February 20, 2010

Dead Wet Girls in Japanese Horror and Beyond

When you think of the phrase “dead wet girl” (to borrow a term from David Kalat the author of J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond ) the image that might come to mind is the ending of the 2002 blockbuster, The Ring. In one of the scariest moments in horror to date, the audience watches transfixed as the dripping ghost of Samara crawls out of the TV screen and to take the life of her terrified victim. But what is it with Dead Wet Girls in Japanese horror and their remakes? Why are they dead? Why are they wet? Why are they girls? And what is up with all that long black hair? To get a deeper understanding of Dead Wet Girls and their terrifying power in horror, let’s break down the moniker, Dead. Wet. Girl.

Dead.
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.

Wet.
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.

Girl.
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.

Hair.
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.

2 comments:

Sarah from Scare Sarah said...

I'm a huge fan of the Japanese-girl-with-long-black-hair-over-her-face film. Great post.

I reviewed Korean film Phone the other day and there was lots of long black hair inside a wall! Awesome.

Rabid Fox said...

I may not have been crazy over The Grudge, but I'm still a sucker for The Ring and the girl with the long black hair that crawls out of the TV--still freaks me out, that scene.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails