Ramo Nakajima: Zombie (from his book “Shiritori Essays”)

A Haitian zombie at twilight in a field of sugar cane.Image from WikipediaThe following is an original translation of the late counterculture essayist/novelist, Ramo Nakajima and comes from his book “Shiritori Essays.” “Shiritori” is a Japanese word-game where one after saying a word begins the next word with the last letter of the preceding word. For example, if I say “tree,” you may say “eat” and I may say “telephone,” etc. In this way has Nakajima structured this little book of cultural oddities and observations. I chose this particular essay, “Zombie,” based on the content (I happen to like zombies and zombie films) and brevity of the piece. Moreover, I like how Nakajima ties in a bit of Japanese culture with the topic. It makes me want to eat a certain kind of raw fish. OK, here it is…

Ramo Nakajima’s “shiritori essay,” “ZOMBIE”:

In the world of zombie movies, except for the wizardry of director George Romero, we find that most zombie movies are not that interesting. Or, in examining the archetypal zombie film series made by director Lucio Fulci, we see hordes of zombies who only recklessly devour human intestines ((munchy munchy)) and there is a definite lack of artistic merit in this. In the early days of “hammer horror films,” there were “bloodsucking zombies” and in one film, a mean coal-mining boss created zombies and forced them to work in his mine with no pay. This movie is so painfully bad that it almost brings one to tears.

The unique work among zombie films is “The Legend of Zombies (JP Title)”, which is available on VHS. It is a documentary based on “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” by the scholar Wade Davis who meets actual zombies when studying the reality of voodoo in Jamaica. Actually, the people he meets are normal people, but they are the ones who have been brought back to life by voodoo magic after they were found to be dead. Davis comes into contact with “zombie powder” as he investigated those who were resurrected. So, it is the special medication that brings the dead back to life, which is made by voodoo magicians. Davis secretly obtains some zombie powder and he scientifically analyzes the ingredients. As a result he finds out that the content that brings the dead back to life is the same as the poison found in the “fugu” fish, tetrodotoxin. The reality of the zombie phenomenon is that the person who dies by ingesting the poison of fugu, only temporarily dies and returns back to life several days later. This is a rather interesting theory.

Actually, I’ve heard of a story where an old man poisoned by the fugu’s tetrodotoxin was almost buried alive. The old man was thought to be confirmed dead, however, he came back to life while in the coffin. That is, he regained consciousness while confined in the pure darkness of the coffin. And, as regaining consciousness he was reportedly surrounded by the sound of a mantra. He thought that he had died. It often happens that the status of temporary death is considered to be real death and especially in old times it was not only the case of getting poisoned by fugu that one was mistakenly pronounced dead.

Consequently, it could make sense that the legend of zombies is actual. However, concerning “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” there is still opposition by other scholars who say that fugu fish caught in and around Jamaica do not contain tetradotoxin. Moreover, Professor Yasumoto from Tohoku University reanalyzed the actual zombie powder and tetradotoxin was not found in it. Here we have just returned to our starting point. By the way, apart from voodoo there are other episodes that are equivalent to “zombies”. In areas where Hinduism is practiced it is called “Vetara.”In China it is literally translated, “Kishiki ((Wake up – Dead Body – Devil)).”

To bring the dead back to life, one draws a mandala with powder made from human bone and puts pots filled with human blood in all four directions. As lightning strikes, burn human fat. After this, you have to do more creepy stuff, but I’m not going to write about them because I’m afraid that there are readers like a “Mr. M” who actually attempted such a weird ceremony to bring his dead grandfather back to life.

Translation and Adaptation by LK/JG (March 29th, 2008)

“Zombie” is from the book entitled “Shiritori Essays”