hearn, and even how the printing press helped spread the lore of Yurei. With the hefty dose of folk tales in the last chapter of the book, Davisson has made a tour-de-force of a topic few outside of Japan, and perhaps even those in Japan, know about.
YUREI: THE JAPANESE GHOST is the definitive guide for anyone who has ever been curious about what goes on behind the earthly veil in the Land of the Rising Sun. As stated, the book is not only an antiquated topography of folklore beliefs, but also explores art, movies, books, and plays. Davisson connects the Three Great Yurei of Japan – Otsuya who desires love, Oiwa who demands revenge, and Okiku, who, while ambiguous on what her spirits wants, is always found in the bottom of a well – and how they tie into modern media. He even goes into the entertainment and fine art history of each of these ghosts, giving them a well-deserved reception for scaring the pants off horror loving audiences everywhere.
While, it may seem like the book would be a heavy, technically inscribed read, it’s, in fact, very accessible. It makes no demands that the reader already be versed in Japanese folklore or the finer points of yurei art, but instead presents the facts in a clear and tidy format with enough of a personal touch that one feels like they are following a well-educated tour guide around a museum.
If you’re already fascinated with Japanese folklore or just Asian horror, YUREI: THE JAPANESE GHOST is the perfect companion for the horror connoisseur. It even has full color art prints splashed through-out the pages to help illustrate the chapters and a beautiful, hardbound cover wraps the whole collection for years to come.
YUREI: THE JAPANESE GHOST is now available from Chin Music Press.