Originally posted on 10 March 2023
Source: KT App article, 9 March 2023

Fatal Frame: 10 of Makoto Shibata's Paranormal Experiences

Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a remaster of the same title released by Ninteno for the Wii back in 2008, with a number of changes and additions as well as further polished, even more beautiful graphics.

In this game, packed with the charms of the Fatal Frame series, you will encounter supernatural phenomena caused by ghosts, and use a camera called the "Camera Obscura" to exorcise spirits as you explore your surroundings.

Makoto Shibata, who served as the director of the original game, is an essential part of the Fatal Frame series; in fact, the things you encounter within the games are inspired by Mr. Shibata's real life experiences with the strange and paranormal. Naturally, this is also true of Fatal Frame 4.

In this article, we'll bring you a selection of Mr. Shibata's top 10 scary experiences, based upon the stories that made it into the Fatal Frame games!

① The Origin of the Camera Obscura

Shibata: Let me start by telling you the story of an experience I had at my parents' house as a young kid. I'm from Ishikawa Prefecture, and I lived there with my parents when I was little. There's a shrine close to the house, and ever since I was a kid, when night would fall I'd hear what sounded like loads of voices whispering as they approached. Our house was on a corner, and the voices would pass by us as they turned it. Due to the positioning of the house, it was really easy to hear the voices.

When I was young, I wasn't aware of the concept of "ghosts", and I used to wonder to myself, "What are those voices that come towards us in the middle of the night?" I did, however, intuit that they were something I wasn't supposed to look at; even despite my youth, I got the feeling that if I did look at them, they'd take me away somewhere.

Even still, I had to get a glimpse of them. I tried to come up with some way I could figure out what they were without directly looking at them, when I was suddenly struck by the thought that I'd probably be fine if I looked at them through the broken camera my dad had given me.

Since the camera was broken, I ultimately wasn't able to see them, but that idea became the foundation of the Fatal Frame series. The Camera Obscura comes from this idea that you can't look at ghosts, but maybe, if you're looking through the lens of a camera, you can fight back?

Let me bring us back to the story about the procession of whispering voices. There was one time when I was able to catch a glimpse of whoever the voices belonged to. The bathroom in our house was next to the front door, which had frosted glass that afforded you a rather indistinct view of whatever was on the other side. Once, I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and I managed to catch a glimpse of "them" through the frosted glass.

It was a long procession of people holding lanterns in their hands. I thought to myself, "There's no way there'd be that many people walking around with lanterns these days," and was glad that I couldn't get a good look at them. I don't know what would've happened to me if I had.

I have also, on occasion, seen ghosts around the house. I think they might be people who wandered away from the procession of lanterns, trying to take a shortcut through the house. Once in a while, I'd see someone standing in front of the pillar in the bedroom I slept in.

Back then, I didn't really understand much about ghosts, so I took a good hard look at them. The way they looked inspired the effects you see on the ghosts as depicted within the Fatal Frame series.

By the way, the processions of whispers don't come from the shrine anymore. A small park was built on the grounds of the shrine, and a tree there that was rumoured to be haunted was cut down. You don't get the unique atmosphere of a shrine where the whole feeling totally changes in a snap anymore, and I think that's why it stopped.

■② Ghosts' Faces

Shibata: It seems as though not everyone who can see ghosts shares the same abilities. I've heard a wide variety of stories from people who can see them, and it turns out that my own powers apparently aren't that strong. I can't see ghosts' faces clearly. When I've taken a close look, they've looked blurry and indistinct, maybe, or misshapen.

So, even as a child who knew nothing about ghosts, I could sense that they were inhuman, "scary things". If I looked at them indirectly out of the corner of my eye, I could just about make out their faces.

One day, when I tried to take my kid to visit my parents at my childhood home, they said, "I don't want to go to that house." I asked why, and was told, "There are ghosts there." While plenty of people talk about having seen a ghost as a child, I was kind of happy that my own kid could see them too (laughs).

