Compared to other major occidental holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, Halloween has been notably slow to pick up momentum in Japan. The reason for this is mainly that Japan already has a spooky season: the summer, culminating in their festival of the dead, Obon, in mid-August (or mid-July, depending on where you are in Japan). There’s a particular resonance of spookiness on years like this, though, when Obon lines up with a Friday the 13th. Though the day-before-Satuday-the-14th’s superstitious unluckiness is much more a tradition in English, German, and French-speaking countries than it is in Japan, there is one horror-related aspect that they’ve wholeheartedly embraced about the day: Friday the 13th. The movies. Y’know, with that Jason fella.
The films of the Friday the 13th franchise, remarkably, all got released theatrically in Japan almost concurrently with their American counterparts, fueled by the ravenous appetite for horror and the video boom during the bubble economy. In fact, fandom was so strong there for a while that international collectors seeking the definitive editions of the movies would import from Japan; for example, Japan had the only 3D-formated home video version of Friday the 13th Part 3 (which, incidentally, was produced under the fake title “Crystal Japan”) for some time. Oh, and as some related trivia: that movie’s director, Steve Miner, was at one point going to direct the American-made Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 3D immediately following. There’s even a Godzilla nod in Part III, with a shot of one of Ed Godziszewski’s old articles.
Now that we have our obligatory Godzilla mention out of the way, let’s discuss one of the other most iconic monsters of cinema: Jason Voorhees. The hockey-mask-clad maniac is such a tentpole that people around the world know his image without having to see a single movie, and Japan is no exception. He might not have any real cinematic connection with the country (well, aside from strangling one Japanese-American character in Jason Takes Manhattan), but he resonated nevertheless, much more than, say, the couple of Japan-centric episodes of the Jason-less Friday the 13th: The Series. I mean, how often can you find a common element across titles as varied as Fruits Basket, Dorohedoro, Himouto Umaru-chan, and Sword Art Online?
So, to that, let’s kick off Obon festivities and celebrate the 13th with a look at some of the more memorable appearances and homages to the great Crystal Lake slasher in Japanese media.
Part 1: Crystal Lake at Yamanaka
In 2009, Yamanaka, the largest of the five Fuji lakes, officially renamed to “Crystal Lake” for thirteen days to promote the latest movie. During the same period, the Snoop steakhouse on the shore was rebranded as a F13-themed “Jason Diner” where the manager prepared Jason burgers while wearing a hockey mask.
Part 2: Magical Girl Spec-ops Asuka‘s Voorhees-class Disas
Makoto Fukami and Seigo Tokiya’s gritty, ultra-violent take on magical girl tropes weaponized for military purposes breaks its enemy monsters down into a number of classes inspired by horror cinema, and one of the first introduced is the lumbering brawlers in the Voorhees class. They’re not as magically powerful as some of the higher-ranking enemies, but still prove quite a lot to take on with conventional weapons.
Part 3: Irresponsible Captain Tylor’s Jason
Perhaps foreshadowing the events of Jason X, the crew of the space battleship Soyokaze in the classic scifi comedy The Irresponsible Captain Tylor includes one space marine known only as Jason. Like all the space marines, he’s prone to unnecessary fits of violence, wielding a chainsaw in situations when it’s rather uncalled for, and there’s a recurring gag about how he doesn’t work on Fridays.
Part 4: Tokyo Ghoul’s Yamori
A cruel gangster who runs Shibuya (the 13th ward of Tokyo), Yamori is known by the alias “Jason” for his imposing mask and sadistic demeanor. Keep in mind, this is in a franchise where the majority of the cast are monsters that eat people.
Part 5: Akazukin Chacha episode 67 “Dread! Friday the 12th”
Akazukin Chacha (or Lil’ Red Riding Hood Cha-cha, if you go by the official English name for it) is a cute show about a girl going to school to learn magic, but mostly getting into miscellaneous misadventures. The 67th episode sees the class go on a camping field trip, where they naturally hear spooky stories about Jason. They then run into a masked man with an axe in the wilderness who terrorizes them completely inadvertently, since he’s just a kindly lumberjack.
