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Pat: Why is every Asian ghost exactly the same ghost... person? Matt: Well, the girl in The Ring is different. Pat: No, I mean, they're literally all ladies in white clothes with super-long black hair that's all tangled and stuff. Matt: What's scarier than a lady coming at you?
An entity often seen in Japanese horror movies is a ghost, usually that of a young woman, with long, stringy black hair that covers her face, clad in a white burial kimono or shroud. Her face itself is often quite ghastly to look upon. She is commonly barefoot, if she has feet to talk. In some cases, this type of ghost will appear with a pair of ghostly blue flames hovering around her.
This is actually a type of ghost known as an onryo, the ghost of a young woman who was greatly wronged by a man in life and now seeks vengeance on the living. Strangely enough, the man who actually did the wronging is often left untouched by the onryo, which is probably perceived as the way it should be in the traditionally male-dominated Japanese society...
While there are a few male onryo in kabuki, the vast majority are female. And while there are similarly a small number of exceptions with lighter and/or more colorful hair, and even a few with skin that isn't ghost-white, the overwhelming majority are Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunettes.
In most media, the onryo has no one in particular to seek vengeance on, rather inflicting it on everyone in the area.
This trope has become insanely popular in Western media recently, while has been a staple in Asian media for a long time. Compare with Bedsheet Ghost and Undeathly Pallor. Contrast with Cute Ghost Girl. Usually comes with a side serving of Screamer Trailer. See also Undead Child.
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Anime & Manga
Whenever Nyu from Elfen Lied turns back into Lucy she sports this appearance, despite having pink hair.
A character very similar to Sadako, Urabe from Mysterious Girlfriend X, has short hair, but she is otherwise very clearly based on an onryo — although she is a (not) perfectly normal human girl.
Enma Ai from Hell Girl is definitely onryo-inspired (not to mention Sadako-inspired, particularly in her use of modern technology). She's less scary most of the time because she doesn't obscure her face (she goes for the Hime Cut instead), and being the protagonist, she's onscreen a lot. But beneath that unchanging, impassive expression, she's hiding deep bitterness and rage — when she loses her cool, it's the scariest thing you'll ever see. She began as a stringy haired ghost girl, just after she got her revenge hell drafted her as vengeance demon. So apparently hell has a dress code.
In Anne Freaks, Yuri's dead mother is shown as this in his hallucinations. The few flashbacks we see of her when she was alive also show her looking this way, which is likely to show her as unhinged since she's heavily implied to have sexually abused him.
Ghost Hunt naturally features a case centered around an onryo.
In Urban Legend Story Hikiko, the titular character is an onryo that moves scary fast when she wants to.
The "Wet Woman" from Hell Teacher Nube is an apparition that shows up during the rain, sopping wet, asking innocent passersby for shelter. Then she haunts her victims unto death, drawing so much humidity into their homes that they decay and rot within days. She's identical in appearance to Sadako.
Keroro Gunsou plays with this trope. The Hinata home is haunted by the ghost of a girl who was chained up there and died, but is very friendly - because it turns out she wasn't chained up there for long and died peacefully of an ailment at her own home. The only reason she stayed around was because she hoped to see her old friend, a kappa she had befriended (who, it's implied, was actually a visitor from Keroro's homeworld of Keron) one last time.
Inugami Isuzu in Hayate X Blade resembles one in her initial appearance. However, after pairing up with her current shinyuu Kibi Momoka, she gets a makeover that makes her resemble Lenalee Lee.
Tomoka Kayahara from Ramen Fighter Miki is often mistaken for this, except when eating Onimaru Ramen.
Mahou Sensei Negima! plays around with this; Cute Ghost Girl Sayo just wants to make friends, but all her attempts to communicate with people are horribly misunderstood, and Asakura takes a Scary Photograph of her, leading the class to assume that she's a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl (although with white hair). It gets to the point that they even call in two professional exorcists to take care of the problem before they finally figure out that she doesn't want to hurt anyone.
