Graceland Cemetery

Cemeteries can be beautiful and serene. To many that statement might seem strange for an assortment of reasons. For one, they haven’t opened their eyes to the wonderful craftsmanship that goes into the mausoleums and tombs interwoven with the flower and fauna native to the area it was built upon. Another would be a fear of death, subconscious or not, that makes them feel uneasy in or around one. The solid truth is that we all die and these established spaces are part of human culture. Death will pay us all a visit one day and in a cemetery we can learn about all the wonderful lives that have been lived by those who have been put to rest. These are lands filled with stories in which by taking a stroll through any of them could be a number of things: reflective, educational, inspiring and so on…

In Chicago, we can find the handsome Graceland Cemetery which sits just north of the windy city’s center/downtown area in the appropriately named “Uptown”. It is a Victorian era cemetery established in 1860 by Thomas Bryan. This Victorian influence is depicted in a style typical of what Queen Victoria had imagined as a 19th century graveyard. Ornate and decorative headstones are peppered throughout along with wide, open spaces for picnics, which were commonplace in these types of cemeteries. Picnics in cemeteries aren’t as uncommon as one might think; we can look no further than Mexico’s Dia de Los Muertos festival to see this practiced as part of tradition. If you take a stroll around Graceland and other cemeteries such as Greenwood in Brooklyn, New York it is hard to dispute that these lush, well kept burial grounds aren’t a great place for a picnic.

Taking a stroll through Graceland, you might recognize some names here and there carved into the headstones. Some notable burials that can be found include historical African-Americans like Sarah E. Goode, the first African-American woman to receive a United States patent and heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. also joins them who was the first African American astronaut.

There are a few tombs in Graceland that have gotten a bit famous in the past several years, each one with its own story or supernatural tale.

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This first monument above is known as the “Statue of Death” which is an eight foot tall, bronze figure mounted in 1844. The official name is “Eternal Silence” and serves as the memorial for Dexter Graves, a business man who is known as one of the first settlers of Chicago along with his family. His son, Henry Graves, was also one of the richest men in Chicago. Rumor has it that if you look directly through the folds surrounding the figure’s face you can see the image of your own death. Why this statue was selected by his family is unknown, but it was designed by the famous American sculptor Lorado Taft who is perhaps most known for sculpting Fountain of Time, which can also be seen in Chicago.

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Another interesting resting place in Graceland is that of George Pullman’s who was the inventor of the railway sleeping/passenger car. His body is said to be the most securely buried body in all of Chicago due to the fact that his relatives had his coffin covered in tar paper and asphalt. This coffin proceeded to be sunk in a block of concrete the size of a small room and the entire thing was lowered into the ground and topped with railroad ties — and even more concrete. This is a tomb to circumvent being tampered by even the most dedicated grave robber. His type of tombstone is called an exedra, which come from ancient Greece and are usually shaped as benches or seating areas. I don’t have a picture of it but it can easily be found here along with a short history of Mr. Pullman’s life.

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Evidence of the Victorian era influence, this next monument is sometimes called a “Treestone”. This variety of funerary art is usually made from limestone in the shape of tree stumps and the style is derived from the Victorian rusticity movement. This grave here is of Alfred Peter Vider, who died in 1870 and has no birth date recorded. However, the grave does state that he was a little over just one year old making his birth year around 1868-1869. The top of the tree being broken could refer to a life being cut short which was certainly the case for this little one. The vine growing around the stump could be a symbol of the relationship between God and man/woman (I am the vine, ye are the branches John 15), reflecting the child’s family’s hope that he is in a better place now. Usually, treestone graves are carved with a number of symbolic pieces that reflect hobbies, occupations and other details of the one lost.

 

 

 

 

The most famous of all is the statue of Inez Clarke who was a six year old girl that died in 1880. Her story is kind of muddled because the truth of Ms. Clarke’s origin is still unclear, but it is said she died due to a lightning strike while she was enjoying a picnic with her family. There is a possibility that this Inez Clarke might actually be the grave for Inez Briggs who died of different circumstances, but as mentioned before the truth is unclear. According to legend, whoever this little girl was haunts Graceland. If you check out the grave here, there are many theories and possible conclusions that have been researched and documented. The most interesting bit for me was the following…

Based on research by cemetery historians Helen Sclair and Al Walavich in an article in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2007, these stories are completely untrue. According to the cemetery’s records there is no one by the name of Inez Clarke buried in the cemetery…..Sclair and Walavich theorized that the statue was carved by the sculptor, Andrew Gagel, as a sample of his work in order to elicit business.

True or not, the grave itself has sparked many stories. There has been many accounts over the past decade by people who have seen a young girl who looked like Inez that would run away and disappear. The memorial alone is haunting enough as it stands out clearly among the surrounding graves; you don’t see a statue of a little girl encased in a glass container very often. Further, some say the statue itself moves on its own and during violent thunderstorms that it even vanishes from inside the box.

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I’d like to finish this off with one of my favorites from Graceland, the beautiful headstone pictured above. It honors Christopher D. Manuel, an anesthesiologist who had a very positive reputation as a friendly and highly competent physician. The tomb is engraved with the following lyrics by Donny Hathaway, the famous African-American jazz, blues and gospel singer who tragically took his own life at age 33.

