Kakashi (2001) Movie Poster

Fallen Matthews

Real or Rational? A Study of Substantive and Instrumental Rationality


This paper looks at how fear is elicited in a Japanese horror (j-horror) film, Kakashi (2001). J-horror is distinct for plots following supernatural phenomena drawn from Japanese religious and folkloric references of select Buddhist denominations and Shinto. These references are substantiated by mortal rational order. Kakashi itself explores how the spirit is consecrated through fear as well as territory; how it transcends death and bridges the physical, naturalistic plane of the living. Terror arises when one is socially displaced. The fear of displacement exists in the context of both biological life and the afterlife. This research draws upon secondary sources including essays on Japanese religion, folklore, j-horror narratives, and Weberian theory. The influence of religion and folklore upon rationality is then explored through the author’s qualitative content analysis.

Supernatural phenomena are a definitive aspect of Japanese horror (j-horror) films. J-horror films are generically noted for their eerie, nonlinear narratives that invoke fear through a psychological medium, unlike the zombies and slashers that are more typical of European and (North) American horror cinema [1]. Beyond generic motifs, j-horror is characterized by its content; specifically, through its plotlines driven by supernatural phenomena and associations of the occult. Fear is modeled around religious and folkloric tropes, which inform j-horror aesthetics.

Yūrei (ghosts) are well-known staples of j-horror. Their long, willowy hair and often obscured faces have become prominent referential symbols for the genre [2]. They are defined as ghosts bound to specific places, objects, or people. Often, yūrei are examined as analogues of contemporary gender roles resisting ascriptions of traditional femininity yet resigned to patriarchal paradigms beyond the grave. Traditionally, they are malevolent and female and therefore, likely to religiously reaffirm patriarchal values as the yūrei state is often taken as an existential consequence awaiting women (in death) who defy patriarchal social norms [3].

The Authority and Rationality of Tradition

As I resolved to study j-horror, I started this analysis thinking yūrei would be my main focus. What I found was that in j-horror, yūrei are mostly plot devices. The main focus was the usage of supernatural phenomena as well as how religious and folkloric references inform purposes in life and death [4]. Yūrei were not as centrally focused as I thought, but they served to illustrate disorder and the consequences of defying social and natural order, and their likeness (form) can be literal ghosts or allegorized in humans with subaltern identities.

Personally, I quite enjoy j-horror — which is why I thought studying it would be ideal. What better topic to explore than one that actively engages your interests? But watching j-horror closely led me to some interesting realizations. I found myself confronting and deconstructing a good deal of personal biases as I started to critically consider the content. Critically considering the traditional religious and folkloric locations of j-horror elements prompted me to contemplate a larger question: how are things defined or proven as valid or real? What I took away was a reflection of how standards and praxis not only constitute but also substantiate reality.

I started to realize that I was not merely analyzing a film. I was also rationalizing it to make sense in accordance to a preconceived rational order. The connections I drew were not sporadic or spontaneous; they were appropriated and contextualized according to various references. The connections I sought to draw were not simply an occurrence. They were contrived and encoded. My ideas made sense because they corresponded to a line of logic and reasoning: religious, folkloric, and other cultural references about Japan.

In order to effectively analyze this film, I had to re-examine my convictions. In doing so, I found myself empathizing with a number of characters in the films. All the reading I’d done, all the j-horror films I’d seen, and all my excitement were not guarantees of foolproof accuracy. My research enabled me to gain new insight into Japanese religion, folklore, and existentialism which illuminated how and why j-horror tended to incorporate supernatural phenomena into its plots.

I was and still am an outsider: someone who has no firsthand background or grasp of Japanese religion, folklore, and ritual. Bearing this in mind, I realized that I needed a vast number of resources and references to produce a coherent thesis. Therefore, my statements were not so much validated in my personal reality as they were guided by sources. The sources provided a map to locate themes found in j-horror, not me. My findings and ideas were rationalized, not manifest.

Realizing that my ideas were rationalized inclined me to incorporate a Weberian ideology; namely, authority and rationality. Similar to the characters in the films, I likened myself to a plot. My notions of reality, principle, and protocol were wholly contrived through preconceived ideas of ethics and linear thinking. If I thought hard enough, I could devolve everything and everyone to a rational reference point. I could also appreciate that all of my references were maintained and legitimized by authorities (such as academic organizations, books, testimonials, etc.). Everything was located within my intellectual and referential territory. This made me think on how the films — characters, motifs, the treatments and encounters of supernatural phenomena — were also rationalized.

Max Weber’s theory of rationality supports Western rationalism [5] wherein social conditions drive purposive action [6]. Behaviours and discourses are not only motivated by society but also justified and reinforced, literally rationalized. Weber identified at least sixteen types of rationality, however these are typically reduced to four distinct types: theoretical, formal, instrumental, and substantive [7]Theoretical rationality concerns theocracy, idealism driven by theory. Formal rationality follows empiricism, identifying and understand the tools and methods that create (and therefore, substantiate) reality [8]Instrumental rationality concerns measures and rhetoric working towards the attainment of a particular goal [9]; this is also known as means-end rationality [10]. Finally, substantive rationality follows how people are motivated to act by principles and values [11].

