There are many different subgenres of J-horror that help make up a film franchise that has infinite layers, something for everyone, and many different forms of horror. Many of these films and their series are considered masterpieces, something that shouldn’t be skipped when delving into the genre.
But are they really worth it? Is public opinion overhyping some of these franchises? Have they turned people away from hidden gems in the genre?
Today, I’m going to delve into the Kuchisake-onna two-part film franchise to determine whether it’s worth your watch or if its something you should throw onto the ”Not Interested” pile.
Film Series Information
Films: Kuchisake-onna and Kuchisake-onna 2
Full series run time: 3 hours and 8 minutes
Subgenre: Urban legend horror film; slasher
Director(s): Kouji Shiraishi and Terauchi Kotaro
Other Notable Films by Director(s): Noroi: The Curse; Impossibility Defense; Kanazawa Shutter Girl
BACKGROUND – Urban Legend
Kuchisake-onna (口裂け女), otherwise known as the Slit-Mouthed Woman, is a common urban legend found through numerous areas of Japan, with sightings of her sprouting across Asia; some people have even claimed to see her within the Western countries of the world. Folklorist Matthew Meyer claims that the legend spans from the Edo period in Japan, the 17th to the 19th Centuries, after studying the legend and its history.
Kuchisake-onna is an onyrou, otherwise known as a malevolent spirit, in Japanese folklore. She covers her face with a surgical mask (most commonly – in some variants of the legend, she uses scarves, long coats or covers her face with her hair) and carries a large, sharp object (most commonly – an oversized pair of scissors).
According to the most popular legend, she will approach someone on the street, her lower face covered, and will ask her victim, “am I pretty?”. Depending on how the person answers, numerous things happen.
If they respond ‘no’ straight away, Kuchisake-onna will kill them immediately with her weapon. If they answer ‘yes’, she will remove her face mask to reveal that the corners of her mouth are slit open from ear to ear – much like a Glasgow grin – and she will ask them again. If at this point, the person responds ‘no’, she will kill them; if they respond ‘yes’, she will cut the victim’s mouth to look like her own disfigurement. The only way to potentially survive Kuchisake-onna upon meeting her is to say she looks average, or so-so; in some legend variants, you can distract her with money and/or hard candles.
It is believed that Kuchisake-onna ended up this way due to a crime of hatred and passion – as is the case with most onryou in Japan (for instance, Kayako and Sadako from the Ju-on and Ringu series respectively).
Her samurai husband returned from a trip to find Kuchisake was friendly with her son’s tutor. Angered that she was potentially cheating on him being so close to another man, her husband used his katana to slit her mouth open, asking her who will find her pretty now. After succumbing to her injuries, Kuchisake-onna returned from the dead, angered and desperate for revenge against her husband, walking the streets to inflict the same harm that was done unto her.
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Plot: A small village’s history speaks of the spirit of a woman with a horrendously disfigured face that haunted, stalked and terrorized them thirty years ago. She would walk the streets in a long coat and face mask, asking young children if she was pretty – depending on their answer, many children disappeared, never to be seen again. Eventually, it stopped, and life soon began to return to normal. However, children are going missing again, with reports of the Slit-Mouthed Woman appearing again in the small town.
Opinion: Kuchisake-onna is one of those films that was known throughout my high school as being a gory little number that our parents would freak out if they knew we watched. It was something I always wanted to watch, but I never had a chance to, there was just no way to really find it online back in 2008-2010. I finally managed to find a copy of it in 2018 – and it was one of the best waits of my life.
Of course, Kuchisake-onna follows the basic plot of most urban legend horror films – it’s no surprise that it continues the pattern as all the others do – however, it does have it’s own original points. Usually, these films revolve around a curse that the main characters have mere days to reverse before they die (e.g. Ringu, Teke-Teke, etc.). Whilst we have a similar format here, it’s changed up enough to feel fresh, new to the genre and is a bit of (very welcome) fresh air when it comes to these films.
Original to a degree, some awesome action and that nostalgia of the 2000s-2010s Japanese horror, this is a brilliantly tense film that really brings the legend of Kuchisake-onna to life. The only thing I would have liked to see differently from this film is the special effects done slightly better – but it was 2007, and there isn’t much that can be done with that.
