Bakemono: modern-day ghost story on family relationships

Jorge Lucas, Sumire Takamatsu, “Bakemono” (2019)

Even in modern times, the demons and spirits of yore can still find a way to inveigle themselves into people’s lives and families to find prey and possess souls. It’s early February and families in Japan celebrate Setsubun, the day before spring begins, when people drive out evil spirits by throwing roasted soybeans out the front door. Little Ayumi (Claudia Fabella) is unimpressed by her parents (Dice Suzuki and Shio Muramatsu) observing the traditions and rituals of Setsubun and their explanation of why they do so. Mum is also trying to get Ayumi to finish her dinner, telling her that evil bakemono prey on kids who don’t eat up and who end go to bed hungry. Ayumi taunts both her parents by saying she’ll invite the bakemono into the house. After this and so many other battles with Ayumi over her stubbornness at the dinner table, the parents give up.

During the night Ayumi is visited by the bakemono who wants more food. The child feeds it but no matter how much the bakemono eats, the ghost wants more … and gets it.

In the morning the parents are stunned to find Ayumi already at the breakfast table … and moreover ready to eat whatever Mum gives her … and more!

The film’s success as a horror short comes in its very straightforward, minimalist style, driven by the three main characters and their dialogue, and the unspoken conflicts among them. Dad comes across as not the most capable parent with Mum having to shoulder most of the burden of disciplining Ayumi. Ayumi comes across as quite a spoilt child, used to getting her own way. Ironically it is her selflessness towards the ghost that becomes her undoing. The special effects used in the film appear close to the film’s end at its climax and its devastating denouement when the parents finally take in what has happened to Ayumi. Significantly it is the mother who saves both herself and her husband from the bakemono – but she is too late to save Ayumi.

While at one level the film can be seen as a modern fairy tale, on another it can be viewed as a parable about dysfunctional family relationships and how so many of these are often exposed at times when families are eating together. What should be an intimate enjoyable time of the day too often becomes a battleground for parents and children.