I’m on a serious J- Horror trip, so for this month’s monsters I’ve chosen Kayako and Toshio from the Ju-On films and the Grudge series of A...

Monster of the Month: Kayako and Toshio

I’m on a serious J- Horror trip, so for this month’s monsters I’ve chosen Kayako and Toshio from the Ju-On films and the Grudge series of American remakes. This mother and son team of spirits haunts the house where they were murdered and cause the disappearance or death of anyone who enters the abode.
Though the particulars of Kayako and Toshio’s deaths change from film to film, the foundation of their narrative is essentially the same. Kayako falls in love with another man and writes about her romantic obsession with him in her diary. Upon discovering this diary, her husband Takeo flies into a fury.
He murders his wife, stowing her body away in the attic and drowns his son Toshio along with the child’s cat, Mar. Takeo dies after committing these horrible acts and his death is often ruled a suicide. As far as the curse goes, from then on anyone entering their house is doomed to fall victim to the powerful grudge born of Kayako and Toshio’s vengeful rage.
Kayako is easily distinguished by her halting movements, rasping croak and flowing black hair brushed in front of her face, which taps into feudal era fears of female rebellion. In feudal Japan is was customary for women to wear their hair tied back in a pony tail. Unbound hair was indicative of a woman who refused to conform to societal mores and at the worst could be seen as a sign of demonic possession.

This could be the reason so many J-Horrors feature a woman with unkempt black hair as the object of fear, as the image represents a woman who fails to appropriately fulfill her societal roles. Kayako further represents this fear of non-conformist women with her adulterous obsession with another man. Her desires outside the family threaten the family unit, the bedrock of Japanese society, for which she is punished and why she continues to punish others with likeminded transgressions.
Kayako and Toshio’s victims are targeted because of their refusal to conform to societal standards. Toshio plagues childless career women, a tangible reminder of their refusal to occupy the traditional Japanese roles of wife and mother. Likewise, the wide eyed specter of Kayako preys on school girls thinking about sex and the remiss guardians of aging parents.

Kayako and Toshio represent a powerful one two punch for the conservation of Japanese traditions, as they seek out members of broken families and punish them for their unwillingness or inability to create stable and multigenerational family units.


  1. Wow, I didn't know that long flowing hair was culturally significant in Japanese culture.

  2. I went on a J-Horror trip a couple of years ago, unfortunately it got old fast because every single ghost has to have long black hair covering their faces. I was like, wait, did I watch this movie already? It got boring in a way.

    But I did enjoy the grudge (original and remake) and The Ring.

  3. Jaded,

    Neither did I until I read Kalat's definitive guide and watched a few J Horror films.

    I hear you, the long hair motif makes a recurring appearnce in alot of J Horrors, but if you've seen one dead wet girl you've seen them all.

  4. I don't care how overexposed it may be, this whole motif still scares the crap out of me! It really taps into primal nightmares.

  5. Japanese horror films are the best horror film makers. The eyes and long hair are natural scary effects in their movies.
    Rhinehoth a New Horror Novel by Brian E. Niskala

  6. B-Sol,

    I know what you mean. I was drying my bangs in front of the mirror one morning and had a brief freak out.