“For all we know this may only be a dream

We come and go

like ripples on a stream

For all we know

tomorrow may never come

For all we know”

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Hitodama (人魂)

In Japanese folklore, spirits take on the form of Hitodama (人魂) which are floating orbs of a fire-like material. I think the concept of spirit orbs are somewhat universal such as ghost lights like will’o the wisp and spheres of lights showing up in photographs here and there. For Japanese people, the hitodama have a longer history with details that make them pretty unique.

After talking to a few Japanese folk, I was told that hitodama are usually spotted at night but can be seen in the daytime as well. You also have a higher chance of seeing one in a (surprise) cemetery. Recently, a middle-aged Japanese man told me about his experience spotting one while driving not too long ago. He was passing by a nearby cemetery when he spotted it. Following this story, he told me they are shaped like orbs because it is formed in the image of a person’s brain and essentially it is like the consciousness that gets set free after death. It is also believed that the more “good” a person does in her or his lifetime their orb/sphere will be much smoother. A perfectly round, marble like hitodama is the most desired — and when a person does something “bad” or “evil” cracks begin to form on the surface. As he explained he drew pictures at the same time to help me imagine what he was talking about.

 

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Drawings of a paranormal enthusiast

In Japan, the Obon holiday is approaching (In Tokyo, the date is a bit different and has just passed) which is usually in the middle of August. During these few days spirits come back to the world of the living and enjoy the offerings their descendants have left for them. Ghost stories are commonplace in the summer thanks to Obon and also because of the belief that getting “the chills” from a ghost story keeps you cool in the summer. Even in book stores they have special sections set up stacked with horror books and manga for the summer holiday.

I’m finishing this rather short entry off with another first hand account told to me this past month by a Japanese man who turned 90 years old this year. He was eager to share the story, while still somewhat speculative of the topic of the paranormal, he said he remembers this very clearly. The time frame of this story is pre-World War II Japan.

Let me tell you about a story that I heard when I was still 10 years old. I was enjoying a cool evening with my younger brother, two years younger than me, sitting outside our house. It happened around 1935 when we were living in Omori, Tokyo. If I remember it correctly, it was around the time of the Obon festival When I happened to look up at the roof of an old two-storied house located about 50 meters from my house, to my disbelief, I saw two spirit orbs, hitodama, that emitted pale blue and purple lights as they moved. They seemed to intertwine around each other and had tails of fire-like lights behind them. They measured about 50 centimeters in length. My brother must have seen them as well. The two of us jumped into our house. Our mother was surprised at seeing us. When I shared with her what we had just seen, she told us the following story: a mother and her two young daughers used to live in that house. The mother had already died three years before I saw the spirits and one of the daughters had been suffering from tuberculosis and was in critical condition. I heard that five days after I saw the spirits, that daughter had died. Even now, eighty years since then, I still recall vividly those intertwined spirits around the time of the Obon festival.

Interview with the: Chucky Collector

They say in New York City you can find just about everything. This includes all different types of people, ranging from your average Joe to eccentric types — all with their own hobbies. Accompanying these folks are their treasures and knickknacks which are littered across their households. Many are oblivious to the gems they might have tucked away in their attics or basements but then there are collectors who really value what they own (as unusual the objects may be) and proudly showcase what they have.

For this blog post, I decided to interview Charlie, who is a native New Yorker and has been a huge fan of Chucky and the Child’s Play movies as long as he can remember. He recently has started up an Instagram where you can find pictures of his pride and joy — his Child’s Play and Chucky merchandise collection. Please go check it out if you are a fan of horror memorabilia — there’s tons to see!

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J: So, let’s get to it — where do you keep most of your collection?

C: For the time being everything is in storage. I do have some stuff with me in my apartment though.

J: Is it like, stuff you can’t part with?

C: Yeah, well right now I took out my pins…everything in my storage is really accessible to me. Literally when you open the door everything is right there. There is a Chucky doll in the front guarding the storage. He’s at face level.

J: Oh, so you take pictures from the storage facility?

C: Yeah, actually, moving and putting things in storage was what inspired me to start documenting everything. I always wanted to document it for myself and it sucks that I couldn’t do it while I had everything out and decorated in my old apartment.  Now if I’m at a store and I see something, I can check my Instagram and be like, do I have this?

J: You don’t think of it when everything is out and set up.

C: No, you really don’t. But now that I started it’s like my collection is with me everywhere I go.  (He pulls out a Chucky doll to show me) This Chucky doll is actually a doll from Spencer’s (a variety store in the US) He cost me like $80 and this one has a hard body, there is also a soft body version which is $30. (shows off a Glenn doll) This Glenn here cost $34.99, but he goes for about $600 on Ebay now.

J: I can’t believe it’s worth that much.

C: They had a whole bunch of them in Spencer’s because no one was buying them. They pull things from the shelves and put them away only to be uncovered years from now. I’ve been noticing a lot of collectors on Instagram acquiring things from warehouses and they also sell them at comic cons for 90-130 bucks a piece. These were in like normal variety goods stores and toy stores for like ten bucks.

