Recap #255: The Castle by Yoko Matsumoto
Title: The Castle, or The Mansion of Time
Creator: Yoko Matsumoto
Summary: A young girl has recurring nightmares about a castle and a woman who tries to kill her. She is sent to stay with relatives in the country for a change of scenery. En route she glimpses a mysterious but vaguely familiar castle surrounded by fog on the other side of the lake. What dark secrets does the castle possess and who was that woman in her nightmares?
I didn’t discuss this one with Wing ahead of time, but I haven’t done a manga recap in a while and this creator’s been a low-key interest for me for a couple of years.
Yoko Matsumoto’s a lesser known creator of horror manga to the point I do not believe any of her works have been officially distributed by English publishers. That’s sad, because she offers something different from the majority of Japanese horror creators I’ve come across. Matsumoto’s stories are rather deceptive for a horror writer. The art style is very shoujo and doesn’t utilize typically exaggerated horror imagery, things such as bulging eyes and grotesque body horror, like what can be found from creators Kanako Inuki, Junji Ito, or Kazuo Umezu.
From what I’ve read of Matsumoto, her stories rely on tragic/cruel irony, sometimes with no real explanation behind the cause of the horrific phenomena. Or maybe I haven’t read enough of her works to properly explain what she’s about.
This was the first tale I’d ever read by her, and it’s initially part of a collection called “Constellations That Sing Of Death.” However, several of the stories printed in her anthology collections have been put online as separate entries. The two translations online refer to this story by different titles.
I decided to do this spur-of-the-moment recap because in a couple of months I’ll be starting a Census job, and with that plus Yankee Stadium and my comic job I have no clue how much time I’ll have for writing. I’ve gotta do what I can while I have the time, space and energy.
We open on a rather grand mansion enshrouded in fog. It practically looks like a castle with its peaked towers. The inside appears opulently and tastefully decorated, yet its halls appear to be empty. “Appear” being the key word.
An ornate grandfather clock is about to strike 12. Somewhere, a young girl is hiding in fear. She’s being pursued by an older woman. The older woman has a knife in her hand. The clock strikes 12! The woman turns to the clock and the girl begins to run! The woman raises the knife above her head as the girl screams-!
Yukari Misaki’s parents manage to wake her from her nightmare, but not even waking up is a comfort for the poor girl. Her parents have gotten use to this by now. Every night, Yukari’s had the same nightmare of being pursued by the woman with the knife. Yukari’s mom and dad think maybe she could use a change of scenery, so they’ve gotten in touch with her aunt and uncle. Since it’s summer break, Yukari can spend a few days with her cousins out in the country. Unfortunately her parents can’t go with her because they have work, but hopefully Yukari will have fun.
Sometime later, Yukari’s being driven by her uncle down to their lakeside home. The scenery is very beautiful, although it’d look nicer once the fog clears. Gazing out the car window, Yukari sees a rather grand house across the lake. She asks her uncle about it, but he claims there’s no such building on the other side of the lake just as the fog gets thicker and the house vanishes. A mirage? Yukari doesn’t think she imagined it…
Yukari’s aunt is happy to see her, but her cousins Shirou and Sanae snub her almost immediately. They won’t even help with Yukari’s luggage, but Yukari says she can handle it herself. Yeah, seems Sanae’s already got it out for Yukari because she has to stay in Shirou’s room while Yukari’s visiting. The cousins give Yukari the third degree once they’re alone, asking if she really sees strange things and saying their parents think she’s mentally ill.
You could’ve noticed right off Sanae was gonna be an ass because she’s got a beauty mark under her eye, and any time a girl character has one of those in these stories she’s an automatic douchebag.
Yukari exclaims she doesn’t “See things,” she’s just had bad dreams. Sanae thinks this is funny and accuses Yukari of being a weirdo “Like him.” She means this kid named Kazuto Ogata from school. Sanae explains how this Kazuto person has weird nightmares too, and he draws them in a sketchbook he carries with him all the time. That brings Yukari to ask her cousins if either have seen a house like a castle across the lake. They don’t know what she’s talking about; Shirou’s taken a rowboat across the lake lots of times and he’s never seen a castle. Wow Yukari, you are a freak after all!
Yukari wonders if she did imagine the house since it was pretty foggy, after all. However, the following night she has a dream of someone or something beckoning her to the castle. Now she really wants to know what the fuck is going on.
