Miyako Kajiro / Kajiro House / Living Room / 1976 / 22:32:23
"Otherworldly matrimony" is the general name for stories that primarily feature humans marrying non-human beings, such as animals, spirits or deities.
Within these stories, human bodies are routinely offered up as "sacrificial offerings" to the gods.
Following this line, becoming a "bride" is often synonymous with being a "sacrifice", and can be reasoned as being interchangeable.
In other words, the woman who serves as the bride being offered up to the gods and the sacrifice can be considered to have the same meaning.
According to the typing of the story, in the case of women who marry strange beings, sometimes the marriage is consummated and occasionally results in the conception of children, but in the case of men, most of these marriages are never consummated and have unhappy endings.
It has been raining non-stop for many days now, the village steeped in a thick fog that makes everything seem dark and cloudy.
Rising out of the fog, a black shadow amidst the dim scenery, is the Kajiro house, a symbol of awed respect and fear.
The large house, that of the oldest family of Hanuda Village, has undergone redevelopment after redevelopment, leaving it looking bizarre.
The odd building causes onlookers to feel unease and a strange, twisted emotion.
Inside the house is a winding corridor that is so long it seems to continue forever, leaving you feeling almost trapped, wrapped around a tatami room divided by sliding screens, sunken deep into the shadows.
The sound of the wind as it blows through the maze-like residence sounds like resentment-filled voices.
Perhaps because of the house's age, or maybe due to its random construction, discomforting creaking sounds seem to constantly come from all directions.
At the end of a corridor leading away from the main house, more secluded than distanced, is the place where Miyako Kajiro is.
Since being born, Miyako has been raised here, alone, without even sitting at the same table as her parents.
There is no one to see how beautifully she dresses, trapped in this dim prison.
--Until today, the day she is to be married.
A thin silhouette stands in the darkness of the tatami room.
She has glossy, night-black hair and skin so white it appears almost transparent.
She wears a furisode made of black cloth, dyed a beautiful navy colour.
Miyako's gloomy face emerges out of the shadows in the flickering candlelight.
Having lived her life shut away like this for fourteen years, Miyako has grown tired of it.
Since she has been feeble since birth, Miyako has been quarantined here for as long as she can remember.
Rather than doing it out of concern for Miyako's well-being, her family did it out of worry that harm would come to the "offering".
--Tonight is the night of the Kajiro girl's holy marriage rites.
--How many brides had been born and vanished up until now?
Miyako doesn't know the details of tonight's ceremony.
All she knows is that while both Kajiro sisters will appear at the ceremony, only one will remain on the Mana Stone.
The one chosen as the bridge will vanish.
The vanished bride has been chosen from the start.
The elder sister remains in this world, the younger sent to the Netherworld.
And the Kajiros can breathe a sigh of relief at the completion of one of their atonements.
Why was she the only one who had to atone for a sin she didn't even know the origin of...?
She had been born solely for the purpose of repenting.
Without even understanding what she is repenting for, Miyako is trapped by her cursed fate.
Her parents, her sister - they all look at her like she is from another planet.
Sometimes, Miyako even questions whether or not she is actually real.
What if she only exists inside her own head, and is just a ghost with no body?
--In this world, I'm just like a ghost...
The only one who saves her from these thoughts is Sumiko, who has raised her as her nurse since she was a child.
Like a mother, or an older sister, Sumiko is the only one who gets through to Miyako and lets her know that she is real.
She is the only one who consoles Miyako as she suffers from daydream-like visions.
--Visions, a special ability that appears in the descendants of the Kajiros generation after generation.
Sights and sounds over which she has no control.
Conversely to being revered as a special sign, this ability drives people away out of fear.
The more the visions come, the more they gradually eat away at Miyako's mind.
--The Mana Stone.
Suddenly she plunges into a vision.
The image of a huge, strange-feeling rock comes into view.
In front of the huge rock, called the Mana Stone, the holy marriage rites are taking place.
It is a sacred place that the villagers aren't allowed to set foot in without permission.
She sees someone - the Guiding Priest, or maybe the Guiding Nun - watching over preparations for the ritual.
She hears someone's voice muttering beside her ear.
"God... fruit of the... one... two..."
Hearing creaking in the corridor, Miyako snaps back to reality.
She hears Sumiko's voice through the paper screen facing the hallway.
--She's finally come.
Miyako knows that the end of her empty life has arrived.
She soothes herself with the idea that she is simply returning to the darkness in which she has lived, all alone.
With a stiff face, Sumiko leads her out from the tatami room.
Ahead, the long corridor branches off to the left and right.
