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.
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.