My analysis will focus on instrumental rationality and substantive rationality because I think they most efficiently speak to how characters have cultivated their priorities, desires, and identities in the film. In j-horror, (Japanese) religion and folklore — predominantly Shinto — provide context for these values (substantive rationality) and objectives (instrumental rationality). Identifying or speculating upon theoretical rationality and formal rationality would have been too difficult since the film focused primarily on character conflicts and supernatural phenomena, not the theories or experiments focused upon social action.

Weber’s model of authority was also appropriate for this study as traditional authority provided a substantial context for religious, folkloric, and even patriarchal paradigms informing the depictions and motifs of supernatural phenomena, including yūrei. In j-horror, yūrei are conceived and portrayed according to their traditions in religion and folklore. Characters’ attempts to exorcise or placate yūrei are also tied to these very same traditions and customs. The efforts made by characters to appease yūrei can also be likened to tradition because yūrei are defined as restless spirits who need to be appeased [12].

Similarly, I found that characters in these films also seek to naturalize — thereby, rationalize — supernatural phenomena. In j-horror, the occult cannot simply be ignored or avoided [13]. Therefore, it can be expected that j-horror invokes a customary sort of conciliation because yūrei must be pacified in accordance with religious and folkloric standards. Overall, supernatural phenomena is only purged or overcome by mortals when it is identified or rationalized by mortals. Therefore, in j-horror, the authority substantiating and ascribing rationality was traditional; founded in Japanese traditions and/or customs [14].

J-Horror’s Yūrei and Occult Likeness

Research on j-horror films predominantly focuses on religious and folkloric derivations contextualizing characters, plot, and encoded existential themes [15]. Gender roles are also a central theme [16]. As Wee articulates, in j-horror, there is an implicit inclination to centralize women as either vengeful antagonists or protagonists whose deaths or encounters with supernatural phenomena are consequences of exercising female autonomy through their departure from patriarchal paradigms [17]. For Japanese religion and folklore outside of j-horror, Ochiai effectively locates ideals of gender through the ie, a Japanese term denoting a household which is traditionally patriarchal and includes familial ties of kinship and estate wherein succession rules of primogeniture and patrivirilocal aspects predominate [18]. Given the prominence of female spirits in j-horror, I saw gender as a device to edify existential themes such as personal responsibilities, behavioural standards, and obliging (patriarchal) respectability.

The haunting visuality of the willowy yūrei rendered faceless by long, dark hair is a common one, arguably definitive of j-horror wherein psionic mediums are drawn through the ghastly femininity:

Most yurei are female, dressed in white — the color of death in
Japanese funeral costumes — and usually have long, straggling
black hair that obscures most of their faces from view. Much of this
iconography derives from kabuki theater, in tales of the supernatural, as
the restless dead haunt the living [19].

Female mediumship is further discussed in relation to traditional folklore wherein women are ascribed divine power and supernatural affinity because of their physiology, particularly their biological capacity to gestate and give birth and their “emotional nature” [20]. There is a contradiction in how women are conceptualized culturally — both in and outside of Japanese films — as objects to be feared or deified as objects of worship, revered for their supernatural prowess, whilst also being discriminated against and oppressed in patriarchy [21].

In the literature, I also found some references to male yūrei, in particular, the funayūrei, known for haunting seas and luring sailors to their demise [22]. I found this interesting as yūrei are virtually almost always depicted and referenced as female. Of all the religious and folkloric research, all the j-horror films, and generally all the resources I have referenced, male yūrei were predominantly unheard of. They were only mentioned as afterthoughts — mere possibilities, potentials, the other (and implicitly obscured) side of the coin to the female yūrei dominant cultural and cinematic imprint [23].

Cinematically, Japan is venerated through a “long tradition of scary stories” [24]. This long tradition is supported by religious attitudes: Shinbutsu-shūgō, the syncretism of Buddhism and Shinto, the religions with which most Japanese people identify and practice [25]. Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that follows the teachings of Buddha, whose insights were meant to guide people to enlightenment. Its principles emphasize that self-control and harmony are the means to a good life and afterlife [26]. Enlightenment is attained in resisting social and material desires in addition to cultivating and embracing a unification of self and everything else [27]. The largest schools of Buddhism in Japan are Nichiren [28], Pure Land [29], Shingon [30], and Zen [31] which together are referred to as Japanese Buddhism [32]. Indigenous to Japan, Shinto was officiated, therefore formally authenticated, as a religion during the Meiji period (1868-1912) [33]. Shinto and Japanese Buddhist religion and folklore involve ghosts, possessions, hauntings, and so forth [34].

For Shinto, death is marked by the departure of reikon (spirit, soul) from the body to a temporal plane awaiting reverence through funeral rites, which will enable spiritual peace [35]. If rights are performed properly, the reikon will transition from this temporal plane as a protector of its family until it joins the rest of its ancestors after 33 or 50 years if the spirit is laid to rest [36]. If funeral rites are improperly performed or not done at all, the reikon remains in the temporal plane as a yūrei.

Buddhism differs in its belief of afterlife, the way in which the soul departs the body and its subsequent destination. Funerary rites are not integral to pacifying the soul, with an emphasis on emotive and spiritual support as the soul is in the process of (naturalistically) dying, departing its human [37]. The focus is not so much on the overall life led by the prospective deceased. Spirits remain as ghosts if they have led lives of evil, marked by avaricious apparitions, known as hungry ghosts [38].