Part 6: Soul Eater‘s Sonson J. and Horror Dragon
Soul Eater shows off its horror geek cred by having a minor villain by the name of Sonson J, who, unlike the stereotypical hockey-masked Jason expy, wears a bag on his head like Jason had in his debut in Friday the 13th Part 2. We don’t spend a lot of time with Sonson, but he’s mentioned as the “Bloodthirsty Killer of Emerald Lake”, and one of the people evil enough to get targeted by the death god protagonists of the series. It’s an honor, since most of the characters like that are loosely based on real people (e.g. Jack the Ripper, Rasputin), and the only other movie-inspired one is the amalgam “Frey D Sadko”, of which you can probably parse out the original namesakes.
While it didn’t make it into the anime, the Soul Eater manga also has a “horror dragon” that looks kind of like if Cerberus if it was cosplaying the Freddy/Leatherface/Jason trinity.
Part 7: Kindaichi Case Files “The Legend of Lake Hiren”
The seventh volume of the Kindaichi Case Files manga (and the fifth episode of the anime), like every other story in that franchise, is a murder mystery, this time with young detective Kindaichi looking into a nasty series of slayings at a lakeside by an axe-wielding criminal explicitly described as wearing a Jason mask. The distinct triangle marking on Jason’s mask is gone in the anime version, but there in the manga. This is a popular story with Kindaichi fans, so sometimes you’ll see Japanese “Jason” cosplayers who are actually just doing Kindaichi Case Files cosplay.
Part 8: Slasher Maidens
Tetsuya Tashiro’s Slasher Maidens is set in a world populated by dangerous kaijin, so the best way to combat them is by equipping magical girls with powerful relics belonging to famous historical (and referenced in roundabout ways for copyright reasons) kaijin. In our main heroine trio, there’s one girl with a chainsaw and one with a fedora and bladed glove, but the leader inherits her mask and large machete from a certain vaguely-familiar slasher of old. Of course, sometimes these relics will take over and drive the girls to go berserk, which is when they have to be snapped back to their senses by a character who’s basically a less comedic version of Ataru Moroboshi. (In fairness, I don’t think we’ve ever seen Freddy Krueger kill anyone who was trying to blow in his ear at the time.)
Part 9: Bite Me If You Love Me
Naoyuki Tomomatsu has made one of my favorite zombie movies (Stacy) and some that make my brain hurt (Lust of the Dead), but his 2011 romantic comedy Bite Me If You Love Me definitely falls into the “great” camp. It follows a rabid horror fangirl who turns her boyfriend into a zombie because that’s her fetish, only for a weird love triangle to emerge when she also falls for her burly, mute, and mask-clad American classmate, Jason Yamada. There’s lots of laughs to be had as she playfully frolics around with Jason, surrounded by glittery romantic shoujo sparkle effects, and yes, there’s even an explicit sex scene between the two that goes on for nearly three minutes. True to the character, he immediately attacks her with a hatchet for her sexual conduct.
Part 10: Jason x Sadako shipping fan art
As major horror icons, both Jason and Sadako Yamamura from The Ring featured prominently in Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights events of the mid 2010s (along with the likes of Ju-On’s ghosts, Chucky, and Resident Evil zombies). Well, apparently, this was enough to trigger the “they certainly are next to each other, they’re probably a couple” logic of shipping fans, and a whole meme of Jason and Sadako being a couple exploded across fandom. The amount of fan art on this is truly astounding, including permutations where Chucky is one of their kids.
Of course, if if a cute romance with the petite Sadako isn’t really your thing, there are alternatives, as I’ve also seen a hardcore yaoi doujinshi or two where Jason gets down with the equally burly Leatherface. If nothing else, the horror community is a diverse one.
Part 11: Jason’s Blood Diner
Speaking of Halloween Horror Nights, Jason had haunted mazes at the event for three years in a row, with the 2012 and 2013 events being called “Jason’s Blood Diner” (some American sites list it as “Jason’s Bloody Diner”, but photos of the event contradict that), a more unique moniker than 2014’s stock “Friday the 13th”.