J: Yeah! I’ve noticed at cons you see things in the package that are really old collectibles and I often wonder, where did they get this?

C: It’s in pristine condition. I imagine there’s some warehouse, hopefully they didn’t destroy them all, but I’m sure there’s thousands of Glenn dolls out there cuz those stores were littered with them when Seed of Chucky came out.

J: You only have one of those right?

C: Of that one, yeah, and I only have two pieces of Glenn in general. One is a family set of toys and then I have the doll. They don’t really make too many Glenns. There are maybe one or two out there that I don’t have. That movie also didn’t do as well.

J: How big would you say your collection is now?

C: Um, it’s pretty big (laughs)

J: An estimated amount?

C: I don’t know, how many pictures are there on my Instagram…

J: And that’s not everything.

C: No it’s not, and I took a lot of pictures — I’m trying not to post everything at once. I feel bad I’m not putting a crazy amount of effort into the Instagram but I want to take nicer pictures down the line.

J: I think you might eventually if this keeps getting more popular and you enjoy it.

C: My Instagram I think will evolve but for the time being it’ll just be all these photos documenting my collection. Some of the photos are from my old apartment when I had everything out.

J: Wouldn’t people be afraid with all the Chucky dolls everywhere when they came over?

C: Yeah, I don’t know why. (laughs and pulls out another doll) I think Dreamrush makes this one, I paid $60 for it. Dreamrush is one of the Japanese companies.

J: Oh, so that’s a Japanese brand doll.

C: Actually I prefer the Japanese brand dolls, Mezco I believe is a Japanese brand and they bought designs of Chucky and Tiffany and manufacture it.

J: I think Japanese products tend to be more detailed. You have quite a few Japanese products, right?

C: I like the Kanji! (Japanese characters) I like how Japanese looks so I love the movie posters too. I have a bunch of movie posters from around the world that I printed and compiled myself just to have in a binder. I put up a video of that before. Eventually, I wanna do individual pictures, comics…

J: When would you say the collection started?

C: My first one ever was when Bride of Chucky just came out in theaters. That was in 1998, I remember I saw that movie with my mom. It was a toy store right across the street called toys and variety or something. My mom and I — our ritual was to go to a diner and then the movie theater together. I saw this Chucky doll in the toy store which I posted and I bought it. (searches for picture and shows me)

J: So that’s from Child’s Play 2.

C: I’m not sure why they had it but I remember it as the day I saw Bride of Chucky and I had seen the Chucky movies since I was 4 or 5 years old. My mother also called me Chucky.

J: Did the movies leave an impression on you?

C: Definitely, I was scared at first and I’d have to have my mom with me. I’d be looking behind me and behind the couch…but it was more like “fun-scared”.  I never had nightmares or anything like that. Actually, in my life I’ve only ever had one Chucky dream.

J: What was that dream?

C: It was actually recent. He was just a doll, he didn’t move or nothing…but I knew what he was capable of in the dream. He’d kind of suddenly disappear after that, kind of like in the movies he’d just be gone from where he was. I felt like I was trying to keep him from killing…it was kind of weird, I actually had a little bit of fear, but again it was kind of fun.

J: Yeah that’s just it too, some people love fear. We love watching horror movies and getting scared, we shelve it into a fun area of our brain we don’t actually get scared. It’s like an escape – that’s one of the reasons why I watch them.

C: Yeah, same. Definitely.

J: So love for Chucky started when you were young but when did it become a passion?

C: Like I said I’ve always loved him but I had never really thought about a collection and it just kind of happened. Growing up, I felt like there wasn’t a lot of Chucky stuff but I also wasn’t really looking being a child and all. I don’t really have a time stamp.

J: Why did your mom call you Chucky?

C: It was cause I loved the movies and I’d do crazy shit as a kid. I’d go into the kitchen and take out the knives and run around the house. I’d have like four knives in my hands.

J: Did that ever scare your mom or was she always cool with it?

C: I don’t know, I think she was afraid that I would hurt myself.

J: I’d be afraid of being hurt by you.

C: (laughs) Yeah I guess I was just imitating Chucky but I never had those intentions. Even my older brother tells me that story.  Speaking of that time, you know what? To this day nothing beats the experience of watching Chucky on the USA channel around Halloween-time. For some reason they had deleted scenes that the VHS never had and I’d record them each time and I felt like I would get different scenes. They would also have interviews — these are hard to find — and they’d have Chucky commentary with Brad Dourif doing the voice.

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J: You have knowledge of all these like, little Easter eggs that any big fan would love.

C: I posted a Chucky book and one fan asked me, they said, “I know it’s a tall task but could you take a picture of every single page?” (laughs) “Oh you could just do a couple at a time.” Do you know what a pain in the ass that would be? But you know what, I did one better and tried looking for the e-book which was insanely hard to find.

J: There’s one out there?

C: There actually is and I tracked it down. I don’t even know how, but I challenge you try to find those files. I sent it to her after but I don’t know if she actually got to look at it yet.

