Television

‘The Terror: Infamy’ Ghosts, Bakemono and Yurei

The eerie trailers for AMC’s The Terror season two titled ‘The Terror: Infamy’ have been stellar.  With the exception of CBS All Access’ Picard there have not been more captivating trailers this summer.  A mix of old world fear combined with the horror’s of US Internment Camps develops waves of paranoid oppression.  Dread blankets the camps with intense fear and desperation. Some fears of the supernatural variety and others all too human.  There is a great deal to unpack before the series premiers August 12th.  Creepy masks, angry ghosts, strange pictures, white eyes, and debilitating tension fill every second of the trailers.  What becomes clear is something has been disturbed and is not content to go away quietly.  A gorgeous, immaculately dressed woman looks to be the apparition. 

Courtesy of AMC

The perpetrator of the blurred photos is the monster Bakemono or Obake.  They are a sub category of the Yokai  class of shapeshifting monsters in Japanese folklore.  They are not all evil, but are all spirits of the supernatural sort.  Traditionally they are NOT ghosts but living supernatural creatures.  They can affect change around them positively or negatively depending on their own personal alignment.  Think real Pokemon running wild in the world.  For every cute AF Pikachu there is a Mewtwo.  Before everyone freaks out I know he saved the day in the Ryan Reynold’s Pikachu movie so calm down I’m only stereotyping a fake cartoon character.  Just like living creatures they are neither good nor bad just opportunists.  The spirit whispered about in the ‘Terror: Infamy’ trailers are an entirely different beast.  These are the relentless, single-minded harbingers of death and destruction, the Yurei.
Kaidan is a significant part of Japanese past and culture.  From two kanji which mean strange, bewildering, or mysterious entity and talk or recited narrative, kaidan is rich with oral and written history.  Ghosts are important in politics, study, family life, and the arts. 

When the idea for ‘The Terror: Infamy’ was first made public there were those concerned about the dilution of the evilness of Internment Camps themselves by the inclusion of a monster.  In an interview from Comic Con 2019 George Takai went on record explaining that the addition is true to the culture of Japan.

First, a disclaimer.  As with lots of cultures, spirits are often depicted as emotional, vengeful females.  They are the overwrought, rage-filled ghosts seeking to torment those who have wronged them(yawn).  The Japanese version of “Hell hath no fury”.  Yurei are almost always shown as women in white kimonos with stringy black hair.  They have hands which hang lifelessly from their arms which are often held at right angles to their waists with the elbows pulled tight to the body.  The beautiful woman seen from behind on the dock holds there body in such a way. 

A loose translation of the name is ruined or dim soul.  These poor entities are restless in death after something has disrupted their ability to go peacefully into the afterlife.  It could be a violent death, betrayal, random need, tie to a location, or a funeral ceremony gone awry.  Traditional Japanese beliefs dictate the person’s reikon or soul is held in purgatory until proper burial rituals are completed.  If the process is finished peacefully the reikon goes into the afterlife as a protector of the family called a kami.  This is the equivalent of Christian guardian angels.  When those rites aren’t successful or the deceased has a desire to complete a task they become a Yurei which has the ability to bridge the gap between the living and dead.  From the trailer it is obvious the funeral of someone is interrupted in a disastrous way. 

Courtesy of AMC

Yurei will remain on earth locked in their haunting location until the wrongs have been righted or the rites completed.  Typically the lower the social status of the Yurei in life the stronger and more powerful their abilities in death.  The most famous Yurei Westerners would be familiar with is Ju-on and Ringu which were made into American remakes The Ring and The Grudge.  In both of these films a female spirit is seeking revenge.  In The Ring a child has created a recording which contains the psychic embodiment of rage after being tossed into a well by her Mom, and in Ju-on the wife, cat, and child of an abusive man are stuck in their house for eternity by the violence of their last moments on earth.

In addition to their specific ties to location, Yurei are thought to have specific times of haunting usually between 2:00 am and 2:30 am.  There are several well known hauntings of Yurei with the well of Himeji Castle being haunted by Okiku a servant who was killed and forced to count plates for eternity and Aokigahara(The Suicide Forest) at the base of Mt. Fuji.  YouTuber Logan Paul made the insensitive and unfortunate choice to film there and belittle the somberness of this sacred place in 2018.  In an abandoned section of Tokyo a prime location lies undeveloped out of fear for the samurai Taira no Masakado.  A shrine to this warrior was even rededicated in 1940 when a particularly dangerous bolt of lightening struck the Ministry of Finance near the shrine.  Following WWII when American forces tried to bulldoze the shrine the machine flipped over killing the operator.  The shrine still stands today.

Yurei can be encouraged to move on by completion of their task, justice, or in rare occasions exorcism.  Buddhist priests can perform exorcisms with the help of holy Shinto writings placed on the afflicted’s forehead.  Beware however, as Yurei can not be destroyed just encouraged to move on.  As the evil spirit we see has a corporeal form that takes the shape of a beautiful woman it is likely the ghost involved is an amalgamation of several shape shifting spirits including the Kitsune in Japanese folklore.

 It remains to be seen what is actually haunting the cast of The Terror: Infamy.  What is clear, it is horrifying and quite possibly will be even more terrifying than season one.  This brilliant mix of history and folklore is an unexplored tale that needs to be told.  As important today as any time, ‘The Terror: Infamy’ shows us the sins of our past continue to haunt us.

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