My costumes are inspired by an interest in classical Japanese ghost folklore and my studies in law and social justice relating to women’s experiences of inequality. I use elements of Japan’s ghost archetypes to reflect on these historical and ongoing realities.
Ghost stories from Japan have certain themes that have been incorporated into modern horror. Widely recognizable movies like The Ring, The Grudge, and others feature female spirits wreaking havoc in the name of jealousy, resentment, and vengeance. These are onryou; a gendered category of Japanese ghost consisting mainly of women betrayed by the men they loved, many of whom were victims of violence.
In popular film incarnations of onryou and western female apparitions, the woman herself is overshadowed by the monstrous entity she has become; the grotesqueness of her malevolent appearance and rage that overwhelms her individual identity and history. She becomes a faceless, voiceless, and interchangeable caricature, as the humanity of her trauma is second to her shock value.
With my costumes, I suggest an alternative reading of women who become onryou as a parallel to the women’s rights movement. Instead of seeking revenge, these feminine spirits are protesting the rigid social boundaries that trapped them in life. They are frightening because they are manifest expressions of women’s rebellion against oppression.
I combine typical onryou shock imagery — long dark hair, pale face, white clothing — with the noppera-bou, a faceless trickster spirit that likes to frighten humans. My ghosts’ uncanny faces, or lack thereof, capture the viewer’s attention rather than her potential monstrosity. Every intentional crack and imperfection on her featurelessness is crucial; they remind the viewer there is a person underneath the horror. When people begin wondering who this woman is and what happened, they acknowledge the importance of her experiences, and thus, the woman’s individuality and humanity. ¦
Veronica Yeung is a 2015 JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.