Japan is full of strange and horrifying urban legends. From the tales of the cold-hearted Yuki-Onna to the rather odd toilet spirits that have a taste for murder, there's no shortage of creatures and lore for creators to pull from. With titles like Gegege No Kitarou and Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun, many of the terrifying tales have received a light-hearted perspective in recent years. The latest creature feature is a romantic comedy starring Kuchisake-Onna, the Slit-Mouthed Woman, called Even If You Slit My Mouth.
As with most legends, there are a few different versions of how she came to be. One legend states that she was a cheating lover of a samurai in the Edo Period who slit her face out of jealousy or as punishment. Another legend says that she was the victim of a botched medical procedure, and yet another claims it was a jealous woman who took a blade to her face. Regardless of the method, the result is always the same: the woman's spirit becomes an onryou, or malevolent, angry spirit. It wouldn't be until around the late 1970s that Kuchisake-Onna would return to the public eye.
Around 1979, rumors started spreading that a woman was targeting children throughout Japan and attacking them with a blade, usually scissors. This created mass-panic, so much so that adults would walk all children to school to prevent such attacks. Whether there was merit to these rumors remains unknown, but it would seem that they didn't start until after several papers began printing stories about Kuchisake-Onna. Folklorist Michael Dylan Foster has traced the earliest printed stories to December 1978, so it would appear that these articles were the initial cause of the panic. There is a South Korean version of the myth where she is known as the "Red Masked Woman."
She is usually described as a beautiful young woman, usually around 20-30 years old, who wears a mask or scarf of some kind, covering her face. She'll approach her potential victim and ask, "Am I pretty?" If they answer yes, she'll reveal her face and her slit-mouth before repeating the question. If the person again answers yes, she'll use whatever blade she's carrying to slit their face in the same way as hers. If they answer no, she'll just straight-up kill them. There are two methods to surviving an encounter with Kushisake-Onna: either answering "average," which will confuse her; or using coins or candy as a distraction, relying on an old myth that says ghosts are compelled to count things. Outrunning her is impossible, as she possesses supernatural speed.
Kuchisake-Onna has appeared in several pieces of horror media over the years and even received her own live-action movie in 1996. She appeared in Studio Ghibli's Pom Poko, was mentioned in the original Ring movie, and was even the basis for an episode of Constantine. The Carved movie franchise features her as the main antagonist. She's also appeared in many manga and video games.
The latest entry to her long resumé is Even If You Slit My Mouth, where she is engaged to 17-year-old high schooler Koichi Sano. She laments that because humans are no longer frightened by ghost stories like they used to be, supernatural beings such as herself are losing power and even existence. To avoid completely disappearing, she relies on Koichi's family's role as "urban legend managers" to extend her life. She opposes the engagement and views him as "lowly," but relies on his status as head of the Sano Clan to stay alive. The series follows Miroku (Kuchisake-Onna) as she attempts to scare her fiancé before he turns 18, as upon succeeding, the engagement will be called off.