[Anime News Network] “The Horror and Romance of Rural Higurashi”

Non-management: Before coronavirus really took off in Japan and everyone started taking it seriously here, I was able to manage a trip with a friend to rural Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture. I’ve obviously had to put a hold on it for now, but I’m determined still while I’m still working here to travel around as much of Japan as I can. I can only travel so much though — finite time, finite money — so I have to prioritize where to go first. My interest in history plays a massive role with my traveling decisions, to Tochigi, Nara, and Himeji, for example. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa is historically interesting in some respects, though not in any momentously eventful way. Shirakawa is home to no grand religious structures or military fortifications, nor did any especially notworthy people live or battles take place there. So as you might have guessed, the tipping point toward me planning a stay was my interest in anime, and in Higurashi more specifically. The setting of Higurashi is the rural village of Hinamizawa, and it’s heavily based off the rural village of Shirakawa.

The Higurashi anme has this reputation of being gory-psycho-murder-torture-loli-horror-schlock, and I can see where this… err… colorful impression comes from. No one’s really obligated to push deeper into the show if they’re turned off by this characterization, since the beginning of the show doesn’t really do its deeper story many favors. But if you commit to trying to understand why the murders take place (and keep taking place), you might soon discover how thickly layered the narrative ends up becoming. The horror of Higurashi doesn’t only lies in the whiplash subversion of the comedy slice-of-life or the moe aesthetic. It rises from the breakdown of communal trust in rural villages, as the fatal mistrust that boils between the show’s band of friends draws comparisons and connections to the one rural village they all live in. The village of Hinamizawa had a proud history of villagers banding together to survive and flourish against adversity. That proud history now stands in contrast to the suspicious and unsympathetic atmosphere that hangs currently in the air: a fear of outsiders, a fear of change. These fears are issues that the shrinking and greying Japanese countryside grapples with today, including the Shirakawa area.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

The rural village setting is a staple of many works of horror. Many horror stories see rural settings as sites suspect, estranged from rational civilization, operating under odd reason. Outsiders passing through or settling in the countryside find themselves uncomfortably out-of-place, with everything around them discomfitingly alien. And yet, the rural village setting also happens to be a staple of literary modernism. Many modernist stories characterize city living as a melancholic livelihood, doomed to numbing transaction, and detached from human connection. Outsiders musing about or moving into the countryside desire welcoming communities and tighter relationships, but what they think of as a dream come true can just as often turn into a trap. The rural village becomes especially nightmarish when these assumptions merge together and then twist apart. Nostalgic warmth unravels into fanatic hysteria. Villagers turn on outsiders and then themselves. “Resting your bones” becomes a double entendre.

The Higurashi series explores the perpetually latent horror at this village fork of dream and nightmare, and it does so by basing its story setting of Hinamizawa on a small Japanese village I had the opportunity to stay at: Shirakawa… READ MORE