Blind – a cautionary tale

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Blind is a very short film about man living in a radioactive Tokyo, haunted by a little girl.

The film compactly delivers its warning about ignoring the dangers of radiation like a well landed punch. And in Japan, the film is part of a growing popular backlash against corporate cover-up and government dissembling over the extent and ongoing dangers of the Fukushima disaster.

The Ring: Why so serious?

But for Western audiences, Blink is also interesting from a cultural perspective. It is an example of traditional horror elements being used to make a rather bald-faced political point. The West was first exposed to Japanese horror narratives in remakes of films like The Ring and The Grudge and through video games like silent Hill. In those films, the evil manifests as the spirit of a dead child who does not merely seek revenge on the one who killed them, but on anyone and everyone they come into contact with. Since then, the exploitation of a haunting, demonic little girls with dark hair has become something of a horror cliche, even finding it’s way into video games, such as F.E.A.R.

The Grudge: Look out Buffy, your career is catching up to you...

But it’s unfair to refer to these ghost girls as mere cliches of Japanese horror. They are actually a part of traditional kabuki and Japanese folklore. They are yurei, spirits sort of like ghosts, and more specifically a type of yurei known as onryo, spirits of a person wronged in life who have come back to seek vengeance. Onryo are typically women or girls draped in white, and they are often very young.

F.E.A.R: We're going to need a bigger gun...

In a culture that had a very rigidly defined secondary role for women, it is not surprising that folklore would have a place reserved for horror stories that serve as warnings for men against abusing their privileged status.

In Western culture, ghosts are generally depicted as aged, decrepit, or as phantasms. Children are seen almost always as innocent, and simply giving children flat affect, or the emotional cadence of adults is sufficient to cast them as a horror object (see Omen, The shining or Village of the Damned). To Western eyes, onryo that are children who exact their vengeance brutally and blindly are so outside our narrative comfort zone that the visceral horror is amplified. This is what makes them so effective and now so overused.

Silent Hill: "Have you seen my nurse?" No!

But in Blind, we see yureias they are traditionally used, as a warning signs from the future. The little girl is wronged by her father’s (our) present silence. Our acquiescence and willful blindness to a very real problem.

The film is an effective wake-up call: you who still can speak, should speak up now. 

Related posts:

  1. Welcome to the NHK
  2. Blinky Will Make Your Family Happy
  3. It’s Never the Soviets: Super 8 as Cold War Nostalgia
  4. Osama bin Laden is dead. Now what?
  5. Guess Who Dies in Green Lantern.

4 Responses to Blind – a cautionary tale

  1. JohnJ says:

    This is extremely well-written, PB. And I absolutely love your selection, use and placement of images.

  2. Dan Dravot says:

    But once they’ve woken up, what are they to do?

    Not a whole lot.

  3. ConfusedCarl says:

    The little daughter ghost girl in a red dress reminded me of Don’t Look Now, one of the best horrors I’ve seen.

  4. There’s also the consideration of the relative lack of children in Japan, i.e the relative lack of younger siblings, esp. girls. It is thus easier to project fantasies/guilt on them.