J: And you got the e-book out of this experience now! So, if you really had to think about it — cause we are all attracted to the things we like for certain reasons – to what could you trace back your love for Chucky ?

C: I don’t know, that’s tough cause it’s been with me for so long. My middle name is Jason and you think I’d be more attracted to Friday the 13th – I missed being born on it by a few hours so I was born on Saturday the 14th. (pauses) I guess the concept of Chucky. He has everything, the movie is a slasher, it has voodoo — I believed in the chants as a child.

J: So the magic aspect; isn’t Chucky immortal?

C: He is immortal. Maybe that has something to do with it.

J: I know I love The Exorcist — the religious angle made it taboo to watch in my family. I gravitated towards it because it had to do with the devil.

C: The Exorcist scared the shit out of me. Chucky did but in a different way and I got over it quick. I used to prefer Chucky movies to cartoons when I was a kid.

J: If you had to look at the fan base and identify what the fans love about Chucky, what do you think that is?

C: I feel like a lot of them are really young, believe it or not. Like 20 and below which is surprising because they didn’t grow up with Chucky…

J: I feel like you have to grow up with Chucky because the recent movies were not really big.

C: I guess it could be the parents.

J: You know, there are girls who especially like the character Charles Lee Ray, the serial killer from Child’s Play who is basically Chucky. I think there is something about serial killers that attracts many, many people. There are people who are really obsessed with serial killers and romanticize them. Charles Manson still gets love letters in jail.

C: Yeah, that’s crazy. Charles Lee Ray was only in the movie himself for just a few minutes. (pauses) You know what I just remembered? Ah man, I might regret talking about it!

J: What is it?

C: When I was a kid, right? I only thought of this more recently but it’s the craziest thing. I had anger issues as a kid, at least I think I did. I remember having this like — feeling in my nails, and I got nervous or anxious…I remember I would just pull my nail to the right and…I thought I’d snap and black out. I’d pick at my nails and if I didn’t do it I thought I’d snap.

J: So you just felt that way but it didn’t actually happen.

C: Thinking back, it sounds pretty psychotic, what if  I could have grown up to be a serial killer? (laughs)

J: Well I wouldn’t think of it that way. That’s not true because we all cross symptoms with serial killers. At the end of the day, they aren’t these inhuman beasts from hell people like to make them out to be. They’re actually just people and many of us have things in common with them.

C: I did kill a lot of worms when I was young.

J: Do you think when you were younger you felt strange about what you did?

C: No…I’m just glad I didn’t act out when I look back on it.

J: Like I said, serial killers and criminals have had a different experience than us on this earth that has made them a certain way. Many people relate to them because they have that outcast of society/rebel thing going on for them.

C: You know, I’m a certified mental health aid. When I was taking the course I felt like there was a lot wrong with me. While you’re taking the course you start thinking about people you interact with everyday. If you read about all the symptoms you start diagnosing yourself. Everyone is crazy it seemed to me, because we all overlap with these things. For my job at that time I was supposed to be able to diagnose people who need special treatment. Everyone has things that set them apart from others and as you’re learning you realize stuff about yourself too.

J: Many people who major in psychology diagnose themselves in the beginning. It’s really typical. Anyway, moving on from that…could you tell me about your favorite Chucky memory?

C: God, there’s so many. What captivates me is how he’s always able to come back. I think it was in Bride of Chucky where he says “Fine, kill me – I’ll be back, I’ll always be back! But dying is such a bitch.”

J: That goes back to the immortality thing.

C: Yeah, and just recently one of my followers posted a video recently [“of another quote I love”] where Chucky says, “I’m Chucky the killer doll – the most notorious slasher in history, and I dig it!”

J: He’s not human; he’s transcended that and maybe that’s part of his appeal.

C: The Chucky movies actually have a lot of inspirational, everyday things you can live by. Even Tiffany when she came along, she had said “I clean, I cook the dinner and the least you could do is wash the dishes.” That’s some real shit. (laughs)

J: They still have their humanity!

C: I think from Bride of Chucky on is when you see the more human side of Chucky. Where he could be more relatable and stuff, but the first three movies are on a pedestal to me. Who knows what could happen with the new movie coming out? I heard the trailer drops soon.

J: Yeah I heard a little bit about it, Jennifer Tilly was talking about it…Curse of Chucky was really good. I loved that one.

C: Me too. I do miss the old animatronics though which I believe they still had but covered it with a lot of CGI. I remember an aerial shot in Child’s Play 2 where you can see Chucky climbing up a long staircase and he really does look like a live/moving puppet or toy.

J: Well, hopefully with the new trailer gives us promise for this new Chucky movie that it’ll be another great one.

C: Let’s hope.


Thanks for reading guys. Again, remember to check out Charlie’s Instagram which I linked above. (Username is TheChuckyGuy) Definitely give him a follow if you’re interested in seeing what else he digs up!

Biohazard: A Theory

Let’s talk about Resident Evil — and not the movie series.

The name Resident Evil is very recognizable among gamers especially since it is a widely popular and ongoing series to this day. The critically acclaimed Resident Evil 7 was just released in January 2017 and there are a few more rumored to be in the works, including a remake of the classic Resident Evil 2 which was originally released for the first PlayStation home console.

