Samara returns in Rings, hitting theaters on February 3rd.
Some horror movies are directly based on true stories, while countless others are inspired by reality but bend the truth to make those stories into something new. The character of Leatherface, for example, was of course inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who indeed did wear the skin of his victims – but he never actually picked up a chainsaw and massacred a group of youths.
The Ring‘s Sadako/Samara? Believe it or not, she too has a basis in reality.
The story of Sadako/Samara, first introduced in the Kôji Suzuki-penned novel that became 1998’s Ringu and then 2002’s The Ring, involves three key ingredients: a girl, a well, and a cursed videotape. To make a long story short, Sadako/Samara was a young girl with supernatural gifts who was thrown down a well, and she returns to our physical reality through the cursed tape – when someone watches it, her ghost crawls out of her watery grave and takes her vengeance out on that person, seven days later. The story slightly changes from film-to-film, but that’s the gist.
So just how real is Sadako/Samara? We travel to Himeji Castle to find out.
Located in Western Japan, Himeji Castle stands high atop a mountain, and it was built somewhere between 1333 and 1346 as a home for the lord of Himeji. The castle, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan, is said to be incredibly lucky, almost supernaturally so, but it has a pretty creepy story attached to it. The story of Okiku, who died in a well outside the castle.
Okiku, who worked in a dungeon beneath the castle, was the servant to a samurai named Tessan Aoyama, and Aoyama took a particular liking to her. In fact, he fell madly in love with her, telling her that he was going to leave his wife and be with her. But Okiku wasn’t on board with this plan, which led to her apparent murder at the hands of the brutal samurai.
One of Okiku’s primary duties was to look after ten highly valuable golden plates that were owned by Aoyama, and one day, the samurai decided to hide one of them. He told Okiku that if she didn’t agree to be with him, he would blame her for stealing the plate, which would lead to her torture and execution. In one version of the story, Okiku ended her own life by throwing herself down the castle’s well, believing herself to be in a no-win situation with no other way out. In the other version, Aoyama threw her down the well after she refused to be with him.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there.
In the wake of Okiku’s death, she was said to crawl out of the well and appear to Aoyama on a nightly basis. Aoyama was apparently driven insane by the vengeful ghost’s incessant screams in the night; she was regularly heard counting the plates in the dungeon… throwing a violent fit whenever she realized, as she always did, that the tenth plate was still missing.
Drawings of Okiku depict her as looking very similar to Sadako/Samara, with flowing black hair and a long white dress. This is the general depiction of a person who has died under unnatural circumstances in Japan: these ghosts are referred to as Yūrei, translating to either “faint soul” or “dim spirit.” These tragic women are buried in white dresses, with their hair let down.
The well, locally known as “Okiku’s Well,” can still be found outside Himeji Castle, but it now has wrought iron bars covering it. An effort to keep Okiku locked inside, perhaps?