Religious principles regarding how one’s life affects the afterlife shows a dimension of existentialism where one’s goals in life are associated with one’s quality of life [39]. The idea of unnatural death leads to concepts of unfulfilled, unfinished business that is the yūrei’s source of conflict since they have not achieved their life goals [40]. In Buddhist tradition, death occurs in four ways: bodily expiration in age old age, karmic expiration, a combination of these first two conditions, and destructive karma [41].

The soul is afforded more agency in Shinto, where its remaining in the material plane is connected to personal desires, whereas in Buddhism, the soul remains solely through karmic misdeeds. This Shinto agency is a central characteristic of j-horror, emphasizing the resolve of the yūrei to enact vengeance or their pursuit of fulfillment however, Buddhist rituals are typically invoked to exorcise or overcome yūrei [42]. I think this is because of religious syncretism. Religious syncretism within j-horror cinema informs the usage of exorcisms, séances, and psionic ideologies in accordance to Buddhist values to solve problems. However, supernatural phenomena are typically contextualized through notions of fear that “capitalize on urban legends and media technologies in everyday life” [43].

In j-horror, we see how traditional religious values and rituals are timeless. No matter how old a tradition may be — in belief or performing rituals — characters ultimately reference and respect it. Kinoshita discusses how j-horror accentuates a link between the supernatural and technology wherein media serves as a channel for yūrei to fulfill their purposes [44]. Despite traditional religious and folkloric values, yūrei are moved out of the context of templar, rustic ritual into navigating the contemporary world. Films like Ringu [45] and Kairo [46] articulate how yūrei (can) utilize modern technology to effect and transmit their presence. The yūrei can be technologically inclined in the contemporary world, but ancient religious and folkloric traditions are employed by mortals to exorcise or purge them.

Generically, j-horror accentuates the yūrei’s vindictive capacity through their capricious cruelties or relentless pursuits of revenge. Mortality itself is a malevolent force in j-horror. Regardless of their roles, mortal characters can die as they are subject to yūrei or other occult forces. The prevalence of the occult typifies all outcomes. Yūrei are not pacified: they are purged through mortal rituals (i.e. exorcisms, etc.) so the living can find peace. Despite locating them and other supernatural phenomena within religious rationality, they are still feared and marginalized because they are not part of natural order [47].

They are supernatural. In j-horror, they are vengeful and thereby innately bad. In traditional religious and folkloric contexts, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are insubstantial; yūrei are simply uncanny and therefore, unwanted [48]. The yūrei serves as a distinct site of reflection and reference in j-horror. They do not personify people or past lives inspiring mortal aid or understanding. Instead, they incline viewers to passionately think about the meaning of life as they are bound by ambitions that extend beyond the grave [49].

J-horror draws viewers beyond religious diegetic paradigms and shows yūrei as conscientious, vindictive, and visceral forces [50]. They do not characterize supernatural phenomena merely to be warded off, but as vicious and viable agents that navigate the mortal world. The yūrei is a supernatural vengeance affecting the earthly realm, capable of influence [51]. Characters are either enthralled or desecrated under the yūrei’s influence. Supernatural phenomena affect the seemingly steady passage of time towards, not the inevitable but sudden death of protagonists, antagonists, and even supporting characters. Regarding character development, the appearance of yūrei imbues an existential paradigm because they are ghosts. As Lacefield says, they embody a “frozen temporality, a kind of sealing off of subjective possibility and futurity” [52].

Even though Shinto and Buddhism consecrate the deceased, they ultimately attest to the malevolence or duplicity of supernatural phenomena. Despite their former humanity and mortal naturalism, yūrei and other supernatural manifestations of the deceased are no longer human [53]. In both j-horror and in accordance to natural laws, they are rendered powerless because they are bound by earthly ambitions and are unable to fulfill them because of their metaphysical state [54]. However, we are still cautioned to keep our distance from them. Religious guidance does not unerringly integrate the yūrei’s condition or motives into mortal understanding. It only provides context and comprehensive methodology (rituals, mantras, etc.) for pacifying or otherwise diverting the spirit. J-horror expands upon religious context and ritual, depicting how encounters with yūrei result in mortal peril with often assured fatal consequences. Locating themselves within the religious norms of Shinbutsu-shūgō [55] and traditional conceptions of ghosts, viewers must confront their mortality which makes them susceptible to the unseen, unexplained, and malevolent forces much like the characters in j-horror films [56].

Cowan describes the soul as “an inextricably religious concept, one linked to our hope for a life beyond this one” [57], going on to say that horror inspires fear because we have yet to define what the soul is. This inability to define the soul establishes a syllogistic strife because we are unable to circumscribe its complexity. It cannot be defined therefore; it cannot be rationalized. This lack of definition, the soul’s obscurity, justifies ghostly vindications of existence that validate aspects of horror cinema rhetoric. Namely, “resurgent themes of madness, possession, and supernatural vengeance” [58].

In what follows, I will analyze how yūrei and supernatural phenomena are treated in a j-horror film, focusing mainly on how and why they inspire fear.

