Onryō: Japanese Ghosts Postmortem

If you frequent this Blog often, you might remember my last post was about a modular Edo Japan game level pack, which you can check out on THIS page, or read more about it HERE. But this week it’s all about Ghosts!

So this all started ’cause during the development of the modular Edo Japan game level pack, I suddenly decided I wanted it to be populated, by…. Something. Not necessarily living people, since it’s half-abandoned (or not, up to you, depending on the use you gonna give it, of course), and while I was doing all sorts of research for the level pack, I did read some stuff about Japanese ghosts and how the quintessential image of the Japanese ghost we know today came to be, which was coincidentally, also during the Edo period, around which most of the items in the level pack are inspired. While most of the stuff I learned about Edo and Meiji Japan pertained to architecture and culture, there was a lot of it about Japanese ghosts. So, having this knowledge, I decided to just toss it into the rubbish and went along with the pop culture versions, ’cause absolutely no one but the Japanese would actually understand or even care for these historical references. And since my Japanese viewer base is basically non-existent… well, Hollywood it is.

So, What is Onryō?

Just like every culture on this planet, the Japanese also have their own version of ghosts; The Yūrei these Yūrei, in turn, have their own sub-categories of ghosts, one of these sub-categories is Onryō. The Onryō are the evilest and most badass type of ghosts; The vengeful spirits. If you’ve read or heard a ghost story, if you’ve seen a movie or theatre play about Japanese ghosts, that’s the type of ghost these are usually talking about. And more often than not, these Onryō are female, they’re dressed in white and sport long, black hair, which is why the first ghost had to be a female with long, black hair, dressed in white.

Ringu Girl and the Ghost Child

So starting with the obvious and most well known references, I wanted to make a female ghost, as stated before, that’s the “default” form of the Onryō ghost. The stereotype, if you will. And since I was going to use a pop culture stereotype as an inspiration for my model, I decided to go with the girl from the firlm The Ring (Sadako Yamamura) and the girl from The Grudge (Kayako Saeki), which prompted me to name the character I made Ayako Nakamura; an obviously modified combination between Sadako’s and Kayako’s name. I also based her face in a combination of both Japanese actresses’ faces without the makeup, which in the end wasn’t such a great idea, because the final product ended up looking a bit too Hollywood-y for my taste.
At this point, I noticed, Kayako goes everywhere with her ghost son (Toshio Saeki), even if they don’t talk much among themselves, so I also made a 8-10 year old boy to go along with her, although I didn’t give him an official name or identity, as he was an afterthought.

The Samurai

This one was also an afterthought, but there was a whole lot more THOUGHT put into it than the other two characters, even if it I only made it to “trilogize” the other two. After all, I didn’t know the first thing about Samurai and as a neophyte, I’m sure I made a ton of mistakes, but as with the Shinto Temple and the Japanese House, I couldn’t find a whole lot of detailed photo reference and I’ve never seen a samurai armour in person so, for the trained eye, it may look inaccurate as hell, for the un-trained eye, however, it’s actually close enough, but the references I put in there might fly over their head. For example, you’ll notice there’s a lot of asterisk-y graphics on his armour, these are not asterisks of course, these are Sakura patterns. Sakura means cherry blossom. So the reason a Samurai would wear them on their armour is probably because his house seal might contain the word Sakura. Such as in Sakuragawa, for example, which is the fictional surname I gave to this character. Another reference to Japanese culture is the large rope necklace he’s wearing. That is, a Shinto amulet or Shimenawa, which means that he’s probably endorsed by a large shrine, which also means he’s friends with people in high places or he’s fighting for a feudal lord.
The references, of course aren’t well-employed and often come from different sources and time periods, since the source material I found came from different sources and time periods, but in the end, the final product seems cohesive enough to the untrained eye and not as jarring to the trained eye, until it looks very closely.

Ultimately, this was a very fun project and unfortunately for now, the end of my in-depth look into the Japanese Culture, but I plan on coming up with a 2.0 version of these assets in the future but since this is such a complex subject, I’ll have to do so much later, when the burn out heals.

In the meanwhile, you can vew the models and also find download links Here