Higanjima is a multiple pun in Japanese. It literally means Equinox Island, or the Yonder Isle, perhaps even The Island on the Other Side. However, as noted by the characters when they first arrive on the notorious “vampire island”, it is also a reference to higanbana (Lycoris radiata), the red-flowered spider lilies whose poisonous bulbs are sometimes strewn at the edges of Japanese farmhouses to kill mice. Flowering around the time of the autumn equinox, spider lilies have become associated in Buddhist tradition with the onset of winter, and hence the threshold between life and death. They should never be presented to a living person.
In Japan, spider lilies are usually associated with graveyards. In Chinese and Japanese legend, they are said to be the flowers that grow in hell, and also the flowers that mark the path towards reincarnation. For this latter reason, they are sometimes presented as bouquets to the deceased at Japanese funerals. Another superstition suggests that if two associates will never meet again, spider lilies will be found in their path as they part. Hence the ominous tension that surrounds the characters as they come ashore at the island, to find that every path, in every direction, bears the flowering symbol of eternal separation and death.
Koji Yamamoto’s original 2003 manga Higanjima was soon snapped up as a game adaptation, turned into a text-based interactive adventure by Now Productions, released in Japan on the PSP in 2005. The action of the 15-rated game would be reflected in the later movie, with the player guiding Akira on his search for his missing brother. The manga story, however, extends far beyond the events in the movie, introducing numerous new forms of enemy, and setting up Higanjima as the perfect survivalist playground – an island that is literally off the map, infested with evil, and inviting return visits by adventurous heroes. Running at thirty volumes and still ongoing, it is also very popular in France, where many volumes have been translated as L’Ile des Vampires.
Higanjima the manga, and its game spin-off are grab-bags of horror ideas. It eagerly mixes the locked-room combat of Battle Royale with the viral horror of Resident Evil, with just a dash of the old-time religion of The Wicker Man, and presents that most tantalising of locations for the role-playing gamer – a private island of adventure, close to home and yet inhabiting a world of myth and magic. Continue reading