Girl in the Machine
Monday, October 15, 2007
Live in Purity and then Die

In the Playstation 2's chilling 2001 release, Fatal Frame, an ancient custom called the Strangling Ritual ensures that the gate to hell beneath the Himuro Mansion remains shut. When the ritual goes wrong, however, the consequences bring hell itself to life. To ensure success, the Strangling Ritual requires what come as no surprise for such a religious and superstitious practice: the passive, virginal bodies of young women.

The central figure of the Strangling Ritual is the Rope Shrine Maiden. Chosen at age seven from a group of other young girls, the maiden is sequestered away from all human life for ten years. Even her attendants wear masks to hide their faces. When the day of the ritual comes, the maiden knows nothing but her own suffering, and, after purifying herself in the Moon Well, willingly submits to her own sacrifice. Her wrists, ankles, and neck are tied to wheels, and, as they are turned, her limbs and head are strangled from her body. The bloody ropes are used to bind the door to hell.

It isn't difficult to see the "virginity on a pedestal" themes in this ritual. First of all, the word "maiden" itself denotes an unmarried woman, implying virginity. Secondly, it is imperative for the success of the ritual that the maiden maintains her purity through her own isolation from anyone who could possibly corrupt her. The maiden is chosen as a child, and her imprisonment preserves this childlike purity by suppressing education, information, and relationships.

It's important to point out that the people overseeing this ritual are all men, particularly the Master of the Himuro family. The young girls do not choose to compete to be the next maiden; the maiden has no say in whether or not she wants to fulfill her duty. While the ritual requires the maiden's willingness and dedication to her duty, neither of these are necessarily genuine. They are coerced, brainwashed into a young woman who has spent more than half of her life in captivity, isolation, and suffering, making her a passive pawn rather than an active player. To underscore this passivity, it is not even the maiden's body -- secluded and abused -- that closes the gates of hell, but the grisly ropes that tore it apart.

The most notable shrine maiden, Kirie, is the one that defied this ritual long before the main plot of Fatal Frame takes place. When Kirie's ten years of confinement end and she is briefly freed, she meets a beautiful visitor to the Himuro Mansion and the two meet frequently in the garden to talk. When the Master discovers that she has formed this attachment to the living world, he becomes so furious that he has the unnamed visitor put to death. When Kirie is sacrificed, her heart is full of regret, tainting the ritual and cursing the mansion.

Kirie's curiosity and love for the stranger figuratively deflower her, rendering her completely useless for the ritual. The current Master -- a male relative of hers in great power, possibly her father or grandfather -- is enraged at the idea that she finds favor in something other than her intended purpose. The unnamed lover, who deigned to show sympathy for a woman, particularly a woman whose body does not belong to her, dies for his transgression. It's a fantastic situation that, disturbingly, mirrors real life in more than one way.

An important trait of Kirie's character comes into play during Fatal Frame's multiple endings. Both Normal and Nightmare Mode endings involve Kirie's ghost assenting to her "duty" and tying herself to the ropes on the Hell Gate, closing it and freeing the souls trapped in the mansion. Ultimately, it is best for her to shun herself to protect the greater good, and while this can be seen as a noble example of self-sacrifice, it also coincides with the inevitability of female submission to male will.

However, the Xbox release of Fatal Frame has its own special ending. In it, Kirie's ghost is joined by that of her lover's, and, instead of Kirie tying herself to the gate, the two join together to seal the gate and free the lost souls. Admittedly, it's a cheesier, "they all lived happily ever after" sort of way out, but it also avoids the implication that it was Kirie's disobedience and not the cruelty of the Strangling Ritual itself that brought ruin to the Himuro family.

Fatal Frame is, in my opinion, one of the most terrifying experiences on the Playstation 2, beating its two sequels by a landslide when it comes to scares. Its estrogen-enriched cast is one of its many perks, and a storyline that details young women overcoming the cruelty brought upon them by old, superstitious tradition is a more than relevant parallel to the experiences of women today.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
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