Actually, it was Nodoka's Pactio item that gave them a creepy version of her thoughts and a scary sketch. Asakura managed to take a normal picture where she looked positively cute.
The story that Doumeki tells about his grandfather's encounter with a ghost during the Hundred Ghost Story Ceremony in ×××HOLiC features one of these, albeit one wearing a simple dress as opposed to a burial kimono or shroud.
Kimi ni Todoke deals with Sawako Kuronuma, a girl whose onryo-like appearance and intimidating manner of speaking leaves her alienated from her students. Many of her classmates even mistakenly call her Sadako. In truth, she's a very sweet girl whose attempts to overcome her shy nature are misread as threats or curses.
While onryo don't appear in Ichigo Mashimaro, Miu, who has a penchant for attempting improv playacting, pretends (badly) to be possessed, seemingly by this kind of spirit (confirmation from readers of Japanese?). She even puts most of her hair in front of her face, but she doesn't leave for a costume change and return in a white kimono.
Kiri Komori of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei looks the part, having ghost-white skin and long black hair that tends to obscure her eyes.
While Kiri was mistaken for a spirit by the ever-cheerful Kafuka, however, she was instead identified as a 'zashiki warashi' or house goblin. Plus, her hair is beautifully straight and not stringy in the slightest once she moves into the school. Probably because Nietzsche starts washing it for her for fanservice purposes.
Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales features Oiwa in an adaptation of Yotsuya Kaidan (see below in the Theater examples).
Hunter × Hunter has Palm Siberia. She, on most occasions, sports this appearance because of scruffy long black hair and too much make-up, not to mention a frightening aura caused by stress. However, she is shown to be Beautiful All Along when she gets rid of that Samara look, takes a shower and combs her hair to go on a date with Gon.
Miss Michiko from Dennou Coil looks like this during her more corporeal moments.
Naruto: He's not a ghost and he's not a girl (well, at present), but Orochimaru's design is clearly based on this.
Like Orochimaru, Äs Nödt from Bleach looks like a Stringy-Haired Ghost Guy, with his long, straight black hair and white uniform. He wears a mask that covers his nose and mouth, so the "ghastly face" part might apply.
One of the "contestants" in Gantz is a young woman who looks like one of these. It's even lampshaded by the young model whom she is stalking, who calls her "Sadako". It turns out she's really beautiful under all the hair.
One of the first ghosts seen in Corpse Party: Blood Covered is one of these.
Tomie may have the hairstyle down roughly, but subverts this otherwise by being one of the most unspeakably beautiful things you'll ever see. You'll love her, and hate her, and be driven to kill her... and freak out entirely when she keeps coming back...
Kuroko in Yandere Kanojo is a fairly harmless one. The worst she'll do is steal your food and hurt your ears with her piano playing.
Inori in Hyakko! has this look (complete with dark aura sometimes), but it's not her fault — she's just shy and doesn't know how to present herself. Her creepy smile really doesn't help.
Likewise, Kayako from the Ju-on movies, and their remakes, The Grudge movies. Aubrey ends up as one by the end of the second movie, as well. Naoko turns into a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl after she is murdered by a curse-possessed Max in The Grudge 3.
Natre from the 2004 Thai horror film Shutter. Unlike the ghosts from Ring and Ju-on, the only people Natre ends up hurting or killing were the ones who deeply wronged her in life and drove her to depression and suicide. Heck, Natre even went out of her way to warn her ex-boyfriend's current girlfriend of his crimes, though this was probably motivated mostly by the desire for revenge against said ex.
The Thai film Sick Nurses plays with this trope when you find out the ghost is actually a MTF transsexual.
The short Japanese film Black Hair, from the anthology Kaidan, is a classic example.
Hair Extension — Yes, it's exactly what the title sounds like. All dedicated to haunted hair. It's like the film makers weren't even trying to hide it anymore!
Ditto with the 2005 South Korean horror film, "The Wig".
This short movie, ''Rattle Rattle". Get past the scare factor, and you have absolutely no idea what's going on. Why do Japanese endings have to be so confusing?