Turning left will take you to the main house, where there is a latticed door solemnly enforcing the confines.
Unexpectedly, Sumiko turns left.
Sumiko's actions confuse Miyako.
Ahead lies another building that even her family aren't allowed to enter.
Taboos exist in the Kajiro household.
One of them is Miyako, and the other is this building.
Miyako has been told that she is the sacrifice for repentance, and that the sins for which she is atoning are imprisoned in the other building.
Sumiko looks around her and whispers in a voice so faint it is difficult to hear, "Lady Miyako... Please, run away from here."
"There is a way to get out of the house without anyone seeing."
Upon Sumiko's face, lit by the light she holds in her hand, is a kind of determination.
"I have someone waiting outside the house. Leave the village... and live. That is what I ask of you."
Sumiko lowers her head, unable to keep her emotions in check.
--Leave... the house... the village...
Presented with a choice she has never thought about before, Miyako is dumbstruck.
She feels a mixture of joy at being freed, and anxiety about suddenly being tossed out.
Sumiko holds the light out in front of her, and an ornamental closet rises out of the solemn, gloomy light ahead.
In the centre of the outwards-opening doors is a heavy lock.
Sumiko takes out the key she has hidden, careful not to make any noise, and inserts it into the keyhole.
The heavy doors slowly open, and the two step through the entrance into the forbidden.
The other side of the door is so heavily shrouded in pitch blackness that she can't see her own outstretched hand.
The oppressive stench of rotting, which seems to have been trapped inside for many long years, is so thick she can almost touch it.
Even though it is the middle of summer, chilly air flows from within.
White plaster covers the crumbling walls.
With the door shut behind her, all she can see up ahead is more darkness, only Sumiko's hands visible by the light she holds.
Stone steps stretch downwards ahead.
Slowly, carefully, she descends into the unrelenting blackness.
The fear of being taboo twice over worries Miyako.
Down into the underground... They arrive in a tunnel carved out of the rock face.
She hears the sound of water dripping somewhere.
Perhaps because of the incessant rain over the past few days, water has seeped through the stone and pooled up to her ankles.
Sumiko continues, as though worried about Miyako.
"Watch your feet... This underground tunnel links up with the outside of the house."
Sumiko's hushed voice echoes off the stone walls.
"If we go through here, no one should notice..."
--Because this place is taboo, somewhere inside which no one is supposed to ever set foot.
Saying no more, Sumiko grips Miyako's hand tightly.
In the darkness, Miyako holds onto Sumiko with one hand, the other feeling her way along the wall as they go.
On the surface of the rock around her are marks like something unfamiliar has climbed around, struggling.
Feeling an instinctive fear, Miyako pulls her hand away from the stone wall.
How long have they been walking through the darkness?
From somewhere she hears a strange sound, like the creaking of the house. Like something crawling along...
--An auditory hallucination...?
She feels as though she hears chanting, like a holy song of reverence, being sung by deep voices.
The chorus sounds strangely warped, yet the voices are full of joy, and Miyako's face contorts at the eeriness of it.
--The moaning of those writhing around below the earth...
Miyako suddenly feels as though the time and space of reality are warping and cracking.
She loses feeling in her legs, her mind plummeting into darkness.
When Miyako opens her eyes, Sumiko is peering worriedly at her face.
The feeling of familiarity comforts Miyako.
As usual, Sumiko has saved her as she is about to be swallowed by the darkness.
Watching over her always, protecting her.
Sumiko passes her light to Miyako.
"Lady Miyako, you must go on alone from here... I am going back."
"I have to put the key back before someone notices..."
Miyako is afraid, like a child separated from its mother and suddenly cast out into the world.
"No! I'm not going if you're not with me! I can't do it by myself..."
Sumiko's usual smile appears on her face, and she tilts her head.
"Please! Come with me, Sumiko... please. I... I don't want you to go back by yourself."
--She has broken taboo.
The feeling of guilt is even sharper in Miyako's mind.
--Sin, something... Something is trapped in here...
Miyako suddenly feels a push to her back.
"Lady Miyako! Please, go! For me, as well as yourself..."
Sumiko indicates the exit with her light.
She wears an expression harsher than any she has seen before.
Up ahead, where she points, is a world where she isn't imprisoned by taboos or customs.
If she goes back, the only fate that awaits her is living as a phantom in the darkness and disappearing like bubbles.
If she lets the chance go now, it will never come again.
Miyako wipes away her tears and gives a small nod.
"I will come for you, no matter what... Please trust me."
Taking the light, Miyako begins walking towards the exit.
