1.5 million page views translates to a lot of warped minds– particularly when the page views are in regards to what many generally agree is the creepiest video on YouTube. Aokigahara, also known as Jukai (the Sea of Trees) is a forest at the northwest base of Mount Fuji with such dense brush cover against the wind that it makes the forest below eerily quiet. It probably doesn’t help that the local mythology warns of demons who live in the forest– or that it’s the most popular place in Japan to commit suicide. In fact, next to the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s the most common place to commit suicide in the entire world.
But what makes this an article about Jukai instead of the Golden Gate Bridge is that whereas the ocean deals with the corpses as soon as they jump, law enforcement in Japan cleans out the forest only once a year. In the interim, a lot of people (some say in the 100-range) rot.
Allegedly, the popularity of the forest as a suicide hub exploded when “Tower of Waves” a novel by the Japanese author Seich? Matsumoto featured two lovers committing suicide in the forest, but people have been going there to off themselves for centuries.
Most of you, by this point, are like me and have abandoned this dialogue in favor of watching the video yourselves (at the bottom of the page!), but for the squeamish, here is a video breakdown of the creepiest video on YouTube.
The video, which is 21:09 minutes long and released on Vice Magazine’s video channel, features a documentary crew following Azusa Hayano, a geologist studying volcanic activity and vegetation in the forest. If you didn’t know what you were watching, the footage seems innocuous enough, pleasant even as nice music tinkles in the background. Hayano is a grandfatherly-looking Japanese guy who fortunately speaks in subtitles (because my Japanese is a lot rusty).
2:06 – We get our first hint (after the video title of “Suicide Forest” that is) of something amiss when Hayano points out a car that has been abandoned in the parking lot “for a few months.” Glancing through the debris-dinged windows we see the sad remnants of an interrupted life, a map of the forest on the front seat, running shoes and a construction helmet in the back.3:17 – After Hayano ruminates about how in the old days suicide was a “samurai’s act” or how poor families would abandon their elderly in the mountains, as opposed to nowadays where it’s primarily the machination of people who couldn’t adapt to society, we come across a large professional sign encouraging people to think of their life and loved ones, and not to kill themselves.4:02 – As Hayano wanders further into the forest, his voiceover explains that local people don’t commit suicide here because they’re too afraid– as children they’re told that the forest is a scary place. Somehow the music seems darker.4:20 – A rope strung across the trail and adorned with signage warns people to go no further because they will get lost. Hayano casually steps over it.4:30 – Hayano explains that in his time working in the forest, he himself has found more than 100 suicide victims.
4:39 – DEAD BODY ALERT! We get our first glimpse of what the forest is really about as a photo of a mummified corpse propped against a tree is inserted into the footage.
4:45 – DEAD BODY ALERT PART II! Our next photo shows the much fresher corpse of a young Japanese man hanging by a noose. Beside him, his duffel bag seems to have just dropped from his fingers.
4:48 – DEAD BODY ALERT III! Another photo, this one a medium shot, showcases the head-on blurred-face image of another victim, his putrefying arms dangling around a tree branch. I give him extra points for choosing a fashionable blue rope though.
5:08 – As Hayano makes his way through the dense foliage, he also has to navigate around long, chest-high strands of plastic tape tied at odd intervals running haphazardly throughout the trees. He explains that people who are uncertain about suicide do this, so if they chicken out, they can find their way back. Yeah, the music is definitely creepier here.
5:45 – We find a tent in the woods; Hayano says he’s going to check it out and asks the film crew to hang back. No telling if he’s had to learn this lesson the hard way. The tent is empty but whoever abandoned it left all their stuff inside. They aren’t coming back, and that fact that they brought a tent, says Hayano, means they were “still struggling.”
6:42 – Hayano, flipping the weather-beaten tent over, says that the body hasn’t been discovered yet or else the tent would have been taken away. He then says, “I think I see something over there.”
7:38 – A giant freaky doll hangs upside, its hands anchored to a tree by nails. “It’s not a prank,” Hayano explains. “They nailed this character upside down as a symbol of contempt for society. No, it’s more like a curse.”
8:15 – Hayano reads a suicide note from someone who never had anything good happen in their life. It reminds me to check my Lotto tickets.
9:29 – Frayed ropes hang from the forest canopy, the last remnants of a body that was discovered. A moment later he finds the noose in the dirt, still tied.
13:31 – Hayano finds another tent in the thick of the woods, this one occupied. A young man is inside, too scared to come out. Hayano observes that the young man “does not look like someone who like to hike.”15:34 – Hayano voices his opinion that people being online all day instead of being involved in face-to-face communication is the reasoning behind a lot of this. You’re preaching to the choir, buddy.
16:47 – Ahh, the ol’ human skeleton in the woods. Hayano just turns and walks away.
17:11 – Noose! I think I’ve just found the next online drinking game.
19:18 – Hayano finds some flowers, and you think this thing is going to end on a positive note, but, alas, he finds the requisite box of chocolates a second later.
21:09 – The screen fades to black after Hayano utters some message about hope. After watching this video though, I can’t help but feel like I need to go camping.