Yukari goes out for a walk and almost immediately runs into a boy carrying a sketchbook with him. For a moment, the boy turns to Yukari and seems shocked. It’s like he recognizes her, but then his expression grows cold and turns away from her. Yukari doesn’t know what that’s about, but the boy’s heading for the lake too. Initially, he thinks Yukari’s following him until she explains they just happen to be heading in the same direction. I-it’s not like she likes you or anything!
Yukari says she wants to make sure of something but is afraid the boy’ll tease her. The boy solemnly swears he won’t laugh at her, so Yukari tells him about the castle. Shocked once again, the boy opens his sketchbook and shows her a drawing identical to the building across the lake. So it IS real!
Well, maybe not. The boy says it doesn’t actually exist, he’s just had a reoccurring nightmare about it. He doesn’t understand why, though. He’s apparently been going to the lake every day since summer break started, hoping to see the castle in real life. Yukari tells him she’s had repeating dreams as well, yet why could SHE see the castle if HE can’t?
Well now the Buzzkill Duo appears and Yukari’s cousins laugh at the “Weird Ones” sharing their weird dreams together. Shirou and Sanae think this is all so VERY droll and propose coming along to look for this supposed castle. Really, what better way to have fun during a dull afternoon? The boy who is obviously Kazuto silently heads to the lake with Yukari behind him and her douche cousins behind her. While Shirou and Sanae think this is amusing, Yukari’s silently terrified because she has no idea what might happen. Yet if she doesn’t find out, that might be worse to have it preying on her thoughts.
Upon reaching the lake, the kids see nothing on the other side so the amusement’s vanished for Yukari’s cousins. Just as they’re about to leave, a fog rolls in and the castle appears! All four of them see it!
Yukari and Kazuto are scared, but Yukari’s cousins are eager to explore. Shirou and Sanae get into their rowboat and make their way across the lake, even as Yukari pleads with them it could be dangerous. Kazuto can only think about how his dreams are coming true…
Shirou and Sanae aren’t seen again. By evening time, Yukari returned to her aunt and uncle’s house and told them what happened, but they didn’t believe her about the castle. They fear something could’ve happened to the cousins’ boat and call the police. For three days the forest across the lake is searched and the lake is dredged, but Yukari’s cousins have vanished alongside the castle.
Yukari begs Kazuto to help her convince the adults about the castle’s existence, but he doesn’t think anyone will believe them. He makes some ominous statement about the futility of defying fate and tells Yukari it’s best if she goes back home now. Not deterred, Yukari figures she’ll search for her cousins by herself and wishes the castle would reappear. Her aunt and uncle are devastated since the police have stopped looking, and Yukari regrets not stopping Sanae and Shirou when she had the chance. Oh sweetie those idiots would never listen to you.
The castle finally returns when the fog does, but Kazuto tries to stop Yukari from going over there. Kazuto shows Yukari the rest of his sketchbook, saying the dreams may be a warning. Yukari’s frightened by what she sees:
- A burning corpse
- Sanae and Shirou in the rowboat
- The woman attacking Yukari
- The woman’s corpse beneath the grandfather clock
- Kazuto plummeting to the ground
So that’s why Kazuto was really scared of the castle. He doesn’t know what to do; if fate can’t be changed, he’ll die in the castle no matter what happens. If it can be changed, does he have to go to the castle to prevent it from happening? Action, inaction, which is the right course?
Kazuto finally decides he’ll go with Yukari to the castle if that’s the way to change fate. Yukari attempts to comfort him, saying she’s trying to change her fate as well. It’s here the two formally share their names with one another.
The two row across the lake to the castle, looming over them in the fog. As they get closer, Yukari looks up and sees someone by one of the higher windows. The figure vanishes when Yukari gets Kazuto’s attention. Was it the woman from her dreams?
On the ground, Yukari picks up a familiar-looking hairpin. It was Sanae’s! Then they hear a man’s voice ordering them to halt. Yukari and Kazuto see an older man emerging from the woods. He says he’s waited forever for the two to come, drawing out a knife and exclaiming he’s going to kill Yukari and Kazuto!
Kazuto drops his sketchbook as he flees into the forest with Yukari, but the man doesn’t bother to chase them. He says running is useless. It looks like he was telling the truth, because somehow Yukari and Kazuto end up back at the front of the castle. The man’s still there, so the two are forced to run inside.
Waiting for them in the castle is a woman, but she’s not the same woman from Yukari’s dream. She says she’s been waiting for them, too, and exclaims it’s their fault she’s been trapped. But hey, at least Yukari found her hairpin even though she’s too old for it now.