Her kimono, heavy with the water the sleeves have absorbed from the ground, gets in the way of her passage to freedom.
But the idea of being released from the chains of taboo that bind her drives Miyako onwards.
As she climbs the slope of the tunnel upwards she sees light begin to spill inside, and an iron fence appears before her.
"Is... someone there...?" a silhouette asks timidly from the other side of the fence.
The fence opens, and Miyako steps out of the cavern.
The place Miyako has stepped into is the inside of the church, built looking onto the rock face.
The church is constructed almost as though clinging to the rock.
A Mana cross stands on the altar, holy scrolls hanging to either side of it.
The wall behind the altar is carved out of stone, opening into a dark cavern with an iron fence attached.
--The tunnel beneath the house connects to the cavern below the Mana church.
Having stood there in shock, Miyako notices a young man staring at her.
The companion Sumiko mentioned - is it him?
The youth stares intently at Miyako, as though seeing something for the first time in his life.
Feeling uncomfortable, Miyako looks at the floor and murmurs, "Sumiko said I should go with you, so..."
"Sumiko...? How did you get here...?" the boy asks in reply, a dubious look on his face.
--He doesn't understand... Maybe Sumiko is the only one who can understand the words of someone who has had no contact with the outside world?
Even though she is out of the house, she can't even convey her thoughts to someone she should be able to rely on.
In confusion and worry, Miyako shuts her mouth.
Silence stretches between the two.
It is the young man who breaks the silence.
"You're the Kajiros'... Did you... really run away...?"
Miyako nods slightly.
His face tightens, and he takes a box covered with strange decorations from by his feet.
"I... I stole this. They haven't noticed that it's gone yet."
Not understanding a word he says, Miyako stares at the boy.
But she feels some terrible, ominous feeling from the box he holds.
She feels that sensation - of her own consciousness melting and blending with something, when she has a vision.
As soon as the boy opens the box, a piercing scream reverberates from the cave behind them.
He peers into the cavern.
Miyako is caught in a swirl of emotions she can't explain.
Cold fear gradually rises within her.
The wind and rain, growing harsher, whips the roof and windows of the church, and Miyako's bad feeling gets stronger.
Her fear heightens, and she can't hear what the boy shouts as he approaches the cave.
A vision appears in the back of Miyako's head, clearer than she has ever seen.
Countless lines of sight stare up from the black water's surface.
They're directed at... Sumiko.
The owner of the vision emits a hoarse sigh, sounding to Miyako like a sigh she has let out herself.
A faint scream comes from Sumiko's throat, continuing without end.
Something slowly emerges from the water and moves closer to Sumiko.
Another high-pitched, strangled cry comes from Sumiko's throat.
A crazed twinkle is in her eye, staring at something invisible.
The vision suddenly shifts, and she is looking down at the dark water below.
--Countless writhing shadows, melting into the darkness beneath the water's surface.
--The true form of the crawling-like noise mixed with the creaking of the house.
--The form of the darkness the Kajiros are burdened with.
--Writhing below the earth, countless...
The countless shadows, mingled with the dark, gradually approach.
The taboo concealed beneath the house, writhing.
Billions of limbs wriggling about, tangling, melting together, the voices of those lurking within the confusion, filled with suffering, echoing about.
Tangling together, trembling... those with no form.
Miyako sees the terrible toll of time that has continued, uninterrupted, for so long.
Miyako is struck with an unbearable feeling of revulsion.
She senses that those with whom she shares blood are there.
--The duty the Kajiros are burdened with.
She is needed to seal away the proof of this awful sin for eternity.
--What kind of god inflicts this kind of dreadful suffering...?
"No, no, noooooooooooo!"
The moaning of the writhers and the warped sighing voices gradually begin to get louder. But Miyako can no longer hear them.
Miyako's own screaming cancels them out.
Suddenly, an eerie sound like a siren begins to ring out, and the entire church begins to shake as though waves breaking on the water's surface.
The sound, like a scream, gets louder, but she can't tell where it's coming from.
Perhaps in response to this, her confused consciousness trembles, and Miyako writhes in agony.
The artlessly entwined limbs reach up as if grabbing at something - into empty air.
Along with screams filled with joy...
Above Miyako's head, still screaming at the rift between sanity and madness, the Mana cross made of iron appears about to topple over, when the young man grabs Miyako by the hand and hurries out of the church.
Dragging Miyako along like a broken doll, the boy runs through the expanse of terraced fields outside of the church.
Even as they are lashed by torrential rain, stumbling through the mud, they keep running.
Until the moment the two are swallowed up by earth like black darkness...