Just for curiosity's sake, I asked, "Can you see their faces?" and my kid said, "They look all squished and twisted." Basically, they look generally the same as the misshapen faces I'd seen myself. If this way of seeing ghosts was special, I thought it could also be used in a video game to represent a ghost that's in a special state.

This was included within Fatal Frame 4 as "blooming". Thanks to the improved graphics of the remaster, I think we've managed to reproduce the visual of it in an even more impressive and vivid way.

■③ The Famous "Exorcism Using Anti-Odour Spray" Originated from Fatal Frame

Shibata: I can't leave out this story, can I? I'm sure you've all heard the story that a certain well-known brand of anti-odour spray can be used to exorcise spirits somewhere or other. This happened back when we'd already started working on the Fatal Frame series.

One night, when I was at home and had taken off my glasses and laid down to sleep, I suddenly spotted something that looked like a white stick slowly coming down from the ceiling. Since I have such bad eyesight, I couldn't make out what it actually was until it got close to me, but it turned out to be a hand.

All of a sudden, the hand rushed towards my face, and I just barely managed to dodge it. Even I was surprised by the way humans are able to react reflexively like that, even in such a situation. I got up and looked behind me, and saw that a white, blurry woman had collapsed onto my futon. I kept saying things to her, like, "What the hell are you?" until she suddenly vanished softly into thin air.

This me bragging about the fact that I managed to dodge a ghost's attack like you would in a video game (laughs).

From the following day onwards, mysterious phenomena began to happen at the time the ghost had come down from the ceiling, like the lights or the TV turning themselves on and off. It looks like that white, collapsed woman is still around.

Back in those days, I generally tended to sleep at the office, but whenever I went home I'd run into things like that. It was nothing worse than a bit of pestering, but I was getting annoyed because it would stop me from sleeping, so I decided that I had to try exorcising the ghost.

I went online and looked up ways to get rid of ghosts. I read that placing piles of salt or leaving out alcohol helped, so I gave it a go, but it did nothing whatsoever. A female member of staff who happened to hear the story casually joked, "Why don't you try using some anti-odour spray or something?" (I found out recently that this was advice from a staff member.)

Desperate enough to give it a go, I sprayed some around my room, and from that day onwards the ghostly phenomena stopped. By the way, I spoke about this on the Fatal Frame 2 website from back in the old Tecmo days. That may have cause the story that there's a famous air freshener with exorcismal properties across the internet and even overseas (laughs).

Also, I couldn't help but laugh when my own kid told me they were thinking of telling "the urban legend about an anti-odour spray getting rid of a ghost" as a ghost story on a school trip. I said, "You know, that story comes from your dad. The full story is..." and explained the whole thing again (laughs).

■④ The Story of a Mountain Filled with Mysteries

Shibata: When I was in elementary school, there was a time when we were really into picnics. One day, my friends and I went for a picnic on a nearby mountain. Once we'd finished eating our packed lunches we had nothing else to do, so we decided to explore the mountain.

I call it a mountain, but it was only a small one, so I thought we'd be done exploring fairly quickly. Then the path quickly started getting darker and darker even though it was daytime, and not only that, but I could hear what sounded like a woman crying coming up on me from behind. My friends could hear it too, and I instinctively sensed that it was bad. Then, one of my friends suddenly took off running, and the rest of us ran away too.

One of my friends didn't seem to hear it, and shouted, "Why are you running!?" as he ran with us. We sprinted towards a small light and dove towards it, and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a large cemetery. I was dazed, thinking that it was all over for us, but then the only friend who hadn't heard the voice called out to us, bringing all of us back to our senses with a start, and we were able to leave. Even though we'd all been through the same experience, none of us ever spoke of it again.

In recent years, I've tried asking people about its location and checking out satellite photos, but I couldn't find it anywhere. There was no cemetery on that mountain.

The story doesn't end there. After we'd finished working on Fatal Frame 2, I went back to my childhood home. I took an afternoon nap, and when I suddenly woke up in the evening, I suddenly felt like I absolutely had to go back to the mountain. I knew in my gut that if I went there I'd probably never come back, but I still headed towards it. On the way there, it began to rain, and all of a sudden I found myself standing in the middle of a paddy field.

