Rigor mortis has set in. They are unable to walk. But with their arms outstretched, they hop as they search the night for prey to bite. That's how they absorb the essence of their victims. They're called "jiangshi" and are China's vampire zombies.
But these walking dead are not only a Chinese thing. They're now once again popular in Japan.
Jiangshi are part of Chinese folklore, with their own history and traditions. But during the 1980s, they captured the imagination of moviegoers in big part because of the Sammo Hung flick Encounters of the Spooky Kind and the Mr. Vampire movies. In Japan, the Mr. Vampire movies were especially popular with children.
Thanks to these films, jiangshi ("kyonshi" in Japanese) took their place, along with Japan's own ghosts and monsters, in the popular imagination of grade schoolers. The popularity of jiangshi in Japan during the 1980s might be why those hopping vampire zombies popped up in Super Mario Land as well as Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (among other Japanese games).
This year, the popularity of jiangshi has once again exploded in Japan. Children's show Piramekino began featuring the hopping undead in various skits, introducing the vampire zombies to an entirely new generation. Parents who grew up watching Mr. Vampire are now explaining what jiangshi are to their kids and how to ward the zombie vampires in Qing Dynasty robe.
(In the films, ways to stop them included sticky rice or with yellow paper with written spells that are tacked on the jiangshi's forehead, turning rendering them harmless. Thus, jiangshi in Japanese popular culture seem based less on a direct interpretation of Chinese folklore and based more on the Mr. Vampire movies.)
However, there doesn't seem to be any yellow paper spell strong enough to stop the popularity of jiangshi in Japan, either. As website An Eternal Thought in the Mind of Godzilla points out, Japanese idol group 9Nine is soon starring in a new jiangshi television show called Haohao! Kyonshi Girl and even put a retro game infused music video for the show.
It might seem odd that an idol group is trying to capitalize on the revived jiangshi craze in Japan—less odd with you think how popular young idols are in Japan. It's more than that, though. When Mr. Vampire was first shown in Japan during the 1980s, the little girl character Ting-ting (played by the brilliant Moon Lee) was extremely popular with Japanese children. She was tough and cute, and perhaps the producers of Kyoshi Girl are hoping to recapture some of that.
Okay, so it's easy to look at this show as just a light, horror comedy program aimed at elementary schoolers. But maybe it's much more. With the dynamic between Japan and China seeming increasingly strained, maybe these hoping vampire zombies can do the necessary diplomacy to ease tensions in the rigor mortis in relations. If not vampire zombies, perhaps those jiangshi idol girls can...