Exactly what Jason has to do with dining is not exactly clear, but at the same event, you *could* get Bloody Jason sandwiches, which were chicken and onion, with an impaled quail egg for his eye.
Part 12: Kotobukiya’s Bishoujo Jason
Japanese figure collectors have no shortage of options when it comes to their Jason Voorhees merchandise. They could go for an articulated Revoltech with lots of accessories, or a Deforeal if they wanted something cuter. Or a Pitanui plush if they wanted something *much* cuter. These are all nice, but not unlike similar merchandise available in the US.
So, that begs the question, is there a Jason figure so out there that only Japan would even attempt it? Well, Kotobukiya has you covered. In 2013 they launched their Bishoujo Statue line, based on Shunya Yamashita’s illustrations of beautiful girls based on comic, movie, and game characters. A good deal of the line is conventional, but an early announcement was for Freddy vs Jason. The outlandishness of the concept was so popular that sexy lady versions of Edward Scissorhands, Chucky, Ash, Pennywise, Beetlejuice, Michael Myers, Leatherface, and Pinhead (as well as an original Ghostbuster) swiftly followed. Interestingly, the concept art shows the design in a different pose as well, but the one produced is probably the better for display.
Part 13: Splatterhouse
In the name of saving the best for last, let’s talk about Splatterhouse!
One of the most iconic of all horror video game franchises, Splatterhouse wears its influences on its cut-off sleeves, with copious overt references to everything from ReAnimator to Aliens to Evil Dead to freaking Deadly Spawn and Rejuvenatrix… it’s a best-of-the-best of 80s horror. Most blatant, however, is the “ancient Mayan mask” that gives protagonist Rick the ability to go on his beat-’em-up quest through a haunted house full of nasty critters…arguably too much so, since the mask had to be altered to be red for the US release out of fear of angering the Friday the 13th rights holders (who had their own game the same time. Uh, I guess we should talk about that also). Sequels slowly made Rick’s mask more skull-like to get away from that, but ironically Jason himself wound up moving to look more like Rick when Jason X rolled around.
Nevertheless, for most, the iconic version of Splatterhouse is the original Japanese arcade game, as can be seen by cameos in other franchises from Tekken to Tales of Eternia to Point Blank, and merchandise, such as the dope figure line from Unbox. But really, the whole original trilogy is worth a shot, with fun gameplay and lots of monster gore (the original was one of the first games to get a content warning for violence on the box, and the third was brought up in the US senate’s video game panic of the 90s). Plus, they should be of interest as an evolutionary stepping stone between the horror gaming titans of Castlevania and Resident Evil. In short, Splatterhouse’s a blast.
Bonus: Friday the 13th (NES game)
Having closed things out on the high note that is Splatterhouse, it would be remiss not to cover the actual Japanese Friday the 13th game from a year later, though it’s admittedly nowhere near as good. I mean, I feel like it’s not even fair to compare an arcade game to a home console one from that time:
Nevertheless, the Friday the 13th for NES does have its share of fans, and, while panned critically and at release, it seems to be more popular than ever three decades later. The game is actually the third title ever developed by eventual industry juggernaut Atlus (Trauma Center, Shin Megami Tensei, Persona), after their original Megami Tensei and a Karate Kid tie-in game. Nostalgia aside, the game is notable for a lot of walking (and throwing rocks at zombies and wolves), a fighting engine reminiscent of Punch Out, and of course, a purple-and-teal Jason. The exact reasoning behind this unusual coloration isn’t exactly clear, but some have speculated that they modeled it after one of the Part 3 posters that was available in Japan via theater programs.
Those tacky colors may have resonated with modern collectors (or maybe just with manufacturers looking for an easy excuse to do a repaint), because tons of figures of this variant have popped up in recent years…even without any actual movies! The 2017 Friday the 13th: The Game used that as an alternate skin, as well, so it’s getting up there as one of the most iconic looks for the character.
On that note, hopefully this gives you some good Japanese-styled Jason fodder to celebrate this Friday the 13th and spooky summer season. Just stay away from Camp Blood, or you’ll be all doomed!