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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 4, December 2018
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Charles D. Tarlton
Northampton, Massachusetts, USA


THE NIGHT OF THE MONONOKE

A True Cinematic Tanka Story

I am the metaphor
for every human being
who thinks as I do
              —Kawazu Tobikomu

FADE IN:

EXT. HOUSE IN A CLEARING - NIGHT - CALIFORNIA, 1942

A small white clapboard house surrounded by orange groves and big Eucalyptus trees.

The dark figure of SHOKI-SAN stands partially in the shadows. He speaks now into the camera, but afterwards there will only be his voice.

               SHOKI-SAN
this story is true
a demon got blood onto
his gory fingers
rage in his eyes, nights of fun
at someone else’s expense

CAMERA approaches the house and through the windows.

INT. KITCHEN - NIGHT

In the kitchen, the MOTHER, a small Japanese woman, cooks dinner, looking into pots, tasting, stirring.

She sings softly along with the gentle music from a radio.

INT. LIVING ROOM - NIGHT

In the living room, the FATHER sits at the end of a sofa under a lamp, reading a Japanese newspaper.

The radio on the table beside him plays soft Japanese music, a little louder now, closer up.

Two small children lie on the floor reading and listening to the radio.

               SHOKI-SAN (O.S)
the demon queller
watches from out of the dark
this peaceable home
about to fall into fire
demons come out of the night

EXT. ORANGE GROVE - NIGHT

Two dark stake-bed trucks without headlights come bumping up the dirt road and stop abruptly at the edge of the clearing in front of the house.

The trucks are filled with men, but it is hard to make them out in the dark. The men climb out of the trucks.

Voices grumbling and cursing. Truck doors slamming.

CAMERA back to the windows looking in.

The Japanese family inside the house stop everything and listen.

The two children go anxiously to their FATHER who abruptly puts his paper down and stands up.

The MOTHER comes in from the kitchen and the four of them stand perfectly still, apprehensive and listening.

               SHOKI-SAN (O.S)
their last minute runs
away, the present horror
settles at the end
of its flight, a hawk with death
in its beak and bloody talons

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. HOUSE IN A CLEARING - DAY

Two boys, CHARLES and MICKEY, stand in front of the house, taking it in.

It is the same house, but a dilapidated ruin now. Its windows are broken out and the house is surrounded by tall weeds.

The boys nod at each other and go in through the broken screen door.

               SHOKI-SAN (O.S)
lost minutes and hours
have dried up and blown away
all the sounds are gone
only the terrible fear
still sticks to everything

INT. HOUSE - DAY

The living room is unrecognizable from before. No sofa, no radio, no tables or chairs, nothing but refuse.

The broken remains of the bookcase lie scattered across the floor, bits of broken China everywhere, old newspapers, and tin cans.

              MICKEY
Well, no one lives here,
that’s for sure.
(pause)
I think I’ll take a look
around.

Mickey goes off into another room. He calls back.

               MICKEY (O.S.)
Nothing back here, either.

               CHARLES
Who do you think lived here?

               MICKEY (O.S.)
Who knows?

Charles kicks through the rubble in the living room, stops, pushes aside the remnants of the broken bookcase, and reaches down.

With both hands he lifts up a big, red book. He carries the book over to the window ledge and opens it.

               CHARLES
Mickey, come here. Look at this!

Mickey comes back into the room.

               MICKEY
(excited)
What? What’d you find?

              CHARLES
A dictionary, a Japanese
dictionary!
    (pause, pointing to an
open page)
See?

              MICKEY
    (disappointed)
Who cares?
    (turns and leaves the room)
Call me if you find anything
really interesting.

(O.S.) Faint Japanese music as before.

Charles stands at the window, concentrating on flipping through the pages of the dictionary.

Shoki-san steps out of the shadow of the trees and speaks to the camera.

             SHOKI-SAN
hard words now stark as
barbwire fences; what’s written
he can’t yet sound out
caressing the black scratchings
something must surely be wrong

FADE OUT.


Author's Notes:

"Mononoke are vengeful spirits (onryō), dead spirits (shiryō), live spirits (ikiryō), or spirits in Japanese classical literature and folk religion that were said to do things like possess individuals and make them suffer, cause disease, or even cause death." Wikipedia.

Ceramic likenesses of Shoki-san are placed on the roofs of houses in Kyoto to ward off evil spirits. He sends them on to other unprotected houses.

Dissolve to: in a filmscript generally indicates the passage of time. In this script it marks the change from past to present.

For another example of the author's cinematic tanka prose, please refer to "Negative Capability" in the September 2018 issue of Haibun Today.

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