Method and Film Selection

Although yūrei are apart of Japanese religious and folkloric institutions, j-horror offers a moderate departure from these traditions. Plots generally explore protagonists’ attempts to pacify yūrei or reconcile supernatural phenomena using natural tools. Yet as the story unfolds, it becomes evident that fatalities must ensue to appease the spirit only to culminate in an often-ambiguous conclusion. Mollifying yūrei entails identifying living (human) culprits: those who have wronged them in life by indirectly contributing to their deaths or otherwise occult phenomena (supernatural possession, curses, etc.) of the living they have left behind. This involves uncovering secrets or exploring the existential dimensions of the yūrei, ethics, and self-concept. Yūrei either enact a murderous vengeance or inspire living characters to relocate their priorities, their sense of self, their life goals, etc. to achieve justice for themselves.

Drawing from this — how protagonists strive to pacify yūrei — the literature also showed that a major foundation of j-horror was conveying conflicts between mortals and immortals,natural and supernatural [59]. Unlike their descriptions in religious and folkloric rhetoric [60], a vengeful yūrei in j-horror is not absolved by funerary rites or offerings, just like miscellaneous supernatural phenomena are not appeased by traditional customs. J-horror instead explores how supernatural phenomena are consecrated through fear, how they transcend death as and bridge the physical, naturalistic plane of the living.

In my research, I have found that j-horror can also depict yūrei as embodied in the living, particularly through those occupying occult diasporas in serving supernatural mediums. I have also found yūrei are allegorized in characters that drastically deviate from social norms such as vagrants and sociopaths.

For my project, I did a qualitative content analysis of a j-horror film, Norio Tsuruta’s Kakashi [61]. My analysis focused on how this film elicited fear from perspectives of substantive and instrumental rationalities. Specifically, I examined how supernatural phenomena overcome the characters’ values and objectives — and just why that is scary. I chose this film because I felt it presented yūrei in addition to other forms supernatural phenomena while maintaining the treatment of religious aesthetics characterizing j-horror.

Kakashi follows a village’s annual festival, held not because of tradition, but as a collective plot to placate yūrei. This film struck me because it is so resonant of the idea that things are not as they appear. The festival is advertised as a simple local tradition, even tourist attraction, but then the audience discovers the literal and figurative grave supernatural motives.

As mentioned before, the limitations of this study are mostly researcher based, the foremost being that I am not from Japan and know nothing of Japanese religions or folklore beyond the scope of the literature. Another limitation is the potential for inaccurate observations in which I may make “casual or semiconscious observations” [62] in viewing the films. For the most part, these limitations cannot be wholly eliminated but can be amended in acknowledging that I am outside the cultural narrative but can provide a unique, academic perspective as an outsider.

The Subjective Truth in Kakashi

Kakashi follows Kaoru Yoshikawa (played by Maho Nonami) whose search for her missing brother, Tsuyoshi, leads her to the obscure, rural village of Kozukata. The film opens with a textual introduction that establishes a premise of kagashi: a practice of burning animal and human hairs to ward off wild beasts. Upon discovering that these wild beasts actually embody evil spirits, people erect man-like figures known as kakashi as a means to scare away the evil spirits. These kakashi can also attract spirits to protect the fields they are erected in. However, the spirits they attract are not always kind. In modern times, kakashi in the context of the film, as well as in real-time Japanese religion and folklore, are known as scarecrows [63].

After watching this film several times, I find Kakashi is unique in its conscious ambiguity. The premise of kakashi and Kaoru’s coincidental arrival in Kozukata during the village scarecrow festival did not provide me with much insight into Kaoru’s or other characters’ motives. From the introductory text, we are granted only a liking of what awaits Kaoru in Kozukata, this village that reveres scarecrows — and even then, there is not much to go on regarding how this involves Kaoru’s brother or why this could (or should) be scary. Another hint foreshadows and occurs when Kaoru explores her brother’s vacant apartment. A letter sticks out from his mail pile. Its sender, we discover, is a mutual friend of Kaoro and Tsuyoshi: Izumi Miyamori. Bristles of hay fall out from the envelope; coincidently, hay is also used to make scarecrows. The return address is Kozukata. The story unfolds as Kaoru travels to Kozukata, desperately following this mysterious lead to her brother’s whereabouts.

Researching the religious context of scarecrows in Japan provided me with some context for kakashi, from whom the film takes its title. The Shinto deity, Kuebiko, is a scarecrow who rules knowledge and agriculture [64]. As he was unable to walk, his name — Kuebiko — can also be used in reference to someone physically disabled, believed to have special powers of observation and thereby insight, due to their immobility [65]. This (Japanese) religious and folkloric reverence is inconsistent with able-bodied, bureaucratic ideals of normalcy, wherein society is more optimized for those who do not have physical disabilities [66]. Where there is more ease of access, movement, and resources suited to able-bodied individuals, this power of observation may be special. But ultimately, this power is invalidated by other disabilities that render the observer immobile or (literally) unable to enjoy an ease of access exclusively afforded to the able-bodied. The idea of kuebiko is that an individual’s physical disability affords them the greater ability to observe. Being stationary is somehow a likeness for being placid — by extension, literally, physically inactive. This inactivity enables a clearer focus and therefore, greater observation and even introspection skills [67]. One need not travel to learn. The religious context and metaphorical definition of kuebiko allows for an appreciation of Kakashi’s depiction of scarecrows as supernatural mediums that are more than physically able.

Further into the story, we see that Kozukata’s scarecrow festival is used as an opportunity to contact and summon deceased members of the community. Scarecrows are supernatural embodiments of the deceased. They come in a number of forms — some look human, some look like scarecrows — but they are all alive, assuming roles in the village. Kozukata itself can be located as an anomaly. It functions as an occult conduit to summon the deceased and yet it is entirely a temporal space.

