Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Countdown to Hallowe'en: The Ghosts of Unit 731

Unit 731 victim. Image Source: Wiki.

In the past century, crimes against humanity were committed in a spirit of secular confidence. Decency - or backwardness - had once prevented certain aspects of human existence from being quantified. But in the 20th century, a perfect blend of brutality and scientific advancement swept away both decency and backwardness. During times of conflict and oppression, older prohibitions fell by the wayside. Wherever researchers and doctors worked beyond the pale, beyond scrutiny and controls, human beings were probed and experimented upon using scientific and industrial methods. War removed barriers to the quest for knowledge. This was a phenomenon of the time, a mentality which combined limitless savagery with a bizarrely searching rationality. It became a blind worship at the altar of knowledge, which had to be gathered at any cost to win victory. Indeed, one of the purposes of war in advanced societies is that conflict removes barriers to research, permitting explorations of the unthinkable. The Nazi concentration camps are the most famous examples of this phenomenon, but human experimentation occurred in other places.

Less well known but no less horrifying than the Nazi concentration camps was Unit 731, a covert Japanese research and development centre which operated during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. It was located in the Pingfang district of Harbin, in the state of Manchukuo, that is, Japanese-occupied China. Officially known as the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army (関東軍防疫給水部本部 Kantōgun Bōeki Kyūsuibu Honbu), Unit 731 was the site of some of the worse war crimes in history. It was constructed between 1934 and 1939; by the fateful year 1941, it was known simply as Unit 731. The victims were mainly Chinese, with some southeast Asians, Russians and Pacific Islanders; they included infants and the elderly. Women were impregnated by rape and then became subjects of experiments along with their foetuses. Some 200,000 people died at the unit.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Counting Down to Hallowe'en: Thailand's Waterway Ghost

Movie poster for Mae Nak (2012). Image Source: myegy.

For today, see the tragic romantic Thai 'New Wave' ghost film, Nang Nak (นางนาก, meaning 'Miss Nak'; 1999). Set in the rural canals west of Bangkok in the early 1830s, it depicts a soldier who returns home to his family after fighting in the Siamese-Vietnamese War. His wife and child seem fine to him; but it turns out they've died in the meantime. The film is poignant and unsettling, and is the type of story which uses ghosts as purgatorial metaphors for familial grief. It is very similar in tone to a western film from the same period, The Others (2001).

Nang Nak drew from the legend Mae Nak Phra Khanong (Thai: แม่นากพระโขนง, meaning 'Lady Nak of Phra Khanong'). Local folklore claims that this famous ghost was based on a true story that occurred in the 1850s or 1860s during the reign of King Mongkut, King of Siam. The legend says that a sweet, loving (and deceased) wife, Nak, became vengeful after being separated from her living husband. She had to be exorcised twice from the houses and canals of the Phra Khanong district.

In the second of these rituals, she was captured by the great monk Somdet Phra Phutthachan (To Phrommarangsi) and imprisoned inside her forehead bone, which he wore in his belt. The belt is said to be now in the possession of the Chakri royal family. There is a shrine dedicated to Mae Nak in Bangkok (Wiki provides you with directions). The ghost and her story are very popular in Thailand and Mae Nak has been the subject of many films and an opera. Another recent film was Ghost of Mae Nak (2005); you can watch yet another version from 2012 here, but the English subtitles are wrong.

Outer perimeter of the shrine to Mae Nak in Bangkok. Image Source: Wiki.

According to an unsourced section of Wiki, a historian traced the real story to an 1899 newspaper article:
Anek Nawikamul, a Thai historian, researched the story and found a newspaper article from Siam Praphet newspaper written by K.S.R. Kularb, dated March 10, 1899. It claimed the story of Mae Nak was based on the life of Amdaeng Nak (อำแดงนาก, "Miss Nak"), daughter of a Tambon Phra Khanong leader named Khun Si. Nak died when she was pregnant. Her older children, worried that their father would remarry and their inheritance would be shared with a step-mother, invented the ghost story and threw rocks at passing boats to make people believe Nak's ghost had done it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Counting Down to Hallowe'en: Dark Seed's Other Dimension

The librarian from Dark Seed (1992). Image Source: Red and White Kop.

One of the most famous early horror video games, Dark Seed, was released by Cyberdreams in 1992. It is noted for its haunting artwork by the late Swiss artist, H. R. Giger, and its ground-breaking high resolution graphics. Unusually for its format, the game heightened stress by forcing the player to complete tasks within a limited time. Otherwise, the player had to start again. This is because an alien-like 'dark seed' has been implanted in the protagonist, who must solve several interrelated real world and other dimensional puzzles before the embryo is born and kills him and all of humankind. The protagonist can only last three days in his newly-purchased, otherworldly house!

Giger's contribution lays out an ever-worsening excursion into an unforgivingly crazy and monochromatic subconscious. It's so frankly and unflinchingly portrayed that at times you can't help but laugh at how dreadful it all is. The plot opens as a man moves into a dilapidated mansion, where his nightmares and daily routine begin to converge:
Mike Dawson is a successful advertising executive and writer who has recently purchased an old mansion on Ventura Drive (named after Ventura Boulevard) in the small town of Woodland Hills. On his first night at the house, Mike has a nightmare about being imprisoned by a machine that shoots an alien embryo into his brain. He wakes up with a severe headache and, after taking some aspirins and a shower, explores the mansion. He finds clues about the previous owner's death, which reveal the existence of a parallel universe called the Dark World ruled by sinister aliens called the Ancients.
Because today's games are so advanced, it is easy to overlook this early horror gem. Watch the extended gameplay below the jump. Have the patience to follow it through, and it delivers an abiding, nasty creepiness, frayed nerves, and a nagging, subliminal uncertainty about reality. Wiki: "In 2006 Gametrailers.com named [Dark Seed] the seventh scariest game of all time, ranking it above Clock Tower, System Shock 2, and Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem."

Game conception drew from H. P. Lovecraft and from Giger's designs for the 1979 film, Alien. Watch for the reference to 'Joe Tuttle,' the gardener, who appears as well in the The Changeling (1980; see it here or here) and The Others (2001). A sequel, Dark Seed II (1995; gameplay here), was influenced by David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990-1991), and also featured horror lurching between two worlds. H. R. Giger did not participate directly in making the sequel. For that reason, the first game remains the unsettling classic.

Still from Dark Seed (1992). Image Source: Red and White Kop.