It's a gray, chilly spring here in Minnesota and now that we have a possible case of the media's latest darling, Swine Flu, there is already at least one lady with a surgical mask walking around town. I saw her in line at a packed Chipotle over my lunch break; apparently her paranoid fear wasn't strong enough to overcome her ferocious burrito lust.
While my gastronomically occupied compatriots had a crumb spewing giggle at her credulous and likely ineffectual accessory, my immediate reaction was: "Holy shit, dudes! The slit-mouthed woman has escaped Japan! Nobody talk to her!"
Not being Japanese, it was highly unlikely that the flu fearing female was actually a Kuchisake-onna, but when you've damaged your brain with as much Tartan Asia Extreme as I have, these are the things that first spring to mind. (You should have seen the look on my face when, during the course of an old job, I stumbled upon a half open door in a creepy basement that had been previously sealed with red duct tape.)
The slit mouth woman was an urban legend that sprang up in Japan during the late '70s. Apparently inspired by an older folk tale, it revolves around a mysterious woman who roams the streets in a surgical mask. Instead of protection against SARS or bird flu, this mask hides her gruesome Glasgow smile. (Think Ichi the Killer or Heath Ledger's Joker wounds if his cheeks never sealed back up.) She confronts random strangers to ask them if they think she is attractive. Unfortunately, the Japanese word for 'pretty' sounds a lot like the 'to cut', so if you answer incorrectly (and which answer is correct depends on what version of the legend you heard) you get to see her ghastly visage and/or get sliced up yourself.
Aside from obscure references in manga, the kuchisake-onna doesn't have much reach into the Western world. The best she gets is Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman, a decent J-Horror also-ran from 2007.
Stick to Wikipedia if you are looking for real info about the legend, as in order to flesh things out to feature length, the film plays fast and loose with its mythology. Instead of a mysterious ghost/psycho, the cinematic slit-mouth woman appears to be some sort of demonic personification of child abuse. She takes possession of hapless mothers, who are struck with a wicked coughing fit before becoming a long-haired yūrei with a trenchcoat and some badass scissors.
The resulting movie is an odd sort of mishmash of J-horror and slasher film tropes, in which the characters overcome personal demons in order to solve the mystery of the child snatching murderer's identity, while never capitalizing on convenient opportunities to run the hell away when the next female character starts hacking her lungs out. Killing her just results in the death of her host, so the good guys nearly get a bigger body count than the villain by the end.
Even the original legend's ghostly homophone is bastardized into (a point totally lost in the English translation) "Aim for my neck" being mistaken for "Am I pretty."
It makes for a pulpy companion film to the more intellectual exploration of child neglect, Dark Water, but I'll still never look at a silly flu germ paranoid the same again. (At least the chicks; I just snicker at the dudes for not manning up and getting themselves a full on gas mask.)
I'll try to get an English Sub'd trailer up in the near future.
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