by Christopher Agostino
(the heaviest traffic on the site these past few days are people searching for scary stuff like demon imagery, so I am re-posting one from last Halloween season — and come see me at the Prospect Park Zoo this Sat and Sunday (Oct 27+28) to get your face painted — and I will be telling a new mix of demon tales from my storytelling show: The Eye of the Demon)
I paint a lot of demon faces this time of year, many inspired by Japanese imagery and folktales.
In 2008 particularly, I put an effort into exploring new face designs based on Japanese masks and kabuki makeup. That year I was painting at the Transworld Halloween Show
for Kryolan Professional Makeup
and took the approach at the event to paint horror faces based on world mask designs, as a contrast to the traditional zombies and skulls, so most of the examples here are from around that time.
This mask is a contemporary example of a Namahage Demon
from the Akita Prefecture. It is worn for a traditional Lunar New Year celebration which sounds like Halloween in reverse, as young men wear the masks and visit people’s houses to scare their children and admonish them to listen to their parents—or the demons will come back! The parents reward the young men with sake and food. Although frightening, Namahage are said to be gods who bring good fortune, an example of the beliefs connected to spirit worship traditions in which powerful demonic spirits can become protective when they are appeased. Check out the Japanese movies Onmyoji and Onmyoji 2 for a fun depiction of demonic possession and the Ying-Yang master that has to restore the balance.
In folktales, Japanese demons come with various descriptions. Some may be red or blue faced, with fangs, horns and one, two or three eyes. In the tale of the famous samurai Raiko and his battle with the Goblin Earth Spider, he is attacked by an army that drops out of the storm clouds, including animals that walk like men, beings with three claws and three eyes—one with eyes in its hands—and long serpents with human heads. There’s a few ideas for facepainting. At an exhibit of prints by the artist Kuniyoshi last year at the Japan Society I was very jazzed to see two illustrations of Raiko vs. the Earth Spider with imagery that has re-invigorated the way I tell and depict that tale through faces.
The prevalence of such beliefs within the medieval Japanese culture allowed for the growth in Edo province of “Aragato,” the style of Kabuki theater which produced the famous makeup for its samurai hero and for the ghosts and demons he would battle.
The origin of Kabuki and other Japanese theater in shamanic ritual and spirit worship is evident in the hero’s ability to do the impossible because they have allowed themselves to be possessed by a powerful kami (“supernatural deity”) and thus have become hitokami (“man-gods”). Continue reading