For some reason, I felt a sense of purpose - or perhaps a strong impulse - that I had to go to the mountain, but thankfully the rain had snapped me out of it. Coming to the realisation that rain could sometimes be gentle and kind, I decided that I wanted to make this "gentle rain" a character in my next game and make it a story with hope and comfort, so I turned it into one of the motifs of Fatal Frame 3's story.

■⑤ The Old Woman with the Pram

Shibata: Since I've talked about Fatal Frame 3, let's keep going straight onto the pram. When I was a kid, there was an abandoned house near where we lived, and my friends and I often played there together. Though it was uninhabited, there were all sorts of things left behind, to the point that you could see signs of someone having lived there in the past. We played a game where we'd each take turns taking one thing from the house, then show it off to the group, and whoever brought the coolest thing won.

One friend brought out a doll with them; another came out with a book. Then it was my turn. When I went inside what should have been an empty, abandoned house, an old woman pushing a pram came charging towards me at high speed from inside the building.

For starters, she was way too fast. Secondly, why would she be pushing a pram around indoors? I immediately turned and dashed out of the house. I went back inside, but the old woman was gone. That experience led to the ghost of the old woman pushing a pram appearing in Fatal Frame 3.

There are lots of ghosts in the Fatal Frame series, but that doesn't mean that all of them are based on my personal experiences. The old woman with the pram is a comparatively strong character within the game because of the intense impression her showing up had on me.

■⑥ A Ghost Grabbed my Hand!

Shibata: This story is related to both Fatal Frame 3 and Fatal Frame 4. One day, when I was at home sleeping, someone suddenly grabbed my arm. I assumed I must have been dreaming or half-asleep, but the hand kept gripping me tighter and tighter.

I reflexively shouted, "Ow, that hurts!" and felt the hand release its grip and pull away. However, I'd been sleeping beside a wall, so there was no way I could've been grabbed by a person. Someone had grabbed me through the wall.

I wanted to incorporate the fright I felt then into a game, so we put a cutscene into Fatal Frame 3 of the main character, Rei Kurosawa, waking up to find a ghost grabbing her by the hand. Though it's a simple scene, it was quite a struggle to recreate that sensation. I thought it would be better to turn that experience into an actual mechanic, and so we added an element into Fatal Frame 4 where a ghost might grab your hand when you pick up an item.

■⑦ Seeing the Ghost of a Beautiful Girl

Shibata: Though the Fatal Frame series features ghosts of beautiful girls, the realm of spirits is the same as the real world, and those sorts of ghosts aren't actually all that common. There was just one time where I really did see the ghost of a beautiful girl, though. Once, I went home late at night to find a girl in a green dress sitting on top of my bookshelf.

I talked earlier about how I can't see ghosts' faces too well, but this girl's face was very clear. I think she must've been about 10-12. She was cute, but she looked unenthusiastic, as if she was fed up with everything.

Then, as if letting out a sigh, she said, "Die more slowly," and vanished. I thought to myself, "'Die more slowly'? What does that mean?" and incorporated my answer into the story of Fatal Frame 5. If you haven't played it yet, please go and look for it.

■⑧ Forced into Marriage by Seeing a Photo

Shibata: This isn't a ghost story, but in a sense it is a frightening experience, so I'd like to tell you about it anyway. The Fatal Frame series is primarily set in Japanese houses, but back then we didn't have any of the necessary sound effects - like opening sliding screens and walking across tatami mats - that come with such a building, and in the end we had no choice but to record them ourselves. I talked it over with the sound team, and we set about searching for someone living in an old Japanese house.

I heard that someone on the team was close to a person who owned an old Japanese-style house, and we asked them to let us use it for a few hours. It was a place on top of a mountain, where we were able to record some valuable sound sources that we actually use to this day, such as a storehouse door opening and closing and the sound of someone walking on tatami mats.

