Photo credit: David Martínez
The only thing more frightening than our worst nightmare coming true is when our collective nightmare, those deep fears we share with others, comes true. According to a Japanese urban legend, one such figure that terrified many was someone or something called “Kuchisake-onna” or “Slit-mouthed woman.” She was a woman done wrong who has returned as a vengeful ghost. She’s seeking the man who betrayed her, not to mention others like him. She’s also a stalker of children, characterized by her long disheveled hair and bloody, disfigured face. Her name and how she became an angry demon is a mystery, but she lurks in the shadows of an otherwise staid society.
The Slit-mouthed woman is also a part of the Japanese ghost film tradition, which includes Kuchisake-onna and a host of other wandering, despondent, and angry spirits who inhabit the disquieting twilight that exists between dream and reality. In Shiraiki’s 2007 film Carved: Slit-Mouth Woman, the ethereal manifestation of this legend is terrorizing a suburban community, under whose façade of normality is hidden a number of secrets that hold the key to Kuchisake-onna’s true identity. As children are abducted, their teachers, Yamashita Kyôko (Satô Eriko) and Matsuzaki Noboru (Katô Haruhiko), are on a desperate search to find their missing pupils. However, what they find on their urgent quest is more than just evidence of kidnapping. Because of Matsuzaki’s own secrets, he and his partner ultimately understand the source of the Slit-mouth woman’s rage.
I enjoyed watching Shiraiki’s interpretation of an otherwise familiar legend. At one level, the movie is formulaic in the way that all genre films depend on commonplace elements. In which case, the movie is never scary, though there are tense moments involving the Slit-mouth woman’s treatment of children. Indeed, it’s precisely Kuchisake-onna’s relation to children that makes this story interesting. Rather than portraying her as simply another scorned woman, Shiraiki turns his protagonist into the embodiment of the kind of dark secret of abuse that too often remains behind closed doors, out of sight of anyone who can help.