The man and woman are Shirou and Sanae, having somehow aged into adulthood and now going full on Dollanganger.
Yukari doesn’t understand what her cousins are talking about. They mention something about a diary, about how the castle warps time and no one can escape from it. People grow older rather quickly, but they don’t get hungry or anything like that. There’s just the monotony of passing time.
Shirou’s thankful Yukari and Kazuto arrived while he and his sister are young enough to properly get revenge. Yeah listen you two V.C. Andrews rejects you’ve got no one but yourself to blame for this Yukari tried to tell you not to go but NOOOOOOOOOO.
Kazuto grabs Yukari and the two run, which only excites the creep cousins because that makes it more fun. Yukari tries to make sense of this, thinking she’s been dreaming of Sanae all this time while Kazuto argues they still need to try and change their fates. Kazuto wants to hide, but Yukari worries her cousins know this place better than th-OH SHIT SANAE’S BEHIND THEM!
Sanae flings Kazuo aside so she can focus on stabbing Yukari to death. Kazuto grabs an oil lamp off a nearby table and flings it at Sanae. The lamp shatters above her head, but the flaming bits fall onto her dress!
Yukari stumbles away from her burning cousin and falls down the staircase. Shirou is enraged upon seeing his dead sister and chases after Kazuto. Apparently spite burns quickly.
Yukari wakes up on the floor by the stairs, just in time to see Kazuto falling outside the window! Yukari shakily heads for the window and sees Kazuto dead on the ground in a puddle of blood. Which leaves her alone with Shirou, or so they both think.
Shirou chases Yukari through the castle, as Yukari realizes if Kazuto died like in his dreams and Sanae is dead, Yukari still hasn’t met the mystery woman. Where is she? That’s when Yukari realizes she’s run towards the same room she’s visited in her dreams, complete with the grandfather clock. With nowhere else to hide, Yukari retreats into the only place she thinks could offer her safety.
Meanwhile, Shirou is calling out for Yukari but fails to realize someone’s behind him and gets stabbed in the back. It’s the mystery woman! From the clock, Yukari can hear Shirou screaming as he’s finished off. Now it’s time for Yukari’s dream to come true as she dashes from the clock upon the stroke of 12. The woman raises the knife above her head and prepares to stab Yukari-!
But wait! What Yukari’s dreams didn’t show her was the woman’s death! The grandfather clock was too fragile to sustain Yukari when she hid inside, and the added weight caused one of its legs to break! The clock tumbles forward and crushes the woman!
Yukari can only slump to her knees in front of the destroyed clock and the dead woman, with no answers gained. Slowly, the clock and woman fade away. The body’s gone, but the clock’s been restored as if nothing happened.
Yukari runs outside to look for Kazuto, but his body’s vanished too. The sketchbook is still there, but the drawings are gone. The book’s completely blank. Has time gone backwards?
From there, Yukari spends her days (or is months) alone in the castle. How much time has passed? She doesn’t know. She tried to use the blank book as a diary to keep track of her thoughts, and to figure out why time is so weird in the castle, but that soon grew useless. Yukari’s lost the will to write, lost the will to cry, to try and escape…
At some point, Yukari began to have the same dream. In it, she’s killed, crushed by the grandfather clock. Someone kills her. A little girl. It’s her fault. But why does she want to kill Yukari? Yukari’s not going to let that happen because she’ll change her fate. She’ll have to wait for the girl to arrive, and Yukari will kill her first.
Looking out the window, Yukari sees a boy and girl approach, but it’s not the girl she’s waiting for. But Yukari knows the girl will come…
See? You don’t necessarily need to make a story really gory or excessive to be scary.
I liked the discussion on the futility of altering destiny and the way Kazuto wonders what he can do to change his fate. In prophetic dream stories, it’s easy to say a character can avoid an outcome by simply not doing one thing, but that’s never a guarantee it’ll work. All those self-fulfilling prophecy problems. It’s easy to say Yukari and Kazuto acted stupid by going to the castle despite what their dreams told them, but again they had absolutely no context to go on. How could either of them know not going to the castle would work? How could they know going to the castle could alter their dreams. They didn’t. They were totally alone in this and through no fault of their own were doomed.
Another thing to consider, but all that time Yukari dreamed of the castle before she arrived, how long do you think her adult self was trapped? In a way, of course Yukari would end up going to the castle because SHE WAS ALREADY TRAPPED IN IT BEFORE THE STORY BEGAN. She just didn’t know it.