February 20, 2010
Dead Wet Girls in Japanese Horror and Beyond
Of course death is a prerequisite to becoming a ghost, but Dead Wet Girls move beyond the standard understanding of ghosts in Western culture. In the western world, spooks are recognizable as other from living people and there is a sharp demarcation between the lands of the living and dead. Ghosts, in come cases, are also friendlier like Casper rather than the wrathful spirits of vengeful children. The western understanding of ghosts is turned on its head in J-horror. In the eastern tradition you can meet a ghost, fall in love and have a relationship with them without ever recognizing that they are a spirit. Ghosts move fluidly between the realm of the dead and the living, and they have the power to break your heart or unleash their terrible wrath on the living.
In J-Horror, when there are ghosts, water is not far behind, especially in the case of DWG’s. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering Japan is an island nation surrounded entirely by water. It makes sense that the one element that gives life to the Japanese in the form of rich fisheries is also associated with death and destruction. The Japanese also consider themselves a more “wet” and intuitive culture compared to landlocked westerners, one explanation for their deeply knit connection with the spirit world.
With the strictly traditional roles imposed on women by Japanese society, it’s no wonder that most of J-horror’s ghosts are female. Unable to express their sexuality or pursue their own interests in favor of taking care of children and elderly relatives, there is unfinished business galore for the female ghosts of J-Horror. Think of the adulterous Kayako from Ju-On, who is killed by her husband because of her infatuation with another man, or the vengeful female ghost of the Shutter remake. Repression equals female ghosts as can be seen in the preponderance of dead wet girls as a J-horror trope.
It’s not a J-Horror film unless there’s a female ghost with copious amounts of black, stringy hair. So what’s with the bad hair day? The long black hair of J-Horror’s ghosts stretches back to feudal era Japan where women were expected to have their hair either up or bound in a pony tail. A woman with unbound hair was sexually provocative and at the very least marked her as unconventional. At the worst, it could signify madness or demonic possession. This cultural influence can be seen in films like Kaidan and two short segments (The Black Hair and The Woman in the Snow) deal with female ghosts with long, unbound tresses who wreak revenge on their unfaithful male partners.