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Resident Evil (which, truth be told, is kind of a strange name when you think about it) is actually known as Biohazard in Japan, where the series was born. In 1996 when the first game in the series was released, there was a band in the U.S. by the name Biohazard and game developer and publisher Capcom called for a name change to avoid confusion or copyright issues. That band is no where to be found now and in retrospect the name change was probably not needed — but the series is now known as Resident Evil in the west.

For those who may not know, Resident Evil is about a pharmaceutical corporation named Umbrella Corp. that experiments on humans and other animal subjects. Their infamous legacy began by creating deadly viruses that end up getting out of hand and spreading across the fictional city of Raccoon. The viruses kill and mutate their hosts into zombie-like creatures and other monsters.

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the viruses unleashed on the public is how highly contagious they are. One bite or scratch can lead to infection which leaves you with a countdown until you become a zombie-like creature yourself. This virus concept is of course fictional but many fear for their lives everyday due to all sorts of viruses and diseases that exist in the real world. There are even viruses that are air-borne and the fact that we cannot see them is frightening all on its own.

As human beings, our lives are very fragile on this planet and many things that threaten our species have been caused by our own invention. There are many corporations out there that have caused much damage to the earth and the living creatures that reside here. Even with good intentions, we have produced negative effects. One example is CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) which was manufactured in an attempt to discover a chemical that was not harmful to humans, household materials and did not attract insects. It couldn’t be foreseen at the time, but now this compound is eating away at the thin veil which is our Ozone layer that protects this planet from harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. We can partly thank the usage of this chemical for the ongoing global warming.

Conspiracy theories aside, most corporations do not manufacture their products with the intention of harming others. Freak accidents on the other hand have inevitably occurred over the past decades as well as decisions made my companies that in retrospect seem very neglectful. We can bring up numerous example from around the world but we are going to discuss Japan and some of the diseases that were caused by past ignorance and negligence.

In the 1950s-60s, the Japanese economy was on the up and up with many successful firms and corporations firmly taking root. Among these were Chisso Corp. and Showa Denko. They are both chemical manufacturers that played large roles in the chemical scares that began in the 50s and went on for many years. The highly toxic chemical methyl-mercury was the main cause of disease and death that brought tragedy to so many Japanese families across Japan, from Kumamoto prefecture to Niigata.

In Chisso‘s case (who only have themselves to blame), they are still well known for this event among Japanese households. For about thirty-six years (1932-1968) they released contaminated industrial wastewater that was consumed by sea life that in turn was consumed by the people in the area around Kumamoto. Japan is well known for its consumption of seafood, especially sushi and sashimi, so it is unsurprising to hear that thousands were infected by the disease now called Minamata disease with more than half of those affected perishing due to the complications that stemmed from it. The corporation ended up paying $86 million in compensation to the families that it affected but are perhaps still unforgiven for causing the loss of many priceless lives. To make matters worse, Chisso chairman Yutaka Egashira used Japanese mobsters called yakuza to threaten the patients of Minamata disease and their supporters. Even American journalists were battered by yakuza goons for publishing photographs and writing articles about their discoveries. Indeed, these events naturally led to much criticism and a dark association with corporations and how they affect the public.

Showa Denko caused a second outbreak of Minamata disease in Niigata prefecture around the mid 1960s. Again, this neurological disease was caused mainly by methyl-mercury and affected hundreds of Japanese citizens. Showa Denko responded by trying to discredit scientists and offer their own explanations for the disease. (This was also done by Chisso) The jig was up when the chemical was finally discovered in contaminated moss near the Showa Denko factory.

Minamata disease causes many distressing symptoms to occur in humans. In the worst of cases, insanity arrives before death approaches the victim. The disease not only affects humans but animals as well. There are several witness accounts of the neurological symptoms taking hold of other living things including cats near the water sources.

“…one cat ran into a small clay cooking stove containing burning charcoal. With the pupils of its eyes dilated, salivating, convulsing and uttering a strange cry, the cat breathed its last breath.”

For an eye-witness, the tight grip the disease can have on the brain of both humans and animals could be absolutely terrifying. Who or whatever was once there is now hijacked by the disease and they do not act like themselves anymore. Add to that the symptoms of ataxia, loss of peripheral vision, and damage to hearing and speech and the concoction is not only frightening but ultimately fatal. The death of cats and some dogs and pigs were so severe that before it was known as Minamata disease their apparent symptoms were called “dancing cat fever”.  Even crows were affected which were seen falling from the sky and running into trees and buildings. Insects appeared larger than they were, due to the contamination contorting them which led to implosion.

Due to these ghastly recordings of how these areas were disturbed and the issues of contamination remaining an important issue in Japan to this day is why I theorize that the team behind Biohazard was influenced by these events. These regions of Japan lived in fear for so long for their loved ones, their environment and the food they chose to consume — a true biohazard. The companies used shady tactics to silence the public and conceal just how badly they messed up which led to the distrust and rebellion against companies that had developed hazardous materials. While no experimenting on animals or humans took place (from what we know, anyway) Showa Denko did apply genetic engineering to the bacteria it used for fermentation. This also led to a contamination of tryptophan (an amino acid used in the biosynthesis of proteins) in the 1980s.