The owner of the house was an elderly lady who lived downtown, so I paid her a visit to thank her. The house she lived in was a large building that blended Eastern and Western styles, and it too had a special ambiance about it. I'd believed myself to be quite knowledgeable about such buildings, but it was in a style the likes of which I'd never seen before. The design of it was unusual, too, with a calm and dignified atmosphere, and that served as part of the motif for Rougetsu Hall in Fatal Frame 4.

I went to tell the lady how grateful I was for her help, and for some reason she was very welcoming to me. I couldn't possibly turn her down, so I let her treat me to a meal and look after me, until suddenly she asked me if I liked a certain female TV personality. I answered, "No, not particularly..." The lady said, "Right? Then take a look at this," and took out a small booklet.

I opened the booklet, and inside it was a photo of a woman in a kimono looking this way and smiling. It was a matchmaking portrait. The woman in it had been about to marry the man she'd been dating, but right before they went through with it, the man shouted, "I actually like girls like XX!" saying the name of that TV personality, and broke it off with her.

The lady urged me, "You saw the photo, didn't you? That girl is very sad at the moment. You're the only one who can make her happy." (laughs) I guess the timing of my visit was perfect. In the end, I politely declined and practically ran out of there. The fear of being forced into marrying someone just because you looked at a photo of them... This experience was included within Fatal Frame 5.

For a long time, I regretted that my hurried exit had prevented me from taking any photos of that old, Japanese and Western-style house. However, I coincidentally managed to get in contact with someone involved now that the Fatal Frame 4 remaster is coming out, and had them show me around the house again. I don't think this story is over yet.

■⑨ The Man at the Window

Shibata: Since I've talked about the motif for Rougetsu Hall, let me tell you about the other inspiration, too. Rougetsu Hall, as featured in Fatal Frame 4, was also partly based on the hot spring inn that one of my relatives ran. Sometimes, we'd have family-only get-togethers there, and on this day myself and other relatives were staying at the inn. I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night, and found myself wanting to go for a walk around the building.

It was gloomy inside the inn, with moonlight shining through the windows, making for a magical atmosphere. Enticed by it, I wandered around, until I saw a man standing across the hallway from me, staring vacantly out of the window. Only my relatives were supposed to have been staying there at the time, but I didn't know the man.

Curious, I approached him, and the man turned to face me and vanished as he did so. I was more interested in what he'd been looking at than who he was, so I looked out of the window, and saw the large moon. At some point, I realised that I'd been standing there blankly staring at the moon for ages, just like the man had been doing.

I don't know whether the man was a ghost, a phantom of someone from the past or a glimpse of my own future self, but I had an experience which made me think that even if something strange happened on a night filled with moonlight, I would allow it. That gave me the initial concept for Rougetsu Hall, and the scene of someone standing in a hallway looking outside is recreated within the intro of the game.

■⑩ Mr. Miyamoto

Shibata: Finally, I'll tell you about the inspiration for Kageri Sendou from Fatal Frame 4. By the way, this is from a dream, not a ghost encounter.

Kageri Sendou is based on someone called "Mr. Miyamoto" who often used to appear in my dreams. He pushes around someone who looks just like him in a wheelchair, and if I say hello to him he says hello back, but the person in the wheelchair is obviously a corpse.

Sometimes, Mr. Miyamoto isn't around, and there's just the wheelchair left behind with the person sitting in it all alone. If I try to check whether or not they're really dead, Mr. Miyamoto angrily yells, "Don't touch me!" and runs towards me.

In Fatal Frame 4, the sanatorium called Rougetsu Hall has distinctive people staying on each floor, and when we were having a meeting to decide which ghosts to have show up there, I remembered Mr. Miyamoto.

I told this story to the team as the character was being created, and it turned into Kageri Sendou. During that process we changed her name, gave her an air of gothic horror to make you want to photograph her, and changed her into a woman. Ever since then, Mr. Miyamoto has stopped showing up in my dreams. I wonder if maybe he's satisfied now that he's got to be a character in a video game?