Japan panic: the slit-mouthed woman
Stories of 口裂け女, the slit-mouthed woman, emerged from urban Japan in the late 1970s. At first they were particularly passed around between school children, then in the mass media. By the first half of 1979 Asahi Shinbun was highlighting kuchisake onna as a buzzword (hayari kotoba) of the year. In true, random Japanese style one of the others was “rabbit hutches”.
Occasionally Kuchisake onna was reported as a genuine physical threat, a criminal would-be kidnapper or murderer rather than a supernatural being. At times she was somehow both a real world abductor and a folkloric monster simultaneously. (See Hyaku-monogatari for the Edo origins of modern yōkai storytelling) Satoshi Kon’s extremely uneven but in places brilliant series 妄想代理人 Mōsō Dairinin [Paranoia Agent] is obviously heavily inspired by the mass hysteria over Kuchisake onna. A woman with long hair and a white mask– of the kind sold everywhere and very common in Japan to cover the mouth and nose when a person is ill, or against pollution– accosts you in the street and she asks something like “Watashi kirei?” (“Am I pretty?”) or “Atashi bijin ka?” (“Am I a beauty?”) If you agree that she is, she replies “Kore demo?” (“Even [like] this?”) as she tears off her mask to show that her mouth is slit open across the cheeks, from ear to ear. If you tell her she isn’t pretty, she becomes enraged and pursues you with a knife or scythe. The reason for her disfigurement and rage varies with the telling: sometimes it’s a plastic surgery disaster, sometimes a dreadful accident, sometimes self-inflicted. The same goes for the means of escaping her: repeating certain words, offering certain gifts, reaching a certain place before she catches you. Continue Reading