While there were no walking dead taking over Japan during these outbreaks, some of these symptoms gave you a dash of the look and feel. Involuntary muscle spasms, especially of the head and eyes, are both for the sufferer and anyone nearby quite alarming. Gait abnormality was also caused by the disease which causes the victim to deviate from a normal walking stance (gait). This was one of the most common symptoms since a neurological disorder could be most apparent in the way someone walks which could appear as a scissor walk, stumbling and dragging of the feet and sudden starts and stops. Peculiar slurs of speech and hand-writing also manifest themselves which reveal distorted thoughts and are recorded in uneven letters and even underlining.

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Patients also became unable to judge distances and ranges of movement which appeared as they were reaching out to nothing in particular or swinging their arms without any perceived order or reason. Along with these motions, dazed eyes and twisted hands and feet caused by this awful disease, I think the parallels to “zombification” are self-explanatory.

Along with Itai-Itai disease and Yokkaichi asthma these four illnesses (including the two mentioned above) are known as the four big pollution diseases of Japan. These diseases and tragic events live on from generation to current generation in Japan and you better believe the elderly which make up a vast amount of the population have never forgotten about Chisso or Minamata disease especially. With this err to caution in regards to such corporations being passed down, the creation and connection to the fictional Umbrella Corp. in the Biohazard series could have its groundwork based on Chisso. 

While the human accounts of what was experienced by some as a dive into insanity might be enough to draw a connection, the contamination of other wildlife also seem like an inspiration to the Biohazard series. Throughout the games, the player faces infected crows, cockroaches, spiders, dogs and even sea-dwellers like sharks and gators. Just like how methyl-mercury destroyed precious ecosystems and went up the food chain, the game’s T-Virus spread itself around with no limits. There was enough to go around Raccoon city and beyond.

Raccoon city was a fictional city set in the west and I would interpret this as a choice as to not be culturally insensitive. A Japanese corporation developing something that contaminated and killed dozens in a concentrated area could potentially be seen as a creation in bad taste. Setting it in the U.S. would disconnect it from reality for a Japanese audience which led to even more opportunities. Like the creation of S.T.A.R.S., reminiscent of American style squads of soldiers. Throw a heaping spoonful of the 1989 video game Sweet Home into the mix and you get what is now Biohazard. This survival horror series has gone on to inspire many more and has had elements of psychological horror and action over the years.

While Biohazard is a work of fiction, the Minamata outbreak was real, complex and some of its effects still live on. The losses were not only physical, but social and psychological as well and caused a ripple effect of fear that coursed through the victims and into the people around them, tragically far-reaching.

TV: Bates Motel (2013)

Bates Motel has just aired its finale with high acclaim following it by fans and critics alike. Even though it has only been a five season long affair the series has wrapped up at a point where it felt most natural.  If you want to avoid spoilers, I’d avoid reading any further.

Bates Motel is somewhat of a re-imagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho which in turn is based on the Robert Bloch novel of the same name which was published in 1959. Horror fans should already know the in and outs of the Norman Bates mythos, who is played brilliantly by Freddie Highmore, pretty well. At the very least, most know that Norman’s victims are usually female and that he has a mommy complex that manifests itself in a way that has him dressing up as her after her death. In fact, he sometimes believes that he is her. Upon shallow judgement many would sum him up as “crazy” or incorrectly as a “schizophrenic”.

The Norman Bates legend has been the great-great-grandfather of horror stories for decades and we all knew where Bates Motel was heading by the end of it all. What makes this show, which also stars Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates, so successful then? Could it be the fantastic cast and grim atmosphere surrounding the characters and the motel itself? The new direction and additions to the original story are also worth noting. At the very core, though, is the psychological explorations of what makes these characters who they are. They are not just depicted as bad people or with simple intentions. These are complicated, multi-layered characters you can sympathize with before and even after they commit murder during the progression of the story.

Mental illness is complex and situational. While being an effectively creepy horror/suspense show, Bates Motel is also indirectly teaching its viewers about mental illness. Even if slightly exaggerated, it does a great job at depicting behaviors and traits that are atypical of people with different mental illnesses and personality disorders. A couple of specific ones do come to mind when watching Norman, and Norma especially, but I don’t want to mention them to avoid labeling. After all, they’re just my own speculation.

Norma’s childhood demons were tragically unraveled as the series went on revealing that she was sexually abused by her brother. Many sufferers of various disorders and mental illnesses end up developing these issues due to abuse, which they can sometimes pass on to their own children. This happens through their own form of abuse. Norma didn’t physically or sexually abuse Norman but she unhealthily smothered him with love that teetered on the line of incest. As stated before, many fans already knew that the nature of their relationship would be quite unorthodox. What the show did was carefully map out the cause and effects of this relationship and instead of displaying it as in-your-face creepy, they made the characters unsettlingly real. By giving us this background on Norma, we start to put the pieces together. Many victims of childhood abuse fear abandonment even as adults, and giving Norman this intense smothering was a way to keep him close. In Norma’s mind, there is no relationship as close as one between a mother and son and the lines are blurred for her. She often goes to Norman for counseling and to unload her feelings, even those regarding her romantic situations, and goes as far as physical intimacy (cuddling & sleeping together). This type of interaction is normally provided by other adults  for most people. In this way, she actually conditions Norman into feeling as though he absolutely needs her close to him as well. This is sometimes called covert (or emotional) incest.