KUCHISAKE-ONNA 2 – THE SCISSORS MASSACRE (2008)
Running Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Plot: Three sisters live their happy lives on a small chicken farm in the town of Gofu. Yuki Sawada (Iwasa Mayuko) is happily engaged and soon to be married, Sachiko (Kawamura Yuki) works in a beauty salon, and youngest, Mayumi (Asuka Rin) is on the high school track team. Their happy lives come to a crashing halt when Yuki’s ex-boyfriend attacks Mayumi, mistaking her for Yuki, pouring acid over her face and traumatizing her for life. Overcome by her trauma, Mayumi sinks into a deep depression. However, as the sisters worry for their youngest sibling, a serial killer is stalking the alumni of Mayumi’s high school, sending shock waves through the tiny town of Gofu.
Opinion: Horror sequels. Love them, hate them, usually they crop up out of the blue to cash in on the popularity of the first film of the franchise. After the first film of this franchise was so enjoyable for me, I was very hesitant to learn that The Scissors Massacre existed and that a sequel had been made. I went into this expecting the worst, in all honesty, and came out of it very pleasantly surprised.
Although not related to the actual legend of Kuchisake-onna, The Scissors Massacre does an incredibly good job at linking back to the original source material whilst also standing alone as its own film. This could have been released as its own solo movie, and I think that it would have done well in the horror climate.
It was enjoyable, a terrific slasher, heartbreaking and the acting was superb. You feel for Mayumi throughout the film due to Asuka’s acting; you truly want to help her as the film progresses.
HIT OR MISS?
Public opinion on this film series seem very split across the Internet where you go. On MyDramaList, both films rank quite well, with 6.5 and 6.8 out of 10 respectively – these are relatively decent scores for horror films that not many users of the site have watched. Meanwhile, on Letterboxd, the films rank at 5.4 and 6.2 out of 10, with The Scissors Massacre pulling much further ahead than its parent film. On IMDb, Kuchisake-onna ranks at a 5.5 out of 10 with The Scissors Massacre ranking a 5.9 out of 10 with 2,000 fewer votes to the film.
Taking all these into account, it seems that the public would mostly say that Kuchisake-onna is a miss, whilst most would say the sequel is better and is a hit – something of a rare occurrence when it comes to horror and its sequels.
It’s a possibility that The Scissors Massacre sat better with the public – and, partly, myself – as it’s technically not part of the urban legend in any way – something that is marketed as an urban legend film that doesn’t follow the path most of them take is very renewing, after all. However, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a good movie, with almost a cult following of fans around the world in the J-horror community.
This is a series that, for me, refreshed urban legend horror and gave it a new lease of life. This was a well-needed viewing to begin to love urban horror again and to provide other, newer movies with a chance. It felt fresh; it was a wonderful look into the urban legend and truly brought her to life in a stunning way. I don’t think I would have changed anything about this introduction to Kuchisake on the big screen; Kouji has done something absolutely wonderful – above average to very good and thrilled the minds of many.
Maybe only deep horror lovers or urban legend horror fans will really enjoy this one on the 8-10 scale of ratings, but this is still a good 6-7/10 film for many people across the Internet. Maybe I’m a little biased due to Kuchisake-onna being one of my favourite original Japanese legends, but either way, I feel like this series deserves to be seen.
Give it a go and see what you think.
Kuchisake-onna, for me, is a huge hit. It’s rare to find an urban legend film that feels so unique, and Kouji Shiraishi really brought it to the table. The acting choice was all wonderful, the CGI and special effects were really good for the time this film was made, and I think this look into The Slit-Mouthed Woman was one that was effective, well thought out, and something that truly honoured the legend as a whole.
Kuchisake-onna 2: The Scissors Massacre is still a hit for me – maybe even ranking higher than its parent story. This second film delights slasher and gore fans, has a plot that makes your heart bleed and overall wraps up really well in the colours of a horror film. This film is a definite re-watchable piece for me – something that’s inherently rare for me, and I recommend giving this wonderful stand-alone slasher a try.
Overall, if you want to settle down for a night of Japanese horror that has your eyes widening, yelling don’t do that!!! and actually willing for the characters to survive – give the Kuchisake-onna series a try, For me, this series was a pleasant surprise, it was something that thrilled me, kept my interest across three hours and eight minutes, and had my heart racing as the action unfurled. A true little hidden gem of the Japanese horror genre and in urban legend horror itself, definitely grab a cup of tea and enjoy this series buried under your blanket.
Kuchisake-onna 2: HIT
So what do you think?