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August 31, 2006

Kappa no kawa nagare


Last year I had the opportunity to present a paper to a three-day seminar on publishing at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Spectral Doubling in Suzuki Koji's "Ring" was reasonably well received; especially considering only three or four attendees had seen any one of the Japanese, Korean or American versions of its film adaptation. One Japanese academic thought my structural analysis was fine but felt it was unlikely a Westerner could fully appreciate the horror of the story, unfamiliar as we are with water kami. The darkness, the chill and the damp that are so much atmospherics to a Western audience are freighted with sinister and fantastic significance to Japanese viewers. Now Pink Tentacle points to an archaeological find at Umi in Fukuoka. To some observers the googly-eyed earthenware head is clearly a kappa. Given Suzuki's Ring, this is not what I had expected.

Kappa are mythical (or real, according to some) creatures that live in Japanese rivers and ponds. Known as pranksters, kappa are notorious for luring people (particularly small children) into water and drowning them. They also like to eat cucumbers. Some theories suggest that the word kappa comes from the Portuguese capa, which refers to the “robe” worn by Portuguese monks who came to Japan in the 16th century. The kappa’s hairstyle also resembles the tonsured hair of the monks.

Children and cucumbers may be good for kappa care and feeding. Just keep them away from the wasabi: Even non-Ringu kappa can be terrifying.

Paddle to the Sea Update: We do have water kami, of course. I have been unable to find the film on-line otherwise I would share it will Flea-readers everywhere. Canadians only have to read the words "Please, put me back in the water" to know what I am talking about. This Wayne Omaha tribute leaves me with a lump in my throat. You'll make it to the sea, carved-wooden-guy!

Posted by Ghost of a flea at August 31, 2006 08:34 AM


How to care for a pet kappa. That's completely bizarre but nothing compared to the little doggie purses that American socialites carry.

I haven't yet seen the Ring, Part 2. Do you know if it's any good?

Posted by: agent bedhead [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2006 12:23 PM

While it really looks like a lunch-bag puppet from my Mississauga grade 1 experience circa 1969, I was stunned by your report of the "you couldn't possibly understand" as the man clearly has absolutely no idea about the Selkies or the Fin-folk. Give me a thousand sushi-eating lunch bag puppets before one Fin-folker any day. Also the changelings. Friggin' changelings.

Posted by: Alan McLeod [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2006 01:24 PM

Agent Doherty: I haven't seen the sequel to the American version so I am not sure. The successive Japanese sequels are fined but lack the mind-crippling horror of the first (not-made-for-tv) interpretation. My suggestion: rent Juon (the Japanese version... not The Grudge which was crap).

Alan: I am in no position to say a word against Changelings myself... though I can see how other folk mind find me them unsettling.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2006 02:13 PM

I guess the cinema gene got bred out of me as I found even the original Ringu lacking a certain heft. And the less said about that bastardised and completely nonsensical Naomi Watts vehicle the better.

P.S. If you want a really golden Japanese saying, it's this one: He wo hitte, shiri tsubome.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2006 03:01 PM

Truly sound advice.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2006 10:20 PM