After meeting Mr. Miyamori, Izumi’s father, Kaoru learns that Izumi has died. Mr. Miyamori implores her to leave as soon as possible. He says that she will not be able to leave if she remains in the village any longer; then, amends that her leaving is not a matter of ability but desire. It is not that she cannot leave, but that she will not want to leave. This sentiment carries throughout the movie. Characters juxtapose the idea of ability against desire. This idea is relevant to kuebiko in how physicality is transcended through corporeality, how wisdom and insight involve more than just physical naturalist action. Having the physical capacity to do things can be inconsequential. People cannot act if they do not want to.

It is through this logic that Kakashi demonstrates the relationship between substantive and instrumental rationalities: the idea that values and objectives drive social action. In Kakashi, the value drives the objective. Characters cannot act if they do not want to. They cannot attain goals or interests if they cannot act. In Kakashi, the characters choice not to leave is a desperate measure to cling onto memories of deceased loved ones. As Mr. Miyamori elaborates: in the village of Kozukata, people “coexist with death”. This coexistence can be read as a metaphor for those who cannot leave their pasts behind. Visitors like Mr. Miyamori come to Kozukata for closure, to coexist with reincarnates of their deceased loved ones as opposed to living without them. In Kozukata, time becomes stagnant. The prospect of a supernatural reunion overwhelms everything else. At the same time, remaining in the village is not wholly a choice or conscious value. Characters are conveyed as captives of their pasts, unable to let go of the deceased. Substantively, people, yūrei, and other supernatural phenomena are driven by values. Kakashi presents a very literal merging of substantive and instrumental rationalities. The film shows how the traditional authority of ritual articulates beliefs founded in values (substantive rationality) wherein people do not simply act upon their beliefs but towards them (instrumental rationality) to fulfill religious objectives.

Before the scarecrow festival, Izumi appears to Kaoru as a yūrei. Her long hair veils her face. She wears a willowy red gown, just like her carefully crafted and subsequently erected scarecrow. Peering into her diary, Kaoru discovers that Izumi harboured resentment towards her, thinking she was overprotective of Tsuyoshi and an impediment to their intimacy. As a yūrei, she appears to tell Kaoru that she was “always in the way” which prevented her and Tsuyoshi from realizing their romantic potential. Through Izumi, the film shows that substantive and instrumental rationalities hold both supernatural and natural significance.

Kozukata is unique as a supernatural sphere. Beyond its boundaries, there are no scarecrow incarnates. This is evident through the tunnel we see at the edge of the village, the tunnel that scarecrows are unable to cross. The tunnel represents the idiosyncrasy of borders: bridges and borders simultaneously connect and divide. They exist to ensure separation and distinction, yet also remind us that we are not alone, that there is something beyond our locational reality. Sacred spaces and supernatural spheres speak to how supernatural things can be situational [68]. In this sense, the yūrei Izumi also emulates the kuebiko ideal.

As both a yūrei and soon-to-be scarecrow, Izumi is unable to travel beyond Kozukata. Her immobility gives her time to think, mostly ruminate upon her regrets and current state. She observes the world around and within her. As a viewer, I found she possessed a good deal of insight — more so than the other characters — as she calmly conveyed her frustrations to Kaoru and mused upon her supernatural state. Compared to the rest of the cast, Izumi is clearly composed, almost serene but not passive. She stakes her claim to Tsuyoshi as the greatest love he never knew because of Kaoru’s interference. Izumi is a unique yūrei in that she does not use violence to articulate her wrath. Unlike the greater part of j-horror I have seen, this yūrei does not enact her justice through murder or malevolence. I felt this was because of her kuebiko likeness, how her knowledge afforded her insight compared to others. The other scarecrows strive to uphold and enforce order whereas Izumi is concerned only with Tsuyoshi, fulfilling the romantic ambitions that never came to fruition in her natural lifetime. Her experience in life is centered around Kaoru being overprotective and Tsuyoshi simply (albeit unwittingly) not requiting her affections. For her, the very conventions fellow scarecrows strive to uphold seem reductive. Her only priority is justice, engaging with Tsuyoshi for her own happiness.

When individual interests interfere with traditional authorities such as religion, those authorities become a site of tension as opposed to solace [69]. In the context of religion, an institution grounded in ritual and soulful salvation, this tension is particularly problematic as it defines sanctity as desire. The more tension, the more value placed upon individual catharsis. But when there is less tension — less emphasis upon locating oneself individually — there is collective solidarity [70]. Traditional authority crumbles in the context of individuality wherein personal interests are prioritized over existential or divine ones. In j-horror, the yūrei embody mortal disenchantment as they drift into the imperfect, innate, and somewhat stark reality of how limited (and flawed) humanity is in contrast to the divine, theocratic idealism. Through its premise, Kakashi conveys this disenchantment further as substantive and instrumental rationalities justify the indulgence of occult idealism. People in the film want to live with deceased loved ones. Their desire to reunite with the deceased drives them to Kozukata, an occult plane where they can revive loved ones as kakashi, scarecrow avatars of their former selves. People are thereby disenchanted from naturalist values, indulging in supernaturalist ones instead.