A trait that Norma and Norman both maintain throughout the show is their aura of charisma. Indeed, many people who suffer from a disorder can function quite well in society and even be well-liked by many. For anyone who has a family member, friend or someone else close to them with an illness this trait often rings true pertaining to their own experience. For some it is a positive trait when their loved one comes to mind but for many this effortless charisma haunts them. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it could be a quite triggering reminder for some at how real these characters are. Norma and Norman both have several men and women that grow to like them during the show’s progression. They’re quite charming and more often than not are easily liked by the people in White Pine Bay, Oregon.

The most important aspect of this display of charisma by both mother and son is the dispelling of myths that surround sufferers of mental illness. Firstly, it is thought that these people have difficulty functioning in society and are easily spotted by how “weird” they are. While Norma is quite volatile, the expectation is that she should be expressing erratic emotion constantly. Quite the contrary, she manages to hold a lot of it in throughout the progression of the series. Norman also just comes off as a quiet (and geeky?) teenager in school and to the people that get to know him, and his faults are just chalked up to him having a difficult time adjusting. Furthermore, another misconception about sufferers and their charisma is that it is all manipulative and pre-meditated. This comes from a difficulty understanding the many layers that a human being could have. Norma and Norman are at times very genuinely nice to people and there doesn’t seem to be any hidden agenda for most of their positive interactions with others. When Norman tries to encourage and cheer up his friend Emma, viewers can undoubtedly see the genuine nature of his actions. Norma, too, also seems to express concern for others even if she does have a hard time ultimately connecting with them.

If you’re looking — or are just familiar with some of these traits — you’ll notice that Vera Farmiga’s tragic portrayal of Norma Bates is masterfully done. She plays the flawed mother of two struggling with her inner demons simultaneously with her lack of self-awareness looming behind her brilliantly. There is a vacancy to her expressions during her interactions with others that I would peg as some of the best acting I’ve seen. Farmiga surely knows all the inner workings of her character and must have done her homework. She manages to stay true to Norma’s brand while at the same time making her very real and even relatable. This is not just some fictional character from a novel, but a carefully crafted one that could be found in day to day life.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that Bates Motel is a highly recommended show for fans of psychological horror. It elevates the genre to the highest peak and gives us a literal but refreshing take on the word psychological. It also stands firmly as a drama, because calling it a horror series is a bit strange even if there are aspects about it that are very unsettling. Some people I know who have tried watching complained that the show was too dark for them and they felt uneasy watching Norma and Norman’s life unfold. Indeed, I think the scariest aspect of Bates Motel is the atmosphere and just how close to home Norma’s personality might be for many viewers.

If you want to share your own thoughts on the show, please feel free to comment!

The Parks of Hachioji: Part 1

 

In West Tokyo, there are not only many different towns that are sprawled across the landscape filling the space between Fuji and Tokyo, but many of them are very unique neighborhoods. You have Nakano which has a mall that contains so many nerdy collectibles that it is often called the secret Akihabara. Koenji is not far from Nakano which is a neighborhood full of thrift stores and boutiques with hipster-esque coffee shops.

Further out, we have Hachioji. Hachioji is actually quite large and most of the area is not conveniently accessible by train. It has great shopping malls and plenty of culinary options — but these are all near the station. Most of the city is actually pretty quiet full of residential areas, parks and schools. In addition, the city also has tons of hot spots for paranormal energy — more than any other city in west Tokyo. Hachioji also has an area of 72 square miles, making it the largest city in west Tokyo with a population of over half a million.

I teamed up again with my friend Merry who records our excursions which you can find on her channel here. With her behind the wheel, we headed to a few spots I had done some research on on the internet. It had already gotten dark and it was a beautiful night; it wasn’t too cold or windy. There were many parks in Hachioji that were considered haunted (as well as tunnels, bridges, and more…) but we narrowed it down to just a couple for our first trip.

The first location was Yarimizu park and it is rumored that a professor murdered a student he was having an affair with back in 1973 and buried her somewhere in the area. Depending on who you ask, the area of the incident differs but many will agree upon Yarimizu park because of what goes on around the bathrooms. Evidently, a woman’s voice and cries can be heard near the bathrooms (in particularly the women’s) so for many this must be the victim of the merciless professor.

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While we didn’t hear or see anything, we did find the bathroom to be creepy. It is always open with the lights on even in the middle of the night. I guess that was convenient for us and anyone else who might go off to venture into the park at that time. The most curious item we found was this poster inside the men’s bathroom stall. Anyone care to make sense of what it was, or why it was there? We didn’t have a clue.

