One of the great things about Root Film is how, like its predecessor Root Letter, it’s based on real-life locations in and around the city of Matsue in Shimane Prefecture, Japan.
The reason Shimane Prefecture was chosen as the setting for these games was because it’s an area of Japan absolutely heaving with fascinating mythology and wonderful stories to be told — besides having some beautiful scenery, of course.
Today we’re going to take a look at Yomotsu Hirasaka, a location you visit early in Root Film’s narrative, and how it ties in with Japanese mythology, spiritualism and history.
One of the initial mysteries in Root Film is that protagonist Yagumo and his assistant Magari receive a short clip of film with what appears to be some peculiar happenings going on. Before Yagumo will be able to get important people to greenlight a new project he hopes to work on, he needs to solve the mystery of this film — and the first step is figuring out exactly where the footage was filmed.
After a bit of local investigation coupled with Yagumo’s hazy memories of some familiar landmarks in the footage, Yagumo and Magari come to the conclusion that the site of the filming was Yomotsu Hirasaka, the supposed “path to the underworld” that can be found in the small town of Iya to the south-east of Matsue in Shimane Prefecture.
Yomotsu Hirasaka’s significance to Japanese religion and spirituality ties in with the Japanese creation myth. Legend has it that the divine beings Izanami and Izanagi were the source of all life in Japan — including other gods. Unfortunately, Izanami perished while giving birth to the god of fire and was taken to Yomi-no-Kuni (or simply “Yomi”), the underworld. Yagumo tells Magari this story in Root Film on their way to Yomotsu Hirasaka, and the latter is a little disturbed by it.
In contrast to western Christian beliefs in the afterlife, Yomi is neither “heaven” nor “hell”. Its description can be found in the Kojiki, the oldest traditional Japanese text, which chronicles the vast majority of myths and legends that persist to this day, and which was subsequently appropriated as the basis of the Shinto religion.
The Kojiki describes Yomi as simply a place of death — as a place where the deceased go to endure the rest of their existence in perpetuity, regardless of their behaviour in life; it is believed to be inspired by ancient tombs in which corpses were left to decompose, and as such the inhabitants of Yomi are often believed to have lost any beauty they may have once had in life.
Perhaps most significantly, after Izanami’s death, she was taken to Yomi — but unwilling to accept the loss of his partner, Izanagi followed her and called out for her. Having already eaten at the hearth of Yomi — something which, according to legend, means your existence as an inhabitant of Yomi is sealed — Izanami feared that she would not be able to return, but promised to consult with the rulers of Yomi to see if an exception could be made.
There was just one condition: Izanagi was not to look upon Izanami’s defiled, putrefying form. Sadly Izanagi found this an impossible condition to follow, and was horrified to discover what his wife had become — and went to abandon her. Understandably furious about this, Izanami sent a series of witches after Izanagi, though he successfully fended them off through a series of increasingly ridiculous circumstances — and you wonder where anime gets its nonsense from — and was eventually chased down by Izanami herself.
Izanagi saw no other option than to seal the entrance to Yomi with a large rock that subsequently became known as the Chibiki Stone. As she was sealed, Izanami uttered a curse that, in exchange for the insult Izanagi had wounded her with, would take the lives of a thousand mortals every day; Izanagi, naturally, responded rather pettily that he would therefore ensure that one thousand five hundred children would be born every day. And thus the cycle of birth and death began.
Izanagi also had a wash upon his return from Yomi, which somehow created Amaterasu (of Okami fame), Susanoo (as seen in many Shinto-inspired popular media works over the years) and Tsukuyomi the moon god. But if we started getting into all that we’d be here all day, so here endeth the mythology lesson as it relates to Root Film.
Regardless of your stance on Japanese spirituality and religion — and whether or not you believe the Japanese creation myth — Yomotsu Hirasaka is a real place that you can actually go and visit. For obvious reasons, it is regarded as a spiritual place where some people choose to go in order to pay their respects to the dead; to that end, Root Film claims that in 2017 a “Letters to Heaven” mailbox was set up in the area for people to “post” letters to dearly departed loved ones.
Oddly, there is, in fact, no mention of Yomotsu Hirasaka at all on the official Shimane Prefecture tourism website — though it seems there was at some point in the past, judging by cached search results. It does, however, have a TripAdvisor page, where it enjoys a rating of 3.5 out of 5 at the time of writing, with most Japanese reviewers commenting on the eerie atmosphere of the place and how dark it often is even in the middle of the day — mostly a side-effect of how heavily wooded the area is. TripAdvisor reviewer “maritora” also confirms that the “Letters to Heaven” mailbox does indeed appear to be a real thing.
As important as Yomotsu Hirasaka is to Root Film, it’s also referred to in a variety of other Japanese popular media — most notably Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series, which blends a wide variety of mythologies, religions and other legends from all over the world. It is the final dungeon on the true ending path for Persona 4, and also appears in Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse.
So far as Root Film goes, though, it’s the starting point for an intriguing mystery to solve — and just one of many fascinating locations Yagumo and Magari will find themselves in during their investigations.
Root Film is out this Friday. PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch limited editions are still available from our store — click here to preorder!
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