As Weber states, “All the primeval magical or mystagogic ways of influencing spirits and deities have pursued special interests” [71]. Indeed, special rational interests. Those who are naturalistically alive in Kozukata are actively aware of their village’s supernaturalism and remain there solely to coexist with their deceased loved ones. Their values, their priorities of living with the deceased, prevent them from leaving; those same values prompt them to construct and consecrate scarecrow incarnates. According to their values, their interests are rational. The purpose of traditional authority in Kakashi, its ritual, is to enliven existence through religion. Characters invoke a supernatural instrumentality while moral and conscientious justifications are superfluous to the narrative.

As I read more into religion, I found that ritualism imparts a sense of acosmism, denying the existence of the universe and seeing everything as an illusion [72]. Japanese Buddhism and Shinto affirm that enlightenment transcends the naturalist order [73] much like Weber declares that in the moral context of religion, salvation is without reference to the world and moreover subjective to the self and individual desires [74]. Rationality is manifest through presuppositions of empirical logic and deductive reasoning [75]. Even in the context of religion, worship and ritual are essentially “magical practices…engaged in for the sake of awakening charismatic qualities or for the sake of preventing evil charms” [76]. In Kakashi, we see this clearly done in the former sense as characters desire to awaken their deceased loved ones into a living state. Substantive and instrumental rationalities become entwined as people instrumentally enact occult means for substantive ends. Life and death coexist because of the villagers. Through them, we see the usage of traditional authority — religion, ritualism, the creation of scarecrow incarnates — in ascribing what constitutes reality. Kozukata is a distinct world of its own, a supernatural sphere where the dead confer with the living. It is an entirely different and occult reality, justified by the wistful inability to sever bonds with the deceased.

Kakashi also shows that a good life is not necessarily a finite one. In considering how the villagers of Kozukata craft their scarecrows to revive loved ones, I saw and became acutely aware that the characters are consciously driven by the finite state of mortality. Their inability to sever bonds with the deceased is because they are left behind. Their loved ones are no longer with them as they have passed on to the afterlife [77]. Death has claimed their loved ones while they are resigned to a mortal realm of living. The kakashi ritual dispels mortal boundaries. However, yūrei Izumi innately contests this practice.

Yūrei are bound to the mortal realm because they failed to fulfill ambitions in life [78]. Untimely, tragic deaths or their lack of funerary rites catalyze their existence [79]. Yūrei are cast as being unable to transition to a divine realm. In Kakashi, their presence and reincarnation is rationalized and effected by other mortals who revive them as scarecrows. The villagers of Kozukata consciously revive anyone they choose so, the deceased are revived regardless of their attitude at death. The scarecrows of revived people are not all conflicted like yūrei are. They are not stewing in anger about unfulfilled ambitions or vengeance. Most are simply revived by loved ones who simply cannot bear to part with them.

In this regard, the kakashi ritual is ambiguous. In this film, are yūrei like Izumi bound to our world because of their regrets, to seek vengeance? Or are they unable to pass on because people evocate their spirits? [80] The latter inspired a critical ethical consideration on my part: is evocation a benevolent method to recover the dead or a selfish means to indulge the living? Would the prospects of Izumi’s afterlife bring her spirit peace or would she be happier revived? For me, this sprang a sense of fear: these ethical, existential questions and facing the reality of how [through ritual and whims] the soul is prey to mortal intermediaries. In my reading, the horror of Kakashi lay in those questions, not the eerily stiff countenance of the scarecrows.

In Japan, the concept of pokkuri (sudden death) and the timing of death, rōsui (decline of old age) are considered ideal forms of “good death” particularly among the elderly [81]. These are comfortable, “peaceful” ways of dying [82] — but, peaceful for whom exactly? Despite the pokkuri and rōsui ideals, there is still a considerable amount of disagreement as to how one should die. Clinical standards and other family members may hold divergent values in instances of determining the usage of life support or treatment. Before urbanization and WWII in Japan, bereavement and funerary services were largely communal and informed by forms of traditional authority. Community heads, kumichō, assigned funeral duties and nobeokuri (funeral procession), which culminated with a march to the burial site [83]. Urbanization — and by extension, rationalization — sees the tactical elimination of this practice wherein the industrialization of the funeral industry results in funerary rites being homogenized as well as commercialized [84]. This history speaks to the adverse effect of rationalization as it manifests mortal interests, prioritizing convenience and efficiency over religious as well as moral values. Interests such as industrialization, urbanization, and economics cannot effectively be applied to occultism or supernaturalism. Our naturalist context is reflective of distinctly mortal ambitions. Therefore, divine constructs should logically be seen as “impervious to human comprehension” [85]. It is through a lens of logic and ethics that I conclude the substantive and instrumental rationalities of mortals in Kakashi are innately egocentric. Through the kakashi ritual, Izumi’s parents along with others evidently seek to steer supernatural favours by their hands. Izumi’s spirit, her yūrei, does not remain in our realm of its own anguish or volition. Like others, it is caught here due to ritualistic efforts.

As we see in Kakashi, other j-horror films, and religious accounts, occult practices effected by mortals inevitably hold dire consequences [86]. The religious fixtures of j-horror — predominantly, yūrei — are not to be appeased or appropriated through mortal logics. Confronting supernatural forces almost always concludes with natural, mortal deaths. Just as the scarecrow incarnates in Kakashi are not reflective of their former mortal selves.

