A lot can happen in seven days. The earth can rotate on its axis seven times; deities can create entire worlds; and ghosts can even hunt you down, crawling their way out of freaky TV sets. Of course, not all of this is entirely true, but you might be surprised to learn that far more of #TheRing franchise is inspired by a true story than you might think.
Whether you favor the American remake or prefer the chills of the original Japanese Ringu, this iconic J-Horror series has left audiences terrified of their phones ever since Hideo Nakata first released his theatrical adaptation of the novel in 1998.
Reacquaint yourself with this horrifying scene from the remake below:
While the ghost of Sadako/Samara has forever embedded itself in the annals of pop culture, joining the likes of Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers among the most iconic figures in horror, the influence of her story first began centuries earlier...
Butoh & The Yuurei
While Sadako's movements are evocative of Butoh, an unusual dance form created in the aftermath of World War II, her appearance is more reminiscent of classic ghosts from Japanese folk tales. Known simply as Yuurei — which translates to either “faint soul” or “dim spirit" — these female spirits were often described as having white faces, long black hair and flowing kimonos, as this is how Japanese women were dressed after they died.
One of the most famous Yuurei was Okiku, a spirit who rose to prominence in a famous Japanese ghost story called “Bancho Sarayashi.” While people may doubt the veracity of this tale, and whether it could have actually occurred in real life, the parallels that Okiku's story shares with the Ring franchise are certainly worth investigating.
Built some time between 1333 and 1346, Himeji Castle has become a hugely popular tourist destination in Western Japan, attracting visitors from around the world. However, people may not be so keen to travel there if they knew the story of Okiku, a woman who once died in the grounds.
Okiku's story was one of sadness. Forced to work in a dungeon underneath the castle, Okiku lived in servitude, answering to a samurai called Tessan Aoyama. Owner/slave relations are rather tenuous at the best of times, so when Okiku refused Aoyama's sexual advances, he plotted to kill her.
During her time in Himeji dungeon, Okiku became responsible for looking after ten valuable golden plates. Aoyama used this against her, hiding one of the plates as part of a blackmail scheme designed to force Okiku into a relationship with him. If she didn't agree to cooperate, then Okiku would be blamed for stealing the plate, leading to dire consequences for the young slave.
Here is where the story often differs. While some believe that Okiku threw herself down the castle's well, seeing no escape from this dilemma, others argue that she committed suicide right after first refusing Aoyama's advances.
Either way though, both versions of the legend agree that after she died, Okiku's spirit crawled out of the well each night thereafter, haunting Aoyama in the castle. Apparently, Okiku would count the plates in the dungeon each night, violently screaming once she discovered that one was missing. Unsurprisingly, these disturbing visits eventually drove Aoyama insane, in what can only be described as a chilling but effective form of poetic justice.
Today, the well in question is now referred to as “Okiku’s Well,” and can still be found in the grounds of Himeji Castle, covered with iron bars. Will that help stop Okiku's spirit from escaping and seeking revenge?
Sadako Was Also Inspired By Real-Life Psychics
While the Yuurei undoubtedly influenced the character of Sadako, author Kouji Suzuki was also inspired in part by the stories of two Japanese women who lived around a hundred years ago, and claimed to possess psychic abilities.
The first woman was called Chizuko Mifune and lived in the Kumamoto Prefecture. Sharing a similar name to Sadako's mother in the film — Shizuko — Chizuko's powers were investigated by a professor called Tomokichi Fukurai who worked at Tokyo University. To test her ESP, Fukurai asked Chizuko to take part in a public demonstration of her gifts, just like Sadako's father did in Ringu.
Events in the film and life took a similar turn, as attendees at the demonstration denounced both women as charlatans. This threw Chizuko into a fit of depression that ultimately led to her suicide at the age of 25.
Just one year before Chizuko took her own life, another psychic was born in Japan, one who would become famous for her unusual abilities as well. Called Takahashi Sadako — sound familiar? — this girl possessed the gift of nensha, which enabled her to burn images onto film using just the power of her mind.
Want to find out more? The institute of parapsychology that Fukurai founded a century ago still exists in Japan today, at Shingon Buddhist Koyasan University.
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Whether you believe that spirits and psychics exist in the real world or not, it's still fascinating to chart the legacy of The Ring franchise, which hearkens back far further than Kouji Suzuki's original novel.
Lets just hope that Samara's return in the American sequel #Rings can live up to the legacy of the franchise when she crawls out of theater screens on February 3rd.