Parodied with Tabitha from the third Scary Movie movie.
In Zebraman the main character has his tv on while working on his costume. The show has a sentai hero called in the English dub Radiation Ranger who is battling a monster that looks like this who is calling out for her son George.
The Korean horror film White: The Melody of the Curse features one; in this case, the ghost in question has white hair, and is believed by the protagonists to be the vengeful spirit of a K-Pop idol who committed suicide, at least until the end, where it turns out to actually be the vengeful spirit of the backup dancer who actually wrote the song, who lashes out at anyone who sings her song.
The long-haired onryo isn't just seen in Japanese culture. Similar variations occur in other Asian countries as well, like China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Korea.
Traditionally in Korea, ghosts tend to follow the same archetype as the fiend in "The Ring". Female ghosts look bedraggled with hair in their face, and they are always clad in white (the color worn in funerals). This type of ghost, called a maiden ghost, is the most universally feared type of ghost in Korea.
Of all the ghosts in Thailand, the most famous is "Nang Naak". The story varies, but it's usually like this: An ordinary farm girl named Naak from a village falls in love with a handsome young man named Nai Maak. Despite their economical backgrounds, they eventually manage to be together. Shortly after marriage, Nai Maak is conscripted for military service and leaves Naak behind, who dies during labor along with her unborn child. Although they are buried according to local tradition, the spirit of Naak refuses to perish. When Nai Maak returns from the war, the ghost disguises herself and her child as humans to him. The revelation itself provides one of the most memorable scenes in the story when Maak sees his wife grotesquely stretching her arm through the floorboard of their elevated house to pick up a fallen lime, or a knife in another version, on the ground. The terrified husband runs away and the ghost follows him. There are many gory accounts of how Nang Naak chases, harasses, or even kills whoever comes between Maak and her. You're going to have to go on this link to learn what happens afterward - http://asiarecipe.com/thainangnak.html
Cursed Hair. Another horror movie specifically about evil hair. Here's the trailer.
Nang Naak: It wouldn't be long until they turned the story into a movie.
La Llorona, the "weeping woman" of Latin American myth, has elements of this.
The "creeping woman" from Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper", who is actually a hallucination appearing to the narrator, who has been forced to stay in a room with no intellectual stimulation, or any exciting activity at all, to 'calm her nerves.' Liberal doses of nerve tonic was also prescribed; probably containing significant quantities of opium and alcohol. (Note, this was the prescribed remedy to women suffering "hysteria" in the 19th century.) The narrator eventually thinks there's a woman creeping behind the odd, vine-like pattern of the wallpaper, and eventually, sees her crawling about. Then she thinks she sees a lot of them. Then she thinks she's the creeping woman.
Kuyou Suou in Suzumiya Haruhi. An interface, similar to Nagato, but worse. Apart from being a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl, she actually seems to be invisible to unimportant persons.
The Loop Trilogy by Koji Suzuki features Sadako Yamamura as one. While serving as the inspiration for the Japanese Ring film, the first book has a few major differences, while Spiral and Loop continue to expand the story.
In Jin Yong's The Book and the Sword, Yuanzhi disguises herself as one. Her disguise consists mostly of putting her hair over her face. It's effective enough to clear out a room full of mercenaries.
Juliet, David's dead sister, from Haunted 1998.
Bloody Mary from the fifth episode of season one of Supernatural.
Used again in the seventh season with a "Shojo"- the actual creature from Japanese mythology was pretty much a satyr, but the show re-imagined it as this trope.
The German techno-goth group E Nomine's music video for "Mitternacht" features one of these.
Disturbed's video for "The Animal" also feature one (technically a pontianak but still similar) with red cross-shaped make up. Who later paints a cross on top of a lamb and enjoys a bloody feast before sending her wolves in an attempt to kill the band.
Several chain mail messages on various forums claim that one will come after you if you don't continue to spread the message.
The Tenth Edition version of Bog Wraith in Magic The Gathering. Appropriately enough, the flavor text refers to a location in Kamigawa, the Japan-inspired part of Magic's multiverse.