After that, we head over to Kamiyugi Park where a string of suicides took place in the early 2000s. Not much is known about what else had occurred in the park and depending on which investigators you ask spirit activity runs from low to very high. Kamiyugi is a very large park that contains a baseball stadium, tennis court, a small bridge and a parking lot. We walked at least half of it and took some shots. My favorite spot had to be the bridge, where I felt the most unease. I wondered if anyone had possibly jumped from this bridge?

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There isn’t much more to report besides that. For our next venture to more parks in Hachioji, we have a few on the list with a bit more story to them that will hopefully prove to be even more interesting.

“The Exorcist” (1974) by Kazuo Umezu

Recently I discovered a special comic that filled my horror-loving heart with joy. Not only is it something that I would call a rare find and become a mini-translation project for myself, but it blends some of my favorite interests together. If you’re a fellow fan of these, I hope that it brings you the same kind of joy after finishing this post.

I’ve loosely written about one of my favorite films before, The Exorcist, as well as my favorite Japanese horror comic writer, Kazuo Umezu. Little did I know that these two things have come together at some point in the past. After digging through many malls and shops across Tokyo with overwhelmingly large quantities of devil-knows-how-old magazines and books, I found a 1974 issue of Shonen Sunday. If you’re bizarrely skilled at quickly piecing things together you have probably realized that The Exorcist was just released the previous year, in 1973. In Japan, however, the film wasn’t released until 1974 which isn’t at all unordinary (especially since the U.S. saw the film’s release on December 26th)

To commemorate The Exorcist‘s release in Japan, then-to-be legend Kazuo Umezu was asked to create a full color spread in the July 7th issue of Shonen Sunday. At the time, Umezu was 38 years old and had a few of his most famous works of his career already behind him. These included 猫目小僧 (Nekome Kouzo, Cat Eyed Boy), おろち (Orochi, Orochi: Blood) and 漂流教室 (Hyouryuu Kyoushitsu, The Drifting Classroom) It was a natural choice to choose the already established horror master to take on this piece in honor of the film that was taking the world by pea soup slinging storm.

What is even more fascinating is the impact The Exorcist had made in cinema when it was released. It’s quite telling that after just a few months, other countries were thinking of ways to promote and commemorate its release.

While I found little information about The Exorcist by Kazuo Umezu on the internet, I didn’t find any translation of it. I was happy to take on this task and translate it all even if you could probably assume what was going on panel by panel as they depict the most famous scenes from the film.

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This brilliantly done close-up of possessed Regan doubled as both the first page of the spread as well as an alternate cover for the magazine. On the top left in green font, the cover reads as follows:

“In a beautiful girl’s body, a demon took over! The horror film that’s a hot topic in the world right now, The Exorcist, impacting with a full color spread!”

At the bottom, the panels read from right to left:

“This twelve year old girl named Regan spent everyday happily together with her mother.”

“Regan’s mother saw her playing on the occult (Ouija) board.”

“Suddenly, the board (planchette) moved on it’s own! However, this went unnoticed.”

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“One night…Regan’s mother heard an unsettling breathing sound coming from upstairs. But, there was no one around.”

“Regan was sleeping soundly.”

“However, an incredibly strong and cold wind poured in through an open window which left Regan’s mother with an ominous feeling.”

“A few days later, a loud scream was heard coming from Regan’s room!”

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“Regan’s bed rocked tremendously and she was being shaken back and forth.”

“The force of the bed was so strong Regan’s mother could do nothing to stop it.”

“Regan was being hurt by an unseen force and her appearance changed miserably.”

“Stop it!”

dat tongue tho

“Regan was seen by a doctor, but he could not find any abnormalities.” 

“Inexplicably, Regan’s face and voice had changed — she sounded like a man and she shouted vulgar obscenities.”

“She no longer seemed like a young girl and because of her viscous actions there was no choice but to tie her to the bed.”

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Geeetssch! 

The Devil was inside Regan!”

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“She became a demon. From her mouth, Regan spat foul liquids onto others in the room.”

“The furniture came to life and began attacking everyone.”

“Her head twisted around revealing a mocking expression!”

“However, letters appeared on Regan’s stomach that spelled out ‘Help me!'”

“From within her body which was now taken over by the devil, Regan was asking for help!”

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“The decision was made , an exorcism was necessary in order to drive out the devil!”

“The devil jolted out and groaned in pain. It was then when Regan’s body began to float up in the air. Even for the devil, this was the last of its power.”

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“The devil finally lost. Due to the exorcist’s prayer, it revealed its identity — and this false Regan once again returned to the cute, ordinary girl that she was before.”

“But the exorcist had died. The exorcist’s assistant as well had suffered a mysterious death.”

“In the end, was the devil really destroyed? Perhaps, but you may also have a demon beside you…”

Well, that’s all he wrote! Hope you enjoyed the artwork. I consider this a treasure for a fan like me. If you’re a collector, it might be available online somewhere. I would suggest Yahoo! Auctions or other Japanese re-seller websites.

As a bonus, this was the actual cover for the magazine which was immediately before the close-up shot of Regan above.

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