The Illusion of Rationality

Exploring Japanese religion, folklore, existentialism, j-horror, and the overall praxis of rationality enables me to appreciate how scary life can be when one is socially displaced; and how the fear of displacement exists in the context of both biological life and the afterlife.

I started this project thinking that yūrei would be the prime focus; but after my analysis, I found that they were not as central as the overall settings of supernatural phenomena. In j-horror, both displacement and integration are dependent upon traditional authority — religion and folklore — that is upheld by substantive and instrumental rationalities. Religion and folklore guide social, moral, behavioural, and naturalist values in these films. Supernatural forces, particularly yūrei, are devices that drive characters to death or catharsis [87]. J-horror’s horror is distinct from other horror genres because it is primarily articulated through supernatural phenomena that usurps mortal means and ambitions in often ghastly, gruesome, or enigmatic ways [88].

I found fear in futility, just knowing that every effort made by anyone was futile. Mortals are subject to the reign of occult forces in Kakashi but they also steer supernatural phenomena to oblige their desires. There is no ‘right way’ to do anything. There is no ‘winning.’ No matter what was done, it was all ultimately useless. Even when we strive to follow social, natural orders and authorities, we stand to be compromised by supernatural forces. Social, moral, and natural orders are not rewarded nor do they grant immunity to the occult. Likewise, one’s rationality does not ensure safety. Reality was the only thing I was sure of: the reality of supernatural phenomena being rendered in natural, rationalist terms; and the reality of the supremacy of occult forces and therefore, the reality that natural, social orders’ realism revolve around rationality [89].