One of the sample geists in Geist The Sin Eaters (in the Forgotten splat write-up) manifests like this.
First and foremost is the original onryo herself, Oiwa. And yes, it is just as bad as you can imagine it.
Early in Shadow Hearts, the party is briefly trapped in a village haunted by an onryo named Li Li.
F.E.A.R.'s Alma Wade is the ghost of a psychic left to die in the psychic blocking chamber after she was drugged into a coma and forced to give birth to children to be used in a clone army project. So understandably she is PISSED. She wipes out an ENTIRE Delta team squad in three seconds by turning them into bloody skeletons. So the player is kinda over his head there.
Oddly enough, the young Alma is somewhat benevolent towards the protagonist despite her penchant for scaring the bejeezus out of him. She's often turned rooms filled with enemy Mooks into thin red gruel before the player character has a chance to. Alma's "current" self, however, is less interested in his survival. Helps that you're her son
Sadly those games have been declared Canon Discontinuity, so don't expect any mercy from young Alma in future installments.
Alma does retain her merciful tendencies in F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin; at one point, she saves Becket's life by killing an Abomination controlling a group of Replica soldiers. It isn't made clear why she does this until the very end, though. She "covets" Becket due to his modifications in Project Harbinger, and uses him to impregnate herself.
Also unlike most here she does get revenge on her killer (in fact the whole first game seems to be just her trying to get payback)
House of the Dead: Overkill features a boss named Screamer, which appears to be an homage to Alma, as it shares both Alma's appearance and mimics some of her appearances such as appearing briefly in windows or sitting in the corner of the elevator.
One of the ghosts in Fatal Frame 3 Kyoka Kuze, is a classic onryo. She even occasionally throws her excess hair at you to attack.
Kirie from the original game did it first.
S-Ko, the leader of the ghosts possessing Zappa in Guilty Gear, is an onryo, as well as an obvious Shout-Out to Sadako.
A popular Fan Theory is that she's the ghost of one of the other characters' girlfriend, more exactly, Axl's Japanese girlfriend Megumi.Word of God says she is... NOT.
Faith in the video game Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is probably based on onryo. Though, to her defense, she never hurts anyone intentionally or knowingly, just wanting to live on.
In Katamari Damacy, ghost girls are one of the many things you can roll up in the game. When you roll one up, she moans "Yuurei desu" (which simply means "I'm a ghost" in Japanese) in a creepy voice.
In Silent Hill 4, the second trip to the Subway World features an onryo (specifically, the ghost of Cynthia Velasquez) that stalks the player throughout the level and can't be killed, only immobilized with one of a very limited number of items.
The Witch from Left 4 Dead appear at various points in the level curled up and crying (with a distinctive, creepy sound and Glowing Red Eyes) and resemble this trope with a pair of claws to boot. If a player startles one, (by shining their flashlight on her, getting too close or attacking her) she goes into a frenzy and knocks them into negative health. To make matters worse they're the fastest non-mook zombie and they have extremely high health (players are supposed to avoid them, indeed there's an achievement for avoiding provoking any of the witches you encounter in a campaign). The game intentionally spawns them in such ways that it is usually impossible to get around one without running over her and hoping you pass quick enough. There are also multiple achievements for ways to kill her, including fire, which slows her down to a survivor's running speed, and a single shotgun shell hitting her head, which will kill her even on Expert. For the record, though, they have white hair.
Champions Online has Demoiselle Nocturne. After being murdered by her husband, she returned through his nightmares, turned his body inside-out... and then decided to stay in the mortal realm and become a supervillainess.
She also began a romance with the evil sorcerer Luther Black, which is disturbing on many levels.
M.U.G.E.N has two amongst its huge, ever-growing cast of characters-Ella and Noroko. Ella is based on a ton of horror movies and is more comical than horrific-Noroko is a more traditional ghost girl, with the ability to crawl on the ceiling, spew blood from her wrists, and a complete lack of a face.