[1] Douglas Cowan, Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008), 87.
[2] “It Came From the East… Japanese Horror Cinema in the Age of Globalization,” last modified May 13, 2009, See also “Coming to America: J-Horror,” last modified March 28, 2011,
[3] Jay McRoy, “Guinea Pigs and Entrails: Cultural Transformations and Body Horror in Japanese Torture Films,” in Nightmare Japan: Contemporary Japanese Horror Cinema (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008), 17.
[4] David Kalat, J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond (New York: Vertical, 2007). See also Colette Balmain, Introduction to Japanese Horror Film (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008).
[5] Alex Law, Key Concepts in Classical Social Theory (Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2011), 162.
[6] Patrick Baert, “Contextualizing Max Weber,” International Sociology 22, no. 2 (2007): 123.
[7] Law, 163.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Stephen Kalberg, “Max Weber's Types of Rationality: Cornerstones for the Analysis of Rationalization Processes in History,” American Journal of Sociology 85 (1980): 1148.
[11] Law, 136.
[12] Wheeler Dixon, A History of Horror (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010), 183.
[13] “Ghosts and the Afterlife in Japan,” last modified February 16, 2011,
[14] Max Weber, Guenther Roth, and Claus Wittich, “The Sociology of Religion,” in Economy and Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974). See also Max Weber, Hans Heinrich Gerth, and Charles Wright Mills, “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Dimensions,” From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946).
[15] Kalat, J-Horror. See also “It Came From the East…”.
[16] Valerie Wee, Japanese Horror Films and Their American Remakes: Translating Fear, Adapting Culture (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2014).
[17] Ibid., 105.
[18] Emiko Ochiai, “The Ie (Family) in Global Perspective,” in A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan, ed. by Jennifer Robertson (Malden: Blackwell Publications, 2005), 355.
[19] Dixon, A History of Horror, 185.
[20] Noriko Kawahashi, “Folk Religion and Its Contemporary Issues,” in A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan, ed. by Jennifer Robertson (Malden: Blackwell Publications, 2005), 459.
[21] Wee, Japanese Horror Films and Their Remakes, 107, 111. See also Kalat, J-Horror, 15.
[22] Laurence Bush, Asian Horror Encyclopedia: Asian Horror Culture in Literature, Manga and Folklore (San Jose: Writer’s Club Press, 2001), 54.
[23] Balmain, Introduction to Japanese Horror Film, 83. See also Wee, Japanese Horror Films and Their Remakes, 132.
[24] Chris Pruett, “The Anthropology of Fear: Learning about Japan through Horror Games,” LDG 4, no. 6 (2010),
[25] John Breen and Mark Teeuwen, A New History of Shinto (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).
[26] Rupert Gethin, The Foundations of Buddhism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 3.
[27] Diane Morgan, Essential Buddhism a Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010), 113.
[28] School of Buddhism based upon the teachings of Japanese monk, Nichiren, stating that all people have a Buddha nature within and are therefore, capable of attaining enlightenment – Daniel Montgomery, Fire in the Lotus: The Dynamic of Nichiren (London: Mandala, 1991), 169.
[29] Branch of Buddhism with little emphasis on meditation or offerings believing that, “the chanting of the name of Amitabha Buddha with total concentration, trusting that one will be reborn in the Pure Land, a place where it is much easier for a being to work towards enlightenment” – “Pure Land Buddhism,” last modified October 2, 2002,
[30] Sect of Buddhism concerned predominantly with tantras (bodily practice) not sutras (spoken and literary aspects; written prayer) based upon teachings of Japanese monk, Kobo Daishi – “What is Shingon Buddhism?” last modified December 17, 2014,
[31] A Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition – “What is Zen Buddhism?”
[32] “Buddhism in Japan,”
[33] Breen and Teeuwen, 78.
[34] Catrien Ross, Japanese Ghost Stories: Spirits, Hauntings, and Paranormal Phenomena (North Clarendon: Tuttle Publications, 2011).
[35] Thomas Kasulis, Shinto: The Way Home (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004).
[36] Hikaru Suzuki, Introduction to Death and Dying in Contemporary Japan (Milton Park: Routledge, 2013), 16.
[37] The Wordsworth Encyclopedia of World Religions: 4500 Entries Covering Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Chinese, and Japanese Religions, 758.
[38] Tich Nguyen Tang, “Buddhist View on Death and Rebirth,” (lecture, RMIT University, March 22, 2002).
[39] Suzuki, 8.
[40] Kalat, J-Horror, 13.
[41] “Death and Rebirth According to Theravada Buddhism,”
[42] Ross, Japanese Ghost Stories.
[43] Chika Kinoshita, “The Mummy Complex,” in Horror to the Extreme: Changing Boundaries in Asian Cinema, ed. by Jinhee Choi and Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009).
[44] Ibid., 106.
[45] Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata (1998 Japan: DreamWorks Home Entertainment, 2003), DVD.
[46] Kairo, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2001 Japan: Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2005), DVD.
[47] Kalat, J-Horror, 19.
[48] “It Came From the East…”.
[49] Kristen Lacefield, The Scary Screen: Media Anxiety in The Ring (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).
[50] Kalat, J-Horror, 15.
[51] Lacefield, 9.
[52] Ibid., 10.
[53] Suzuki, Death and Dying, 23.
[54] Charles Tart, The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal Is Bringing Science and Spirit Together (Oakland: Noetic Books, 2009), 245.
[55] Fabio Rambelli, “Buddhist Kingship, the Kami, and Modernity: Comparative Considerations,” Japanese Association for Religious Studies 81, no. 2 (2007).
[56] Douglas Cowan, Sacred Terror, 123.
[57] Ibid., 124.
[58] Dixon, A History of Horror, 191.
[59] “It Came From the East…”.
[60] Suzuki, Death and Dying, 16.
[61] Kakashi, directed by Tsuruta Norio (2001 Japan: Universe Laser and Video), DVD.
[62] Martin Abbott and Jennifer McKinney, Understanding and Applying Research Design (Hoboken: Wiley, 2012), 13.
[63] Mori Mizue, “Kami (Deities): Kami in Classic Texts,” Encyclopedia of Shinto (2005).
[64] Yasumaro Ō, Kojiki: An Account of Ancient Matters (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 122.
[65] Ibid., 422.
[66] Gili Hammer, “Blind Women’s Appearance Management: Negotiating Normalcy between Discipline and Pleasure,” Gender & Society 26, no. 3 (2012): 403.
[67] Ō, Kojiki, 422.
[68] Weber et al., “Religious Rejections and Their Dimensions”, 324.
[69] Ibid., 327.
[70] Ibid., 328.
[71] Ibid., 331.
[72] George Henry Radcliffe, “Hegel, Pantheism, and Spinoza,” Journal of the History of Ideas 38, no. 3 (1977): 450.
[73] Jong Jun, “The Self in the Social Construction of Organizational Reality: Eastern and Western Views,” Administrative Theory & Praxis 27, no. 1 (2005): 93.
[74] Weber, et al., “Religious Rejections and Their Dimensions”, 333.
[75] Tart, The End of Materialism, 58.
[76] Weber, et al., 333.
[77] Suzuki, Death and Dying, 14.
[78] Dixon, A History of Horror, 185.
[79] Kasulis, Shinto: The Way Home. See also Kasulis, Shinto: The Way Home.
[80] Mary Beard, John North, and Simon Price, Religions of Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 41.
[81] Suzuki, 8.
[82] Ibid.
[83] Suzuki, Death and Dying, 9.
[84] Haruyo Inoue, “Contemporary Transformation of Japanese Death Ceremonies,” in Death and Dying in Contemporary Japan, ed. by Hikaru Suzuki (Milton Park: Routledge, 2013), 126.
[85] Weber et al., “The Sociology of Religion”, 522.
[86] William Costanzo, World Cinema through Global Genres (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014). See also Ross, Japanese Ghost Stories, 23.
[87] Adam Lowenstein, “Ghosts in a Super Flat Global Village: Globalization, Surrealism, and Contemporary Japanese Horror Films,” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 28, no. 2 (2009).
[88] “It Came From the East…”.
[89] Tart, The End of Materialism, 55 & 246.


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Fallen Matthews, a sociologist, intersectional feminist, writer, and horror movie enthusiast, graduated from Dalhousie University with a degree in sociology. As a graduate student, she currently attends Saint Mary’s University for Gender and Women’s Studies. She analyzes media, religion, folklore, gender roles, and supernatural phenomena. More specifically, her work examines the construction of identity and reality is influenced by social roles within horror films. She has written and produced radio segments as an activist for independent feminist collectives such as Father Teresa’s Wine Cellar and Guerrilla Feminism. In her fiction writing, she explores existentialism using nihilistic narratives. Matthews’ goal, as an academic, is to show how much reality is wholly subjective to pervasive perspectives and presuppositions. Her analysis of supernatural phenomena illustrates how reality is a matter of rationality wherein knowledge, behaviors, and feelings correspond to natural laws and otherwise prescribed conditions.

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