She has a mouth though. A mouth made for screeching.
The mouth only appears sometimes, though. To scream loudly at you, when she's on idle mode, and during one of her fatalities. She also appears to have a mirrored body; instead of legs, she seems to have another torso, with a head and two arms, seeing as some of her attacks show a pair of hands and a head appearing from below her dress.
Noroko's story is also that of a traditional onryo; in the game The Black Heart, we learn that, in life, she was sacrificed (and possibly raped) by a man, that bathed a doll in her blood, for an unknown purpose (although it seems he was the leader of a cult). Her spirit was locked inside the doll, and it only awoke years later, when the heart of the King of the Other World was stolen. She now searches the heart, hoping to use its power to find peace in death.
The subway level of Condemned: Criminal Origins-a game developed by the same people who made F.E.A.R.-has several female enemies that look like onryo, with black hair, pale skin, blank eyes, and tattered white dresses. They're not real ghosts-just victims of the Hate Plague affecting Metro City, and their appearance may simply be a result of living in the dark and filthy confines of the subway tunnels.
In Ōkami, the ghost ship features just a head that makes a pretty good effort at this trope by swooping right down into your face without warning. You can't even do anything about it, like you can with the other ghosts. It doesn't help that it has the Spider Queen's face, which has no features other than a big, toothy mouth.
Kuon. Several creepy female ghosts, most notably Utsuki's sister Kureha, who has long black hair, wears a red kimono and drags herself around killing anyone she comes across in a horrific fashion.
Oichi gains many traits similar to this in Sengoku Basara 3, after losing her mind. It's never made entirely clear whether she's dead or not, but she already looks the part, with white skin and long black hair. The way she totters around, swaying eerily, singing and moaning in that ghastly way and crushing victims with her demonic powers while giggling childishly is pure horror.
Hanako from Katawa Shoujo certainly evokes the image, what with her scarred face covered with long black hair, though it isn't commented upon in the game proper.
Yurei, the final opponent in the Doom 2 mod Ghoul's Forest 3.
The Nancy Drew game Shadow at the Water's Edge has such a ghost haunting the Ryokan Hiei. She tries to drown you.
Along with many other mythical creatures and monsters, Muramasa The Demon Blade also has onryo. One in particular tells you that she watches over her son in death, and is particularly busty to boot. Another is too frightened of a dark path to her husband's new home to haunt him after he remarried.
In the second DLC chapter for the PS Vita rerelease, Gonbe's wife Otae comes back as an onryo to aid her husband on his quest.
The antagonist of the Mobile Phone GameNowhere, Emily/Catherine, is a typical onryo with a grudge.
Sorta visually invoked in Super Dangan Ronpa 2. When Ibuki Mioda is murdered by hanging, her body is found still hanging from a noose... and she's wearing a whiterobe, and her long black hair is down.
Super Mario Fusion Revival has Onryos all over the place in World 4 (Di Yu, the Chinese hell). They behave like Boos, except slower.
When Pokémon X and Y brought back the Hex Maniac trainers from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, they were redesigned to be this. Unkempt, dark blue hair, Wingding Eyes, Slasher Smile, and a long purple dress. However, most of them subvert this by being living girls who simply use Ghost-types as a motif. Most, that is, except for the "Lumiose Ghost Girl", a character using the Hex Maniac model, who has no walking animation, appears out of nowhere, makes the screen flash black, and says things like:
Don't talk to me...if you do, I won't...hear the elevator...
Damned challenges four players to escape a monster controlled by a fifth player. One of those selectable monsters is Bloody Mary, a pale, stringy-haired ghost girl in a tattered white dress, who walks extremely slowly, teleports randomly around, and once in a while flies into a bloody frenzy, murdering anyone in the near vicinity.
This video series features a pretty classic example of this trope, complete with long black hair and a white dress, along with a Slendy-like tendency to disappear or teleport when the camera's not looking (thanks to well-done video effects).
Parodied in Scary Girl on Funny Or Die, in which Chloe Moretz plays an actress who plays such characters.